Grieving Your Child Going Away to College

The sadness lingered below the surface as I gazed in the rearview mirror. Moriah’s warm amber eyes looked back at me as the wintry landscape was reflected in the car window. Oh, how I would miss those eyes and seeing her cuddled up on the couch with another novel. Who would instigate sibling teasing now? She was the mischievous one in our family.  

We headed to the city from our rural community to drop off our daughter at college. I flung a silent prayer to heaven. “Lord, help me be brave for her today.”  

I plastered on my bright smile as we schlepped boxes up the stairs of the dorm, while young students and eager family members drifted through the halls. Excitement commingled with grief. I dreaded the thought of saying goodbye. With each load, I knew the inevitable would happen. I’d drive away from this pristine campus, nestled in the city, and leave a little bit of my heart behind.  

Permission to Grieve this Parenting Transition 

For many moms, one of our biggest transitions happens when we drop off our children at college for the first time. We feel hopeful for our children and yet grief lingers. The reality sets in that a part of our motherhood is over. We know this is God’s good plan for our children, but momma, it’s okay to grieve.  

You have permission. 

Grieving as your child departs for college is a different kind of grief. You haven’t lost them. You are simply transitioning. You will miss the everyday interactions, the coming and going, and the events you participated in together. You can’t hug her anymore or read the look on her face. You feel emotionally overwhelmed. This is normal and part of the process of releasing adults.  

Licensed Counselor, Tanya Ladipo, says this about transitional grief. 

“One of the ways people get stuck in their grief—meaning it is unchanged and unmoving—is when they have no place to express it. Silent grief makes the process of grieving much worse. Being able to talk about the grief not only eases the pain but moves the process forward. Talking about and sharing the grief makes it possible to be sad but not stagnant. 

Whenever you are in the midst of change and transition, consider what you are losing as well as what you are gaining. This is not to focus on the unpleasant or negative aspects of change, but rather to be more prepared when the inevitable feelings of loss and grief rise for you.” 

Momma, awareness is key.  

3 Ways to Transition Well 

1. Talk about your grief. 

Pain and pressure are released when we open up about loss. Find a trusted friend who has walked this road with her child. Don’t assume talking will exaggerate your grief. Often, it will alleviate it. 

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

2. Pray about your grief. 

Prayer is an honest conversation with God. He cares about you. Write your thoughts in a journal, speak them to God, or light a candle and cry. Tears are prayers, too. The goal is to find a safe, healthy way to express your pain. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phillipians 4:6 NIV

3.  Find solace in God and His Word.

This pain won’t last forever and as we lean on God through this transition, we will feel stronger. As we allow the Comforter to minister to our grief, peace is ushered in. As we handle our jumbled emotions with the Truth from God’s Word, we will experience relief. 

You are my refuge and my shield: I have put my hope in your word.” – Psalm 119:114 NIV 

There will come a time when you need to be strong, but this season is not one of them. Recognize it’s safe to attend to your grief. Grab a trusted friend, talk to God, and anchor your soul in the truth of His Word. You’re going to get through this, momma. I promise.

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