My eldest son is leaving for college. There is such a stir of emotions that are filtering through me. I am thrilled for him and his upcoming journey. I am prideful of his accomplishments. I revel at his maturity, kindness, and thoughtfulness toward others. I also feel profoundly sad at the thought of our family structure changing forever.
I cling to the thought that it hasn’t been enough time. I yearn for togetherness – more opportunities for being present, having fun, and engaging in quality family time. I perseverate over thoughts about what I have done wrong, what I have done right, and what I could strive to do better in the future with him and his younger siblings.
I decided instead of wondering, I was going give him an exit interview. They typically conduct these interviews at work. The purpose of doing them at work is to gain feedback from departing employees in order to improve aspects of the organization, better retain employees, and to reduce turnover.
I want to better understand how to improve home life so that my family thinks and feels of their home as a safe haven while they are living there, visiting from school, or anytime in the future.
These are the questions I asked my son before leaving for college:
- How do you feel about leaving for college?
- It’s typical to have mixed feelings. What do you fear about going off to college? What are you looking forward to?
- Looking back, is there anything you regret before going off to college?
- What positive memories stand out for you that you’ll take with you?
- What do you think the climate at our home has been? Can you give some examples?
- What was that like for you?
- How did you think and feel about how we all communicated?
- Were you clear on what was expected of you at home? School? With your friends? etc. Is there something that we could have done to make it clearer?
- Any feedback for dad and I going forward to improve our communication with each other and/or with you and your siblings?
- Any general disappointments or improvements you can share that can be potentially beneficial with your siblings?
- How do you think and feel about your relationship with me?
- What can I do in the future that can help to improve it?
- How do you think and feel about your relationship with your dad?
- What can he do in the future that can help to improve it?
- Any concerns or feedback about your relationships with your siblings? How can dad and I both work to improve those relationships?
- If you could change anything about our family life, what would you change?
- While you’re gone, how and when do you want to be communicated with?
- Are there things that you want us to consider and be sensitive to while you’re away?
As you can imagine, there were constructive comments I received that I was very cognizant about and that continues to be a work in progress in my household. There was also feedback that surprised me, saddened me, and I was touched by. All of it was meaningful because it gave me an opportunity to hear his perspective and actively listen to him. I vowed to him that I would be open, non-judgmental, not interrupt him, and take it all in before I commented on any of it. I adhered to it all.
What I appreciated most is having a forum where I was able to hear his thoughts, feelings, concerns, and feedback. It helps me to understand him and myself better. It wasn’t easy to listen without feeling highly emotionally sensitive, criticized, defensive, and boastful but I did my best to be accepting of all the thoughts and feelings that surfaced, whether I agreed with them or not, or whether they were comfortable or not.
There is just a short time until he leaves. My heart feels full and empty at the same time. It is so incredibly hard to let go. I think about the 18 years that have passed and all that has happened during that time. I am accepting and have gratitude for our shared pain because it reminds me of how much love we share with one another. In just a short time, I will let go, begrudgingly and lovingly.