As a parent of kids who have all stayed in town for college I’ve always felt really lucky. Sure that comes with the challenges of living full-time with your teens as they become adults. And yes, that is its own special kind of balancing act. But as a youth minister of many years I’ve watched as the parents of each graduating class went through the shopping and prepping frenzy, packed up their cars and drove off to Three-to-Six-Hours-From-Home University, kissed that kid goodbye, and drove back home with an empty car, a box of tissues, and a breaking heart.
It can feel like your parenting journey has come to an end. In some ways that’s true; parenting a college kid is a whole different scene. Rest assured though, they still need you. They just need you differently. Here, in their own words, are some of the best things that college student’s parents did for them before, at, and after goodbye…
1. “Not making me feel guilty for being there/wanting to stay for a weekend instead of coming home.” If your kid doesn’t want to come home for the weekend, great! That usually means they are doing ok, making friends, and enjoying their new surroundings. If you’re not getting much information in these first few weeks know that that is pretty normal. Parent’s Weekend is coming and you’ll have a chance to get your hands on them and find out what’s really going on.
2. “Always being up for a phone call and bringing up similar situations they were in to the one I called about.” Even a confident happy kid will struggle a little (and sometimes a lot) especially at the beginning. Whether it’s roommate issues, a difficult professor, or simple homesickness, listening is probably the most important thing you do this year. As much as possible, try to be available in those golden moments when they feel like talking. Assure your college student that everyone is struggling, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.
3. “They did NOT get me when I was homesick. They listened but did not drop everything. They let me think about transferring, but let me make a decision. I stayed and loved it after a semester.” Be patient and encourage them to be patient, with themselves, with their school and their new surroundings. Many, though not all, students can push through homesickness with a combination of keeping busy and a little encouragement. Homesickness is temporary and will pass with time. If it doesn’t pass, it’s not homesickness and if that does come up you can help them find help.
4. “My mom was a huge help in getting me to realize how important it is to set healthy boundaries and how to do that. I feel like I was able to hold my ground and stick up for what I needed when I got to college and faced more challenges. Basically in high school I didn’t understand why I needed to have boundaries (such as times I’m not available to text back instantly, certain secrets that shouldn’t be kept because counselors needed to be involved, etc.). All I saw was the needs of my friends and how they were asking me to fulfill those needs, but this got me into some very toxic situations because I was unable to say no and my boundaries got blurred.” If you’ve raised a compassionate kid who looks out for others, good job! Now you may need to let them know when to stop helping. RA’s, counseling offices, campus ministry and a host of others are available to help on campus and while your kid can offer friendship and a listening ear, some of the problems they’ll face with friends or roommates will require more help than they can give.
On drop off day itself:
- Help, but let your kid take the lead-from moving in, to introductions, to when is it time for you to leave campus and let them handle things on their own.
- Keep calm and manage your own feelings. Try to remain patient even if your offspring gets frustrated or fed up. Anxiety and uncertainty sometimes gets expressed as anger or impatience. Be the grown up.
- Keep extra advice and pontificating to a minimum. Trust that what they have learned from you in the last eighteen years is enough. You got them this far. (Nice job!)
- You can gush (a little) and let them know how proud you are that they’ve gotten to this day and that you’re only a phone call away if they need help or advice.
Here’s a short list of our Top Ten Survival Strategies for new college students from The Freshman Survival Guide if you feel the need to leave some advice tucked in to a suitcase. And remember, letting go is one of the hardest parts of parenting but just like taking off the training wheels, they can’t learn to ride if you don’t let go of the back of the bike.
Nora Bradbury-Haehl is an author, speaker, and a nationally recognized voice in the conversation about young people and the Church. Her book “The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between” is an Amazon bestseller. She’s written for Saint Mary’s Press, BustedHalo.com, and Liturgy Training Publications. She’s been in youth and young adult ministry for more than twenty-five years and is involved in interfaith work in her hometown of Rochester, New York.
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