Q.My oldest daughter, a high school senior, will go away to college in September and I want this critical transition to be as easy as possible. Are there any books for her -- and for me -- to read? Her high school counselor suggested one called "Letting Go," but we probably need more than that.
A.This is a critical transition for you, as well as for your daughter. No matter how wisely you prepare for it, you'll probably feel empty and at least a little lost when she goes to college.
It all depends on how good you are at letting go. You've been doing that, bit by bit, ever since your daughter was a baby. But it will be harder to let her go to college because you know you're letting her go for life. And if you're like most parents, this thought will shadow you all summer. By August, you and your daughter may be snapping at each other, and in time have a major blowup followed by a tearful reconciliation.
Don't be undone by the drama. It's a scenario that occurs almost every time two loving people must part, although some scenarios are more emotional than others.
While you may need to polish your "letting go" skills, your daughter may need a crash course in Life 101. Her roommate won't be giving her money, like you do, or washing her clothes or making coffee for her in the morning.
If your daughter has had summer or weekend jobs for the past few years and has been buying most of her own clothes and saving some money for college, she won't have much trouble managing her expenses next year. But if she hasn't had this experience, she will have only three months to learn how to budget.
Even if you can easily afford to give your daughter a monthly allowance at college, she should work this summer to earn it for herself. Her job may not bring in enough to cover both semesters, but she will be investing in her own education, helping her family and appreciating her parents a little more. After working all summer, your daughter will realize how hard it is to make money and how much money it takes to send her to college.
You can expect her to manage her savings pretty well if she opens a student savings account at the bank when she gets her first paycheck and a checking account before school starts. This will let her transfer her allowance from savings to checking every month without being tempted to spend impulsively. And if you let her write your checks and balance your checkbook this summer, she will know how to do this for herself at college.
Laundry can be another problem if your daughter doesn't wash her own clothes. Teach her to sort by color, to pre-spot every stain and to use unscented laundry soap and dryer sheets so her clothes won't smell like cheap perfume.
You also should teach your daughter how to sew a button on her raincoat, mend a rip and hem a skirt or a curtain because she's bound to need these simple sewing skills occasionally.
Cooking is another skill that all college students should acquire, because it makes them more independent. Teach your daughter how to brew good coffee -- so she won't spend so much at Starbucks -- and how to make a half-dozen fine but simple recipes, such as a Caesar or a nicoise salad, an omelet, a hamburger, a roast chicken and a flank steak. If she can use only a microwave at school, that's okay, because it cooks asparagus, corn on the cob and even salmon fillets better than the stove. As long as you congratulate your daughter for her efforts -- even when she misses a step or two -- she will begin to think of herself as a competent cook, and pretty soon she will be. Just to make sure, give her a copy of "The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook," the classic written by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (Simon & Schuster; $14).
And finally, you and your daughter should read "Letting Go," by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger (Quill; $13.95), as the school counselor suggested, and "When Your Kid Goes to College," by Carol Barkin (Avon; $12). There aren't many books on this subject, but these are quite good.
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