Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q: I leave for college in a few weeks. I’m a stew of excitement, fear, happiness and confusion. I worked very hard for acceptance at the college I wanted and I worked even harder for scholarships. I’m ready. My mom is a mess. I’m her only. She’s very proud of me. She tells me all the time. But, she’s also panicked about losing me. She knows you. She said you were her doula when I was born. I’m not sure what that is. She was just a teen when she had me. She’s a great mom. She puts me first all the time. No matter how tough things were when I was small, she made me feel safe and loved and protected. She speaks highly of you. Could you address this? Her anxiety is intense. I’m worried about her. It’s not like she’s really losing me. I’m just going a couple of hours away. How can I tell her how much I love and respect her? How can I tell her she’ll always be my mom and I’ll always come home?

18-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: You just told her.

Your mom’s primary role in life was raising you. It’s obvious she did an outstanding job. You’re mature, caring, and industrious. I’m certain she wants you to go to college; I’m equally sure she will miss you. How kind of you to see your departure through her eyes.

Change is challenging. I’d like to help ease your mom’s anxiety while reassuring you of its normalcy. Parents who prioritize their children are deeply vested in their well-being, just like your mom. Watching you move onto the next phase of your life is bittersweet. Why do you think so many parents cry at graduations? A parental mixture of joy, pride and longing is connected with a child reaching for adulthood.

You will return home, of course. You’ll be the same person, but different. Your mom wants you to grow and mature and find your path in life, but she also is mourning the loss of you as a child. I think she’ll work through her anxiety, with support from family and friends. If her anxiety begins to change the way she enjoys life, she should seek counseling.

Just hearing you say the words you wrote to me should help her. Sometimes we don’t share our feelings with the people closest to us. You need to articulate the obvious to her. Tell her you love her and appreciate her.

Share how you’re excited and happy and frightened and confused. Remind her you will still need her steady presence in your life. Be sure she knows you’re ready to move on and you want her to be happy.

A doula is a person trained to support a laboring women through her birth. I’ve been honored and blessed to serve as a doula for many young parents. It is a bond I never forget. I’d love to meet with your mom for coffee or lunch. You could join us if you like. Your mom and I could schedule another meeting after you leave for college.

If you decide to become a parent someday, your mom’s feelings will probably make more sense to you. When new parents hold their newborns, they experience an avalanche of emotions. The need to protect this tiny life is intense. The love is different from any other love.

Your mom’s love will go with you. You’ll stay in touch via Skype or FaceTime; she’ll visit you and you’ll come home.

Your relationship will stretch and grow until one day she’ll realize you are an adult friend she treasures.

When people are blessed with great parents, they also may deal with the stress of expectation, especially when they are only children. Your empathy and love for your mom is evident. You’re a person of worth.

You’ll be OK. Your mom is a strong woman of worth. She’ll be OK, too.

Good luck with college. Have fun and learn. Be at peace. I’ll connect with your mom.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com

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