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Challenge: Life Changes

When Kids Leave for College, Being a Divorced Parent Finally Pays Off

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I just left my youngest son at college, where he will start Freshman year at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s my baby, and we are very close, but I only cried for ten minutes. If I sound proud of that, I am.

He was a child of divorce since he was two years old. That I am not proud of. But years of shared custody, never-ending transitions and every-other-weekend shuffling has – sort of – prepared me for this. I’m used to missing him, but I miss him all the time. Does that make sense? If you’re a divorced mom, it might.

I am not advocating divorce by any means, but here is the thing. He is more independent, and I am more independent, than I think we would have ever been. I suffered for years saying goodbye to him every other Friday, even though he was only going to his dad’s five minutes away. I felt cheated when I heard and saw moms on the soccer field or at Starbucks with their kids all the time. I never got to take him to Disney World first, because I only had every other Spring Break and he got there first with his dad. I had to get over all of that. (Yes – first world problems, and I know it.)

He and I have spent 15 years learning how to say goodbye. For 15 years, I’d only see him at his games (thank goodness he was involved in so many sports; that helped!) every other weekend. Then, I would have to say goodbye. Every year, I learned more about how to say goodbye. I had to live my life. I never stopped missing him, but I never once didn’t feel close to him. I always wondered if he’d be ok with all the little things – finding his football jersey, remembering his homework, flossing his teeth, finding his backpack, bringing a snack to practice, finding both cleats.

But he had a cell phone at eight years old, and I always heard from him. He was a text away and I felt close to him.

Still, I couldn’t solve everything. I couldn’t be there. I had to trust he would find his way – literally and figuratively. That is, finally, coming in handy – now.

So, I only cried for ten minutes. But I think about him every hour. I wonder if he will eat well, sleep well, get to class on time, brush his teeth, do his laundry. I wonder, but I don’t really worry. He will figure out it.

As a divorced mom, I have learned that you can't control everything and that things have a way of working themselves out. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of communication, and a lot of trust. But I think the laundry is a case in point. He’s been gone for a week, and yesterday I realized I hadn’t done laundry in a week – his or mine. That is a record! I don’t miss doing his laundry. Today, he sent me a video - his roommate recording him in the dorm laundry room. He thought I would appreciate it. Did he remember to use a dryer sheet? We’d bought the same Bounce scent we used at home. I could not really tell, but I was happy.


A mom is a mom, no matter what the circumstance or challenge. Don’t get me wrong – I can’t wait for Parent’s Weekend like everyone else! I think he’s appearing in my dreams way more than usual. I am not convinced he is actually flossing his teeth. But I truly believe I am more prepared for this period without him because I had to learn to miss him a long time ago. No – this is not ideal. I don’t recommend or justify divorce. But this is my reality. I am proud of him, and I am proud of myself. We are both alright.

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