Through helping these patients, I have often wondered how I would deal with this phenomenon in a few years time. Well as many know, time flies and here comes my turn - my oldest one (daughter) is attending UC Irvine. I have been planning the process; taking control over the emotions, sadness, loneliness, etc. I have witnessed some parents thinking they need to give more to their children, to continue being involved in their lives, especially in the last summer before college. However, all too suddenly, their children will be gone, without need of help. This feeling is stronger in parents who regret not having done more over the years. They wish to use the last summer and turn it into the sweetest vacation, a honeymoon to (re)build the bond between them. Unbenounced to them, this only makes the parting much harder.
Regardless of the situations, parents usually try their best to spend more time with their children during the summer, and linger in vacationing mindset to either strengthen the bond or rebuild the relationship. This time well spent only drives us closer, and is the set up for a big heartbreak for at least one party, usually the parent. The child might also feel "isolated" or "lost". No matter if the emotional breakdown is one-sided or mutual, it causes health issues.
In order to overcome this emotional trauma, we need to learn what I call "emotion diverting" during our kids' senior year and long summer break before taking off to college. In my case, I have been telling my daughter that she is grown up, and need to be out to explore the world on her own . She is mature and has confidence . We both agreed to find ways to keep busy. She took EMT classes at a community college during the summer, went to dance classes, and practices for competition on a daily basis . We hardly saw each other at all! It gave me the feeling that she was going to be OK, now that she is in college.
I have also been more demanding of her to participate in house chores: cleaning, cooking, picking up younger siblings, etc. She accepts the responsibilities and it makes her realize how grownup she has become, as well as the expectations of living independently. She, as a teenager, of course had some resentment. We'd argue, and settle, and we'ld argue again, but settle for peace in the end. We even had my son join in as a mediator. It was a great experience to listen to my two teenage children talk to me like we were in an official meeting. It was hard, but I won the negotiation eventually. They understood that I love them dearly but... I am a badass dad as well :)
I communicated this and discussed it with my parent and grandparent patients who might be in the same situation. All I heard from them is that I'd cry and miss her. One of my patients, a mom, told me she hung out with her daughter every day this summer and called her every day during her first semester. So I decided that I would put up a notice on my office door to inform patients I'd be gone for two days in order to send my daughter to college. Patients shared with me their experience - "it's hard and sad to let them go". They'd say "Dr. He you will cry"... I said "probably not but I could lie". In my gut, I felt I'd be cool and prepared for the moment.
The departure day was finally here... We left home around 10 pm. I was the driver. We had a great talk during the first hours. My daughter told me what she would like to do during school, and how she plans to get into medical school after 4 yrs. Then, she fell asleep for the rest of the trip. As we arrived on campus, she became more excited, and I felt a sense of relief, like it was going to be an easy goodbye.
We had a great time loading and moving her stuff up to her dorm. I realized it was a great idea to allow her to bring her fish tank, instantly making the dorm her new home. I was still not sure if it would be an easy parting that evening after dinner. I would stay overnight and get back home early the next morning. I came up with the idea of writing something on FB and tagging her.
Within a few minutes her phone got busy with calls and messages from friends to ask if she was OK. To my surprise, she did not get mad but rather said "That was not funny." but she apparently did not disapprove. One of her friends (a boy who says hi to me at school events) sent her a message that said "Your dad is so cool". On my side, friends sent over prayers, thougths, messages or texts as they thought it was a real story. All of a sudden, I felt I was in terrible trouble since no one had made such a joke before.
I felt I gave enough clues to hint that it was just a joke... even if it's a bad joke. I realized those who appreciated my sense of humor were the parents with children in or out of colleges. The ones with no children or still young children did not see funny at all. Good or bad joke, it helped with keeping us busy explaining the truth, which made us stay cool and part with contained emotions. I call my strategy "emotion diverting".