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Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years

Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years

4.5 12
by Karen Levin Coburn

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Unlike other college guides targeted at students or about the admissions process, Letting Go is a compassionate, practical and up-to-the-minute self-help handbook for parents dealing with the confusing and conflicting emotions of watching their children go off to college. Using many anecdotes from students, teachers and administrators on the lines, the


Unlike other college guides targeted at students or about the admissions process, Letting Go is a compassionate, practical and up-to-the-minute self-help handbook for parents dealing with the confusing and conflicting emotions of watching their children go off to college. Using many anecdotes from students, teachers and administrators on the lines, the chapters lead parents through the transitional period from junior year of high school to senior year of college. The authors explain the mind-set of today's college students and what their hopes and fears are and offer parents help in figuring out when to encourage their child's independence and when to come to the rescue. With all-new sections on campus life, as well as the latest facts on the Internet and its impact on the admissions process, academics and student life, this is a must-have guide for every concerned parent.

Author Biography: Karen Levin Coburn is Associate Dean of Students at Washington University and the co-author of The New Assertive Woman (more than one million copies sold) and Hitting Our Stride.

Madge Lawrence Treeger, a long time member of the Washington University counseling service, is now a psychotherapist in private practice.

Editorial Reviews

Larry Moneta
The original Letting Go has served as a seminal source of information to families and their college-bound children for many years. This updated edition adds contemporary elements (especially in technology and diversity of student population which will make this volume invaluable for years to come.
Patricia A. Whitely
The third edition of Letting Go is better than ever. It is must reading for parents embarking with their son or daughter on the college experience. Information is relevant, current, practical, and easy to understand. It introduces parents to college issues, challenges, and services available at colleges and universities in the 1990s.
Ben Leiber
A sensitive, informative, and well-written guide to help parents know what their children are getting into when they leave for college. Full of practical advice and psychological insight, it's a better antidote than Valium for the anxieties parents feel as they prepare to let their children go.
John Brooks Slaughter
As the father of two children who have left home to attend college and as president of an institution that receives, each year, hundreds of young women and men who are leaving home for the first time, I find Letting Go to be a must read for parents of college-going students.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt

"I'm not getting out."
I sat behind the wheel of the car; Jennie sat beside me with her tattered stuffed teddy bear at her side, and we looked out at the line of young men and women laughing and chatting as they waited for the doors of the freshman dormitory to open.
"I'm not getting out," she repeated.
I panicked. My mind flashed back to the first day of nursery school. "Don't leave me," were her words then.
"But you wanted to get here early to get the best bed," I reminded her.
"I've changed my mind," she replied. That was evident.
We had just traveled for seventeen hours, over two days. Jennie was beginning her freshman year at college—our first child to leave home. Was I going to have to turn around and go back to St. Louis with her still beside me?
"Suppose we get out and just stand next to the car." She agreed reluctantly. I was relieved to see her leave the teddy bear in the car.
Jennie made it to the line of seemingly relaxed, happy freshmen—and was swept along by an overanxious young woman who handled her anxiety by hyperactivity instead of shyness. I looked over and saw Jennie blending in and looking just as relaxed as the others and let out a sigh of relief.
Within a half hour, I was excess baggage. Now it was my turn to separate. "Why don't you wander around campus and stop back in a few hours," Jennie suggested diplomatically. (What about all my fantasies of helping you fix up your room, chat with your roommates a bit, and see what coed living looks like? Of course, I kept these thoughts to myself.)
I smiled diplomatically in return, said good-bye, and began a somewhat aimless tour of the campus, passing other parents along theway who looked as lost as I felt. When I returned to the dorm, I found out Jennie had arranged for me to have dinner with another parent since she already had plans. I graciously bowed out, returned to the motel, and had a good cry.
Two days earlier, as a part of freshman orientation at Washington University, I had stood on a stage before approximately three hundred parents who had come to hear my professional words of wisdom as a member of the Student Counseling Service. The topic was "Letting Go."
And now I had begun.

