Spreading His Wings

Letting Go As a Child Leaves for College

Posted May 06, 2012

Photo by Greg Markway

As a psychologist, I have counseled many families in making this transition. I have frequently used the metaphor of birds building a nest, raising their young, and then watching them leave the nest. 

A few years ago, we had a pair of robins build a nest on the basketball hoop right outside our breakfast room window. We watched the entire process unfold over a few weeks. It was bittersweet as we watched the youngsters fly away. The last one seemed determined to stay in the nest, but ultimately, he too found his wings.

For two steamy days in June, my wife and I accompanied our son to the University of Missouri. We tromped around campus in large groups, with parents and students separated for some programs, reunited for others.

It was hard to believe that, in just 8 weeks, this would become our son’s world. We alternated between excitement and anxiety. We flashed back to all the milestones over the past 18 years.

We attended programs on alcohol and drug abuse, student privacy rights, health issues—each session reminding us that our child is now considered by others, to be an adult. This same child had rarely even spent a night away from our home.

As the day was winding down, we felt some trepidation as our son would be spending his first night in the dorm. Both Barb and I felt unnamed and ambiguous emotions, but we did not speak about it, not wanting to bring forth these feelings. 

As we walked toward Jesse Hall with a large group of parents, we noticed a tiny, seemingly helpless creature on the sidewalk.

This baby robin looked like it had a serious case of bed head. Its wings were small and undeveloped. It squawked at us and clearly did not even know how vulnerable it was. Barb looked at me and asked, “Shouldn’t we do something?”

I remembered reading that the mother bird stays nearby and may even continue to feed the little one.

I responded, “No, he’ll be okay.” Silently, I repeated that to myself.

Copyright Greg Markway

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