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Tips for Taking Your Child to College

And Tips for Taking Yourself Back Home... -with Debby Thompson

And Tips for Taking Yourself Back Home... -with Debby Thompson

To have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. (E. Stone) So now August is here, and the calendar affords us no mercy. The time has come for parents to take their children—their hearts—to college. 

My conversations across the lunch table, across the fence, and across social media confirm that the pain is raw and real. Ree Drummond The Pioneer Woman (August 15, 2018) shares her experience this way: "Red nose, trembling chin, tight throat, aching heart. Leaving your child at college is no picnic. I've done it once before and thought maybe this time would be a little easier, I think it's a little harder."

Twenty years have passed since I walked this path myself, yet, in a nanosecond (!) I can return to that day, and recall the unusual ache. After pulling away from the midwestern campus, I phoned my friend from the car to tearfully declare, “This is like heart surgery without the anesthesia!” 

Hands down—whether it is your first child or last—the magnitude of the event is greater than:



•    > taking them to get their first immunizations

•   >  helping them pull that first tooth

•    > walking them into a kindergarten classroom

•    > watching them leave to get their driver’s license or waiting up for them to come home from their first date

It is bigger and it is harder. But why?

I believe this threshold is so demanding for two reasons. One, for eighteen years we diligently prepared them for this moment, but we overlooked the need to prepare ourselves. And two, in this situation, change wins. We inherently know our family will never again be the same. 

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This dramatic life passage requires navigational skill to negotiate these rough waters. Here are my suggestions.

Ten Tips for Taking Your Child to College

1. Look reality in the face. This is real, rough, raw, and right here. You cannot run away. “In acceptance lies peace.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

2. Allow your emotions to participate in the process. Walk around with the box of Kleenex, but do not walk around with your sunglasses on. Right now, your family needs the real you, so bring your tears to the table. Be comfortable being transparent.

3. Don’t over pack the schedule in the days leading up to leaving. Frenzied activity is not your friend. Goodbyes are exhausting, and everyone under your roof needs adequate sleep.

4. Once on campus, engage with your child’s new environment. Then, when the moment comes, load up and leave. Wave good-by and get gone. Don’t live life looking in the rear view mirror. (Deanna Favre) Stay in touch, but do not smother them.

5. Be intentional in planning your immediate schedule—the next few days, even the next few weeks. Is there a cozy Bed & Breakfast for a restful overnight on your return trip home? Give priority to spending time with friends; focus on lunches, walks, or outings to museums. Consider investing in a few personal perks: a manicure, a massage, or a new book.

6. Communicate. If your job takes you outside the home, let your colleagues at work know what is transpiring. Your professional life is affected by your personal life, and this is one occasion when those around you will appreciate communication.

7. Lean into Jesus. He and He alone is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrew 13:8) He is precious and He is present. He wants to walk with you through this transition.

8. Take the marvelous opportunity to broaden your horizons in private prayer. Fellowship with God will soothe your soul, and specific targeted prayer for you college student will bear both eternal and temporal fruit.

9. Give attention to family members who are still at home. They need you; they too are adjusting, and you must make a concerted effort to keep them from feeling less than important in your life.

10. Be encouraged! And somehow make time to celebrate. You have worked hard to achieve this goal, and you need to savor the accomplishment. Realize there is still a life to be lived.

Embrace the transition and embrace the future. It will be ok. I promise!

Embrace the transition and embrace the future. It will be ok. I promise!


To look down is to be discouraged.

To look around is to be disappointed.

To look within is to be disillusioned.

To look up is to see Him!

And He says, "I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus means right here, right now, even in the face of leaving your loved one at college. 

Living With Eternal Intentionality

What Scripture did God use to encourage you when you took your child to college?

What practical advice do you have to offer a parent facing this life change?

If this is not your own situation, who in your life is facing this challege and could benefit greatly from your understanding and encouragement?