The process of "letting go" actually starts in the first years of life. As parents, we can remember the struggles of the early years, especially between the ages of 11/2 and 3, when our children seesawed back and forth between acts of independence—a toddling strut accompanied by a "world is my oyster" smile—and clinging, whining periods of hanging on. Although this separation process continues throughout our children's growing years, it is especially evident as they move through adolescence and begin to leave home, when we once again see their ambivalence acted out in puzzling ways. We were often more patient and understanding of the process when our children were small. We were also better informed. The "terrible twos" may not have been pleasant, but we all knew they were coming, and we knew they would end. Information and reassurance were readily available if we felt uncertain about our children's development or our roles as parents. But when we send our sons and daughters off to college, there are no Dr. Spocks to reassure us, no guidelines for moving through this time of transition.
Some parents don't see this as a time of transition at all. It is simply the end of childrearing for them and of childhood for their sons and daughters. "You're an adult now; start acting like one," they admonish. Others have trouble giving up their role. They still see themselves as necessary protectors and their sons and daughters as immature children rather than self-reliant young adults. "Don't you worry about it, dear. I'll call your dean and take care of it for you."
Most of us flounder somewhere in between. We send our children off with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, a sense of loneliness and freedom, fantasy and reality. Our childrearing days are ending. Our children are launched. We anticipate dealing with our own reactions to their leaving—time on our hands, financial belt-tightening, a quiet house—but we are caught off guard by the continuing demands and concerns that we discover as each week and month goes by after the launching. As they struggle to be independent and separate once again, as in their toddler years, they venture forth with bravado and periods of newfound confidence and wisdom, only to retreat into times of anxiety and hanging on. They want Mom or Dad to be there when they want them. They call and pour out fears and hurts, hoping to be understood, or they withdraw into silence; advice and parental concerns become intrusions.
We shift gears constantly as we meet our offspring in an elusive dance of change. We find ourselves relentlessly retracing old patterns one week and discovering new ways of getting along the next. The temptation to tell our children how to be independent is a compelling one. The contradictory, but all too familiar, parental message is "It's about time you were grown up and on your own, so follow my advice." Translated, this painfully becomes "It's time for you to be independent, but I don't trust your judgment."
As our sons and daughters enter these college years, we have to come to terms with their strengths and their limitations. At the same time we realize that we too are at a watershed, entering into a new phase of our lives—growing older. We may find ourselves taking a new look at our marriage or career—our own limitations. And so as they struggle with a turmoil of conflicting emotions about leaving, we often are flooded with conflicting feelings of our own about being left.

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was introduced to this book when I went to my daughter's orientation in July 2006 at Fresno State's (Dog Days). Terrific & easy reading. The story/information was so true and reminded me about what was to happen and to do my best to let her go. I shared the book with another friend who has a daughter that will be starting college at SF State. Then the book will be shared with a co-worker who has a daughter that will be off to UCLA. This book is its own 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.' It's right for all of us, it fits all of us perfectly. I'll continue to share this book. I have asked all my friends to write their name, student's name and college information on the front page for historical purposes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Faced with the reality of sending my twins to college on opposite coasts, I realized that I needed a guide to help us through the unknown adventure that awaited. What a guide it was. At each stage of their college experience I could open the book and see what was next. The book was so accurate in portraying the various, sometimes unexplicable, twists and turns students undergo during their college years. I have loaned this book to several friends and they all agree that this is a valuable guide to be shared again and again. I'm ordering 2 more copies as 'They're Going Away' gifts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book when my daughter was in her Junior year. It helped me be able to understand her stress and mine. As a psychotherapist I thought I would know better but then I realized that the journey had to be hers. I have returned to this book over and over again and have recommended it to high school parents. Most of the chapters hit the mark for me as a parent. It helped clarify whose job it was to research, visit and write the essays. My daughter rose to the challenge and has been accepted to 7 out of 10 colleges. I continue to have this book by my bedside as I await her decision and the next four years. Good luck to parents. It is hard to step back and let them work harder than you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book (3rd edition) just before my oldest son went to college, one-thousand miles from home. The book was a life-saver, and helped me truly understand! A great book and quick read. I just bought the 4th edition for a friend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Letting Go is an insightful companion for an emotionally intense moment of parenting. Coburn and Treeger are great. If you're also looking for loving ways to celebrate a graduation or send a young adult into the world with the counsel of the people important to him or her (that's YOU!), I recommmend 'Words to Live By,' a fill-in journal. You write in your tips and lessons learned so you can let go, while knowing they've got your advice with them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book will prepare you for the unexpected emotional experiences of both parent and son or daughter who is leaving for college. Best if read prior to summer before student plans to leave, and refered to many times during the college years. There are certain times and events in your students' college life that are entirely predictable, and many that are not. This bood deals with both in a knowledgable and caring manner. As a high school counselor who specializes in helping students and parents prepare for and select their colleges, I always recommend this book. Parents report that it's sometimes a "life line" for them, guiding them through unfamiliar territory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago