Letting Go & Holding On

I have been presenting my College Parent 101 session a lot in the last few weeks as this is the season for New Student & Parent Orientation sessions at universities across the country.  As I walked across campus the other day I thought, “Hmm, if we could harness the energy surrounding all the feelings both students and parents are experiencing right now, we could light up several small cities.”  There is a LOT of emotional energy being expressed about what lies ahead.

I watched the movie Toy Story 3 again recently, reminded that the premise of the story is that Andy, the “human” character in the series, is preparing to leave for college and is asked by his mother to pack what he needs and box-up or give away what he no longer wants.  It is a great depiction of the process every student is going through about now; what will I let go of and what will I hold on to – both literally and figuratively? (if you haven’t seen TS3, or haven’t seen it in a while, I think its well-worth watching with this transition in mind – I might even classify this as an “Assignment” on the College Parent 101 syllabus!)

So much of our identity gets wrapped up in what we have, who we know, and the places that hold memories.  So, when those change or we have to move on, what happens to our identity?  I sense that it is times like this; times when we are called on to evaluate what has meaning, that we bump into what we are attached to, and, at least at some level, must assess whether we will remain attached to the person, the thing, the idea, or agenda we believe helps maintain or perpetuate our identity.

I’m convinced that if we do not recognize our attachments, we will act/speak/think out of a potentially unhealthy sense of “holding on” to that attachment.  This is one of the very things that keep us living in the past, or not letting go of a particular way of seeing ourselves &/or others.  I often ask parents to consider what they feel when I say the words, “Letting Go…  What do you become aware of?  What do you feel?”  I believe it is essential that we recognize what and how we feel about the changes set in motion by this transition, and then appropriately grieve the change (loss) of how it was, and no longer will be, or we will continue to hold on, which holds us back.

Another way to approach this is to identify the ROLES (see p.s. below) we have had with our daughter/son: mentor, guide, nurse, teacher, taxi, ATM, alarm clock, and the list goes on...  Many of these will change dramatically; some will disappear entirely.  If we don’t identify these and also grieve the loss of them, we may continue to try to keep the role alive in one way or another; holding our daughter/son and ourselves back from healthy growth and understanding.

Just as Andy in Toy Story 3 has to make a decision about his cherished boyhood toys and the memories associated with them, so do each of us need to make a decision about how we recognize the inevitable (and necessary) changes that come as we transition our relationship to a new place of growth.

Peace, Dane

p.s. If you would like to explore this more deeply, begin to make a list of the Roles that you embody in relationship to your daughter/son.  List them, then begin to wonder about (pray about) the ways in which these roles are and will change as your child goes away to college.  The more aware you are of how you have lived out of these roles and how each leads you to act or respond toward your child, the more aware you can become of the work YOU need to do to let go of the attachments that are embedded in the roles.


Author: Dane

Dane Anthony’s career in higher education spans 30 years on both public and private university campuses. In addition to serving as a faculty member, he has worked in the areas of Counseling, Residence Life & Housing, Student Health & Wellness, New Student & Parent Orientation, Parent Programming, and University Chaplaincy. Dane & his wife have 3 grown children and currently reside in Nashville, TN.

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