A special summer send-off for your college-bound kid
Society offers few formal rites of passage to mark a child's last summer before college, but there are plenty of options to make the time meaningful for the whole family.
Before her daughter left for college, Margo Bane Woodacre invited her daughter's best friends and their mothers to lunch. She got out the good china, asked the moms to wear hats and compiled a video of the girls hamming it up during high-school sleepovers.
"We moms, we all knew each other well — our girls had all hung out together — and we all presented little stories and fun things around the table," says Woodacre, co-author of "I'll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students."
Society offers few formal rites of passage to mark a child's last summer before college, but parents and experts say there are plenty of meaningful options, from formal gatherings to sentimental journeys to important conversations about looming independence.
Among the options: a family vacation arranged with the notion, implicit or explicit, that this will be the last time everyone will be together for a while.
"That's very, very powerful," says psychologist Carl Pickhardt, author of "Boomerang Kids: A Revealing Look at Why So Many of Our Children are Failing on Their Own, and How Parents Can Help."
The family vacation helps telegraph the message that while a lot is changing in your child's life, family is permanent, Pickhardt says.
Pickhardt also suggests using the summer to discuss five basic college-kid skill sets. In order to cope well with a new level of independence, your child will need to:
• Speak up, or advocate for herself.
• Follow her own ethical compass. "If you can't stand up for what matters to you, you're going to compromise yourself, and you're going to be sorry you did," Pickhardt says.
• Show up, and honor commitments. Like getting to class or a job on time.
• Keep up. Procrastinating is common, but it can cause needless anxiety.
• Own up. Be accountable when you make a decision or mistake.
Patti Lux-Weber, the Parent Program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, suggests some other topics parents might want to cover. Kids, she says, can benefit from even the most basic discussion of finances: Will the student have a credit card? Who's going to pay for what? Parents might want to encourage a conversation about alcohol, too, she says — and communication is also key: How often do parents and students plan to communicate?
Covering such topics and organizing activities can be important, but last-summer experiences need not be elaborate or carefully choreographed.
Try to avoid getting bogged down in the logistical details, says Lux-Weber. Get onto your child's social schedule, and be intentional about the time you spend together, paying attention to what you're doing and how it feels.
There's a natural tendency to be in denial about how much your relationship with your child is changing, but Woodacre says that facing the situation head-on can make the last summer particularly poignant.
"I think parents and students should enjoy the last (time they do) everything: the last lacrosse game, hockey game, basketball game, the last prom. The last time they're all sitting in the gym for graduation," says Woodacre.