Daughter going to college overseas: how do we help her prepare?

Parents in Beijing (From Little Star Magazine, Shanghai), asks:

Our daughter is graduating from high school this summer and going to college in America. Like many parents, we watched her grow up from a baby girl in kindergarten to a senior in high school. For years, we woke her up in the morning, picked her up from school and checked her homework in the evenings. This is the first time she is going to school alone and in a place so far away from home. She looks very unhappy, especially thinking of leaving us and being alone in the U.S. How can we talk with her, and what can we do to help her prepare for her new life without us around?

The departure of a child from her family is one of the biggest developmental transitions in all of life, almost as important as getting married or giving birth to a baby. When a child leaves the family it is the end of her childhood, the beginning of her young adulthood and the end of her (or his) parents’ day-to-day parenting. When your daughter leaves, everything changes, nothing will ever be quite the same. I am not surprised that your daughter looks unhappy at times; it is natural for her to feel a bit anxious and uncertain about the future. I am also not surprised to find that you are at a loss for what to say to her because you have not sent a daughter out into the world before.

You need her to know three things: 1) that this is a big adjustment for everyone in the family, 2) that it is scary and new, and 3) that you have confidence that she is going to make a success of it, because she is a strong person and she is prepared for this transition. Tell her that you see her nervousness, but also acknowledge your own. Seniors often tell me that they are worried not just about themselves, but their parents as well. What if the father of the family travels a lot on business and mother and daughter have been each other’s company and confidantes most days? A daughter might worry that her mother will be lonely without her.

I would advise you to say something like this: "Honey, I hope you know how much we love you. We’re going to miss you terribly when you go off to college. It has meant so much to be your parents that sometimes we don’t feel ready to have you leave, but we’re going to be fine and we expect you will too. All of your classmates will be going away to college; all of them will have left their homes; it is likely that a lot of them will be a little homesick and you can support each other. Please know that we will be in touch by phone and email as much as you need us to be."