When They Go: What to Look Forward to Your Child's First Year Out of the House

It was one year ago that we packed up a suburban full of a boy's things, including the iron and dorm-sized ironing board mom just knew he would need, and followed an equally packed little red car for 7 hours to a big city with a big university.  We unpacked and set up that boy's new home in an hour and fifteen minutes and then sat and stared at each other.  What now?

There were some welcome meetings to attend and some books to buy, but the to-do list was decidedly small. 

Because over the course of eighteen years, everything had either already been done or it hadn't, and all that was left that day was to let go.

And one year later I'm still crying as I write this, just thinking about that moment we drove away and left our boy, the one we brought into the world and bought Blues Clues underwear for, standing in a parking lot waving goodbye.

But, I really do have good news for you parents that are about to do what we did.  The tears don't come very often anymore.  They've been replaced with so many good things.  And that's what I want you to know.  You'll cry.  A lot.  And if you're a dad, you may surprise yourself by crying more than your wife because she's been crying for the whole, entire senior year, but it just now dawned on you that things are changing.

So, you'll cry.  But, there's more to it than that. 

You'll grow.  And they will grow.  And your family will grow.  And you'll eventually realize that yes, there was a loss, but you've also gained something, too.  You've gained an adult child where once you had a kid.

Remember that on the days when it hurts.  Remember that it's not all loss.  Remember that while it is change, and change is rarely ever fun, it's the change that has to happen for you to get where you've always been headed.

So, look forward, even as you look back and remember.


Things to look forward to your child's first year out of the house:

  • The texting.  They do it all the time with their friends, but now you're lumped into the list of people to keep up with through text, and something magical happens amongst the emojis and gifs.  You discover that this person is still thinking about you.  Granted, it's probably not as much as you're thinking about them, but they really are thinking about you.  And if you refrain from texting back, "Why haven't you called me?" and instead engage them where they are, you'll get even more emojis and gifs.
  • The late night phone calls.  They'll do it when they need something, and that's ok.  You may have to tell them you'll call them back in the morning, but don't forget you did that to your parents, too.  And sometimes they'll just do it because they miss you, and the lost sleep is worth it.
  • The moments of pride.  There's going to be a day when you realize the child you had to peel off you the first day of kindergarten and who often forgot to change his socks just scheduled a doctor appointment, drove to it, and actually remembered to take his insurance card with him ALL. BY. HIMSELF.  Your work here is done. 
  • The moments of embarrassment.  There's also going to be a day when your eighteen year old texts you to ask how to cook a frozen pizza.  So, you still have a job.  But, the good news is you get to decide if you show up for work.  You can always refer him to Google.
  • The weekend trips home.  Yes, it's different.  It won't ever be the same again.  But, watching the newest adult in your house forge grown up relationships with you, your spouse, the siblings, and even the grandparents is a joy.  These young adults are thinking big thoughts and dreaming big dreams right now, and they are good for you.  Soak it up.
  • The moments of sadness.  It's going to happen, in the weirdest moments.  Like that night when you walk into a restaurant and the hostess asks how many and you give the wrong number and have to correct it by subtracting one, or the day you put up the Christmas tree and realize it's the first time they've never helped.  It will happen, but you really can look forward to it, because it means life at your house with your people was good.  And that's worth celebrating.
  • And so many tiny moments...the wag of the dog's tail when she hears the sound of that little red car in the driveway at Thanksgiving, the friends they bring home, the girlfriends they bring home, the laughter on the facetime call as you try to help your overwhelmed freshman read the prescription bottle instructions for the roomate who just got his wisdom teeth out ("Mrs. von Atzigen, your son isth berry hospthbitable!  He isth taking thuch good care of me!"), the realization that the dorm iron hasn't been used one single time, the care boxes that you don't send near as often as you think you're going to, and the feeling of being wrapped up in your sons arms when he walks in the door at Spring Break.  

All these moments are life.  And life doesn't just go on, it gets better and better.