Sending your children to college is bittersweet. One the one hand, you’re glad to see your children grow up into independent young adults and on the other, you’re sad to see them go. But not 100 percent sad.
No, I’m not cold. I’m not a selfish mom, either. Hear me out for a moment. I have just spent the past 18 years dividing my attention between my three children. And, as it often is, those thirds are not equal: my oldest demands more attention than the younger two. I sometimes joke that raising my oldest is like raising two children.
So when I sent my daughter to college last year, there became an attention vacuum in my family. Without her running around my house every day and asking questions or for my opinion (which is flattering, I have to admit), I suddenly had the chance to focus more on my younger two children. My second was going into her senior year of high school, my son was entering the eighth grade, and, with that timetable, I got to know my second daughter as I never had.
As a mother, it feels somewhat strange and self-deprecating to admit the following about the relationship we share, but she is a stereotypical middle child. She does not seek attention from me the way her siblings do. While her sister was loud and chatty as a young kid, she seldom spoke. Add my son into the mix, who is younger and therefore needs more attention, you can see why the middle child stereotype exists, and why my middle child is no exception.
Even as my children grew older, my oldest would inform me of every minor issue going on her life with vivid detail. My son, given his young age, demanded my attention, as undemanding as he is. The effect was my middle child kept to herself and only came to me when necessary. With her sister out of the house and milestones on the horizon— receiving a driver’s license, applying to college, senior prom, and graduating high school—my younger daughter was thrust into the spotlight whether she liked it or not.
Without her running around my house every day and asking questions or for my opinion, I suddenly had the chance to focus more on my younger two children.
My daughters are 14 months apart in age—twins the hard way, as I often like to say—so I never had the opportunity to raise my younger daughter without my older one before last year. Because of the timing, particularly the fact that my daughter was applying to college, she needed my attention more than ever, and I was finally available to provide it.
We embarked on multiple road trips together to visit schools, and while those trips were stressful at the time, sitting in my car for hours on end granted me the opportunity to focus on my daughter and get to know her as not just my child but as a person. I already knew my younger daughter is more easy-going than my older one, but I learned that even without her sister living at home with us, she isn’t a demanding child. I also learned that, when given a chance, my quiet daughter can be just as talkative as her sister.
When we weren’t on road trips, we were out to dinner or on ice cream runs. And when my daughter swore off eating ice cream, we went on regular runs. (Well, technically, power walks around our beloved local lake.) By the time the year was up, I had made a friend, a great one.
There wasn’t a moment over the past year when I didn’t miss my older daughter while she was away at school. I love my one-on-one visits with her now that her younger siblings have been busier doing their own thing. She is my favorite restaurant buddy! Still, I’m grateful for the silver lining of being able to focus on my middle child.
Due to the slim age gap between my two girls, my nest will soon empty again as I send her away to college, too. Now only my son will be left behind at home. The difference is I will have a little more time—four years—instead of just one to get to know him as he grows into a young adult. And instead of feeling sad my kids are leaving, I’m looking forward to the memorable time that’s coming.
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