Sweet Sorrow and New Beginnings

Dear BFC High School Graduate and Parent(s),

The launch countdown is imminent. As I write this, I feel a lump in my throat because I understand the stress of logistics and expenses, but mostly the high and low emotions of this transition. I want you to be prepared to handle this transition, whether they are heading to college, the military, a Gap Year, or other plans that entail leaving home.

College move-in day for my only child was one of the hardest days of my life. Even though I thought I was prepared, my emotions took me by surprise.

The excitement of the launch phase dominates us to the extent that other emotions take a back seat until the actual event, which is when the whole ordeal becomes more real and complicated for parents and students.

The ten tips below represent 35 years of expertise. More importantly, though, they come from a mother’s heart:

  1. Make and communicate a Launch Plan

Houston’s home to NASA, where we plan and launch complex missions. Launching a student into life after high school can seem simple, but in some ways it’s trickier. This is why you need a plan. The student and parents should collaborate and communicate the plan and share it with the whole family.

  1. Be positive. I repeat: Be positive

Parents, while leaving home is high stakes, have faith in yourself and your young adult. This isn’t the time to share your deepest fears of kidnappings, drugs, etc.

  1. Have a send-off gathering in your home with friends and family

An intimate and personal gathering sets the tone and honors all you’ve poured into your home life and upbringing.

  1. Discuss family values, especially financial values and positive expectations

It’s time to emphasize family values at this time, because they represent a family’s roots. Make this an especially positive conversation!

  1. Agree on a set time to check in—at least once weekly

If you frequently exchange texts with each other, limit this now. For one thing, the young adult will soon be busy orienting, adjusting to a roommate, attending classes, Greek rush, studying, and meeting new friends. One way to show respect is to limit texting and calling.


  1.   Discuss your next rendezvous

Schedule and discuss the next rendezvous before you leave your adult child and reserve space for them in your home and your calendar for their homecoming. Reserve airfares early too!

  1. Be prepared to feel feelings, even the “negative” ones.

In the natural world young birds “spoil the nest” before they fly away. Humans have their own way of doing this, which usually involves messy emotions like rudeness, arguing, and even crying. Prepare to be gentle with yourself and your student/parents.

  1. Young adult and parents should write Goodbye notes to each other. Put the note where it will be found after parting.

A simple, hand-written note is precious these days. Sprinkle in a little humor too, if you can.

  1. Don’t overbuy

This is America, and Amazon Prime shipping exists—supplies are only a click away! Plus, it’s not fun trying to fit a lot of stuff into a tiny dorm room.

  1. How to handle the first big problem

Resist handling the problem the way you always have. For parents, the temptation is to solve it. Instead, try asking questions and showing empathy—for example, saying, “I can tell you’re upset and yet I know you can figure this out. What have you considered doing/saying?” Remember, counseling resources are available with experienced counselors who have “heard it all.” I recommend meeting with a counselor during the first few months away from home for a mental health check-in. Mental health problems are real and interfere with every aspect of life, especially academic success!

Take a deep breath.  At the core of Goodbye is transition, which is difficult, because people aren’t robots; we have feelings. Even elephants grieve, for goodness sake! Leaving home involves saying goodbye to childhood and hello to high expectations, freedom, responsibility, an adult identity and more. Plan for it and embrace it!


Dr. Beth Dennard