How to Survive Freshman Dorm Move-in Like a Bad Ass Mom

Taking your child to college freshman year is not for sissies.

Probably, by the end of the summer before freshman year, you will be ready to see your child go. The odds are that you – and your child – have reached the point where you just want to get it over with. You’ve made it through the Year Of The Senior, when each and every event is “the last” – last first day, last last day, last time for every moment you have enjoyed for your child’s entire school career. You have spent the summer months shopping, shipping, sorting, sending, spending, spending, spending…it’s ok to be ready to move on from the pre-college activities. Really, it is.

It’s also ok to be overwhelmed with sadness and grief. Parenthood, as you have known it, is winding down – you will still be a parent, but in a new and decidedly different way. After some time you will grow to love this next phase – watching your child become a young adult is an amazing and exciting process, almost as exciting as the first steps and first words. Your little boy or girl will evolve into an adult who continues to fascinate and intrigue, but the responsibilities – the care taking and driving and planning – those things will fade away, and what will be left is a grown person, fully formed.

But first, before this transformation is even a possibility, you have to move your child into the dorm, help her unpack, make her XL twin bed and then, of course, you have to leave.

This is not easy, at least for most parents. For a tough few it’s like pulling off a band-aid – it hurts a bit at first, but then the pain fades quickly. For most of us, though, it’s heart wrenching and scary and, in a way, impossible to comprehend. Leaving your child? In that dingy, raggedy dorm room, with a roommate who you aren’t quite sure about? This is the person whose laundry you washed, whose dinner you made, the child you watched walk to school by himself the first time with an irrepressible urge to run after her, whose fever you worried over, whose grades you obsessed about, whose tears you wiped away and laughter you love hearing more than any sound in the world.

How are you going to just…leave her?

Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to check in to your hotel 2 days before move in begins. You are going to rent a full-size car so you can pick up your pre-ordered packages from Bed, Bath and Beyond, then head to Staples, Costco and where ever else you plan to shop. You’re going to spend those two days getting to know the campus and the town or city where your child will spend the next four years. By familiarizing yourself with your child’s college campus and the surrounding area, you will be able to picture her there when she calls you, walking from class to class, those first weeks and months of school when she is finding her place among people she is just getting to know.

You’re going to find a laundromat so you can wash the brand new sheets and towels so they are soft and smell like home, because you will use the detergent you have used all your child’s life. You’re going to take her to eat her favorite foods – maybe a steak, maybe sushi, probably an ice cream cone. You’re going to bicker and annoy each other and you’re going to cling to each other at moments when the enormity of what is happening seems like it will take you down any second.

Finally, you’re going to move her in. Maybe your husband or her brother is there to help with the heavy stuff, but most of what will happen once the dorm room door is unlocked for the first time will be her call. You’ll stuff emergency kits and first aid kits and snacks and water bottles into under bed storage bins. You’ll wonder how in the world she will fit all her clothes in such a tiny space, and where will she put her boots? How about her winter coat?

It will all be ok. Everything will find its way to a place where it will live for the year. 

The last thing you’ll do is make the bed. You’ll get out those freshly washed sheets and the comforter so carefully chosen, perhaps to coordinate with her roommate’s comforter, since they’ve talked online and decided together what they want the room to look like. You’ll realize that there are parents leaving – you can see them in the hallway, some of them looking like deer in the headlights, like they’re a little bit in shock. Some of them look just fine – relieved, in fact.

And then it will be time to say goodbye.

You will cry. This you can count on. You may not cry when you say goodbye, and your daughter may not either – but eventually you will, and so will she. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s good. You are letting so much go while your daughter is starting so much that is new. This is how it’s supposed to be, how it’s supposed to feel. After all, you have loved her for a long time. That won’t change. But gradually….slowly….steadily….you will be ok. You’ll get used to her being gone and you’ll savor the phone conversations, the FaceTime calls, the text messages, the Instagram posts.

Saying goodbye will never be this hard again.



  1. Holy Crap! EMOTIONS!… Thank God Darlene will be there to kick my but out of that room…

  2. No matter your politics, no mother who has taken their firstborn (or only) child to college could help but picture herself when Bill Clinton talked about Hillary “looking for one more drawer to put that liner paper in” before parents were told to leave. Even a woman who has been part of a lot of serious political situations can still be a mom who can’t bring herself to say goodbye on that day when everything changes forever.

    • That was a very real and humanizing part of a wonderful speech Bill Clinton gave. I could picture her standing in that room, couldn’t you?

  3. I have just put my son on a plane in Africa to the US for uni. I won’t see him for a year. My heart broke in two. I have read all the posts and the articles but nothing can prepare you for the pain, the actual physical pain in my chest and the lump the size of a golf ball in my throat. I couldn’t say anything at all and then he was gone. It is singularly the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I think I’m ok now but every now and again I break down when I don’t expect it. Be prepared, saying goodbye to your child is not for sissies!

  4. Thanks for sharing and for offering suggestions. I’m just her step father, and I’m crying a few days in advance of her departure to a land far far away. We already have reservations for Parents Weekend!

  5. I ran the gauntlet of emotions, tears of sadness, pride, fear, etc. We laid in my bed, I held my “little” girl as if she had awaken from a bad dream. I was sad for her as she was going to be leaving her friends, boyfriend, dogs, everything she knew, and going to a new environment, new friends. Two years have passed since that day. Yes, at times, want to move to be near her.

  6. This is so brilliant and beautiful and helpful – and well written. Thank you, Sharon, for writing this.