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The College Drop-off and the Long Drive Home

Find ways to keep your child in the family loop without being intrusive about it. Invite her or him to dinner. Arrange for a call or e-mail once a week. Make sure to continue including your child in family occasions and events. As much as they may complain about it, most kids feel terrible if they aren’t invited to the annual picnic or a family member’s birthday celebration. But here’s the most important thing: take “no” for an answer graciously. The point isn’t actually to get your child to come to every family event. The point is to let him or her know that he or she is still a part of the family and welcome to participate.

Remain Available and Open to Your Child

Especially during your child’s first few months away from home, find ways to make room for your child to tell you about his or her fears or confusions. Most will put the most positive face possible on their new life separate from you. They usually think that to do otherwise is to admit that they aren’t as independent as they think they should be. Let them know that they don’t need to pretend that everything is always “fine;” that you remember being their age and how up-and-down each day could be.

Don’t take it for granted that you know specifically what your child is dealing with, how your child feels, or the pressures he or she is experiencing. You don’t. We were 20 at least 20 years ago. The world really was different then. Just as we thought our parents couldn’t possibly understand the world we were living in, so, too, do our kids. Don’t assume — it’s better to ask.

Move Towards Being Adults “Together”

Work on changing some of the interactions you have with your children so that they have more opportunities to be on the giving end of information, support, and advice. Be interested in what they are learning at school, on the job, or in their new social circle. Ask for their opinions. Be active in working towards a new equality in your relationship.

During the years when our children are 18 to about 22, parents are doing an important and new piece of parenting: we are redefining our roles with our children and negotiating with them just how we are all going to be adults together. Watching and supporting our children as they move into this new life stage can be just as exciting and rewarding as when we watched and supported their first steps so many years ago.

The College Drop-off and the Long Drive Home

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). The College Drop-off and the Long Drive Home. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.