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  • The Challenges of College Drop-Off When You’re Separated or Divorced

    Divorced or separated parents faced special challenges at college drop-off time

    The school year is beginning. For some, it’s the first time they are taking their now much more grown up kid(s) to college – and for separated, divorced or single parents, the experience can present additional challenges.

    My husband and I separated when my son was entering his Sophomore year of High School. We chose that time to keep the stress low during his Junior and Senior year when the intensity typically goes up and college prep is in full force.

    Fast-forward a couple of years to college drop off time when parent couples with college-age children prepare for the move-in, shop for swag, eat out and begin the separation process from their child. Except by then I was divorced – no longer part of a couple.

    Whether your child is ready and excited to be free or is having anxiety about being away at school (primarily a freshman experience), there are always challenges during this life transition. But it can be even harder for the divorced or separated parent who is surrounded by united, happy families and who has no one to hang out with while their kid is making his or her great escape.

    Of course, the student is doing exactly what they should be doing and the job of the parent is to simply support them, no questions asked. But yikes! It can feel like your separation all over again and with a capitol S.

    So, what can the single parent do?

    If you have a good relationship with your ex-partner, you can still choose to go through the experience together – especially the first time. My ex-spouse and I did participate in parent’s weekend together the first year and it worked out great.

    Yet there’s no question that being on your own through this experience can be really tough. In fact, you’re likely to feel everything from excitement to loneliness and from pride to resentment (possibly not enough “thank you’s” for all the effort you are putting in) even in a single day. Because in the moments of changing roles, of shifting from being a hands-on parent to being a hands-off parent, lots of mixed emotions can arise that are similar to the roller coaster of emotions that often go hand in hand with divorce or separation. Emotions that have you questioning your role: How will I matter in the future? Or, what will our relationship be like going forward?

    I’m here to say that these questions do get worked out with a bit of consciousness, conversation and observation

    Here are some tips for divorced or separated parents that might help during those anxious and lonely college drop-off moments  – and if you’ve already dropped off this year, I hope you’ll share your own tips in the comments section:

    1. Find a great place to stay where you feel at home and can go hang out when you are at loose ends. And don’t forget that often there are lots of helpers at a university to assist new parents or even a parent list-serve you can join.
    2. Figure out if there are other parents you may know who may be dropping off at the same school and make plans to connect for a meal or coffee when the kids are otherwise occupied.
    3. See if you have any friends near the university. Often parents think they will not have a free moment and don’t reach out, but free moments will become more and more frequent if you take your kid to school in later years. So, reach out now.
    4. Go to an event on your own and meet other parents.
    5. Plan on attending at least one parent-child event so you can better understand the landscape and connect with other parents. It always feels better to be in community.
    6. Schedule a few specific times to see your child during the move-in process and possibly after, including when you’ll say good-bye before you head home.
    7. Most importantly, know when it is time to go and cut the cord. Just because you’re divorced or separated doesn’t mean  alone. You will always be your kid’s parent.


    Hope this helps and have a happy school year!

    4 Responses

    1. Katie Dorsett says:

      Thank you for the advice! My ex-husband recently told me that he didn’t think I should go to drop off our son. We’ve shared 50/50 custody for quite some time and also fairly amicable. I was shocked and very hurt. But, I’m planning on going and arranging time with my son. I just don’t feel that I can miss his freshman year move in!

    2. Amanda says:

      Dropping my son off in 3 weeks. He wants us to go as a “family”. We’ve been divorced 7 years and it’s a very toxic relationship. I have anxiety and don’t want to go together….am I a bad mom?

      • Liz says:

        No not a “bad mom”. But maybe it’s possible to find a way that is comfortable for you; plan it ahead and discuss it with your son so if you decide to go it can work for you too. Going as a family can mean a lot of things. Or you may want to arrange an alternative with your son to visit on the following weekend or a different day during drop off.

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