08/18/2014 04:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Sacred Rules of College Drop-Off

Michael Braun via Getty Images

Thank goodness for second chances.

Moving my first daughter into college was a nasty, bumbling mess. It's an entertaining story that I would love to tell you, but I don't come off looking very good. Let's just leave it at that.

I've had three years in time-out to think about my bad behavior, and to plan a different kind of day when I drive my second daughter to college in a few weeks. You can learn from my mistakes. Here are three sacred rules for the day you're dreading.

1. Keep it short.
All the things they say in the movies about long goodbyes are true. What do they say? "Everyone hates them."

Get on with it. When your moving task is done, get going. Even if you planned to have dinner together, if you finish early, don't make your kid spend the two extra hours entertaining you. The most exciting time of her life is waiting. Swallow hard and get out of Dodge.

2. Keep it sweet.
Moving large boxes and marking a dreaded stressful milestone in the same day is a recipe for bickering. Remember, you're the grown-up. Keep the smile on your face. Keep idle chatter upbeat, not critical. Meet stress with calm. Bring candy. When you're tempted to give a lecture, give a wink instead. You can't necessarily set the tone, but don't sour it.

3. Keep it real.
Yes, after feeding and sheltering a person for 18 years, you are entitled to a little storybook sentimentality.

But today is not the day. Today is moving day. What's really happening is two different stories -- yours and your child's. You each have different expectations, and neither of you knows the details of the other's happy ending. Not really. Even if you do, mom, yours matters less. Try to be in the moment. Observe and remember what is really happening. You can't do that if you're looking for your tiara and magic wand.

I'm not saying it's easy. Letting go of my first daughter was so difficult that I journaled for a year (which turned into an entire book) as self-therapy.

I found that letting go is a learned skill. I do best when I remember that the student in this process is not the person who is staying behind in the dorm room.


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