I’ve just returned my from last Parent’s Open House, which makes it official – my youngest daughter will go to college next year. And that means our house will become what most parents dread; the empty nest. And I say “most” parents, because I have plenty of acquaintances who are elated when their children leave – I can’t even wrap my arms around that type of thinking. For me, having a house full of children was the ultimate joy and watching them grow, an even greater one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a perfect parent by any stretch and I had my moments of frustration and exhaustion, especially when they were all tiny at once. I always say that when your children are small you feel an isolated kind of fatigue – there were weeks I felt like we never left the house and I yearned for adult conversation. And then one day (and it seemingly happens that fast) they become teenagers. You go from having an insular existence of diapers and Sesame Street to running the roads all day, doing loads upon loads of laundry and living at the grocery store. And of course, it’s hard to forget the sleepless nights waiting for their text telling you they are on their way home from work or have arrived at their friend’s house. All of these things are part of the journey of parenthood and for those of you with much younger children, believe me you will look back one day and ask yourself why you fretted about most of it. Because children do grow up, and they will leave. And then all of a sudden there isn’t enough laundry to fill the washer, and there are just two of you for dinner. My mother tells the story about the first dinner after my younger brother left for college; she went to set the table for three and when the realization hit her that he was no longer at home, she broke down in tears. Which leads me to one critical piece of advice; the power of the family dinner should never be underestimated – make it a part of your ritual. I hear all sorts of excuses about why this is no longer possible, but my children were as busy as everyone else’s and we made it happen. It doesn’t have to be a great meal (it can be take out!) but not only is it the one time everyone comes together to talk about their day, it’s also an opportunity to get a barometer on their emotions and worries. The best part for me, though, was the day they returned from their freshman year in college and told me just how much they missed our family meals. I think I cooked them the biggest Normal Rockwell feast I could pull together.
So, you may ask yourself, what does all of this have to do with college admissions counseling? Quite a bit actually. At The College Advisor of New York we’ve walked thousands of families through the admissions process, whether we begin working with them in the sophomore year or at the beginning of senior year (heed my advice here, earlier is always best and junior year is ideal). So we know firsthand that there is a process going on that is visible to the world: the college admissions search, standardized testing, the angst over the college essay, applications . . .the list goes on. But there is also an internal process happening within a family, behind the scenes and although it may not be perceptible, we see the symptoms all the time. Parents are full of stress and worry and call us panicked that their child isn’t focused or completing things on time (one of the reasons to hire a college consultant; we have your back here). Many students tell us their parents are driving them nuts and they have it all under control. As with everything else, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But the reality is that everyone is suffering from growing pains and beginning to face the fact that next year, the entire family dynamic will change…dramatically.
How do we handle this as parents? I find myself pausing to take notice of things I know I’ll miss next year. Having Hannah blast in the driveway every afternoon, backpack flying and chatting about her day, asking what is for dinner. And I love that she still sits at the dining room table to do her homework while we read in the living room; the fact that our children still enjoy our company is something for which I am eternally grateful. And the sound I know I’ll miss most; our Labrador following Hannah up the stairs to bed each night as they have for so many years – don’t underestimate the adjustment of the family pet when children leave for college.
My advice is simple to give, harder to take; don’t sweat the small things. Next year when the house is one child quieter, or possibly back to just the two of you, you’ll wish you hadn’t been such a bundle of nerves. And it’s true, no matter how relaxed you are (or imagine you are), senior year is crazy. Not just because of the reasons I’ve listed, but when you factor in the anxious wait for college acceptance letters and stress of the financial implications that now face all of us, suffice it to say it’s quite a rollercoaster. Take some time out and think about what really matters. When you do, you’ll be able to take a breath (and, if you’re working with The College Advisor of New York, you may breathe even deeper because we take much of the process off your plate – a shameless plug).
My grandfather always told us, when things got rough to remember that “this too shall pass.” And at the risk of sounding old and wise, it’s the truth. The things we fret about when our children are growing, fade into the background and become inconsequential when you realize that their real childhood is over. But, don’t despair here either, because I’ve found that grown children can become close friends. Hearing them in the house everyday turns into waiting for their calls and texts and for the most anticipated weekend visits you’ve ever dreamed of. Time marches on and “when the winds of change blow, adjust your sails.” Make the most of every moment you have while your children are home and look forward to the new, adult relationship you’ll forge with them when they move out. College doesn’t mean good-bye, it just means so long for now. It also means you’ve raised a successful, goal oriented child who will someday make a living of their own! So, rejoice if you were wise enough to hire a college admissions consultant and if you haven’t yet – give us a call. Then remember to have a long, enjoyable dinner with your family.