Managing the Trauma of Transitions


Spring is here – and it’s all about transitioning from winter to summer. That old change of seasons. For the flowers, the trees, and…our kids. The school year is ending. Some kids are heading off to summer camps (or summer school). Some kids are coming back home.

So how do you get your child (and yourself) ready to manage the upcoming transitions?

Change is hard for kids. And for us parents. Whether your kids are toddlers or teenagers, they need guidance and a deft touch to handle transitions.

I have a son coming home from college after his freshman year. And a young teen heading off to summer camp. The main thing I can do to help, it seems, is to avoid going to extremes with either child – overprotecting them with too many rules and lectures, or neglecting them by being blasé and lax about boundaries.

The 14-year-old heading off to camp is easier, for me at least. We’ve done this before. She loves her camp, but I know she’ll be homesick; I know it’s normal. (Even good – thankfully she likes her home enough to miss it.) Drop off is awkward and painful. She wants me to leave. I want to postpone leaving. She’s my youngest, so every goodbye feels fraught with my own sentimentality.

My 19-year-old son coming home may be harder. Parenting “firsts” always carry a steep learning curve. After a year of freedom at college, how will he react to his old curfew? To my cooking? To my hovering? My rules? He’s had a job at school…do I still give him spending money? Can he have a girlfriend spend the night? Drink a beer in my house? How much change and maturity do I expect from him? How much does he expect me to still do for him?

I have no idea.

What helps me – with both transitions – is to center myself with the same priceless, almost visceral reminder from when my kids were toddlers. I stop and remember what it’s like to be a kid, what it felt like, in my body, to be that age. I was a 14-year-old girl heading off to camp (the exact same camp, coincidentally). I was a 19-year-old home from college for the first time. As parent now, I try to remember exactly what I needed, and didn’t need, from my parents at those stages of adolescence. Now, that knowledge guides me to imagine the messages I’m intentionally – and unintentionally – sending both children.

I don’t want either the 19-year-old or the 14-year-old to take the memo that I don’t believe they can handle either college or summer camp without me. Neither world is too dangerous for either child; not even close. I want them both to know I trust them and their judgment, and that they should trust themselves too, even if they make mistakes. I want them to have fun, to experiment, to take risks and learn lessons about themselves and the world outside my home and my reach.

Most of all, I want them to know they can return home when they need me.

So after helping my daughter unpack, and making her bed in the tent, I plan to smile as best I can and leave as quickly as I can. And at home, I plan to welcome my son back with a huge momma bear hug, and then try to let him make most of the rules, as long as he treats himself, me, and our home with respect. But none of this will be easy for me, and probably not for my kids, either. Like so much of parenthood, life’s transitions rarely are.




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