For better or worse, it’s about that time to send the kiddos to school. As they leave, suitcases filled with freshly washed clothes, it’s usually a bittersweet goodbye. Sure, there’s fewer dirty dishes in the sink and less teenage attitude, but life feels different when there’s one less family member in the house. Here’s how to make a smooth transition into college parenting.
Help where you can.
Not everyone is in a position to foot the tuition bill, and that’s a-okay. Your student will, however, appreciate small gestures like sending home leftovers when they leave, providing rolls of quarters for laundry or stocking their mini fridge when you visit. Care packages are another great way to send your love, and there’s major mom-of-the-year points for sending extra goodies for their friends. Also, if your student is especially stressed out (it happens) consider booking them a deep-tissue massage.
Don’t compare yourself to other parents.
You probably have friends in the same life stage and they can be a great resource of advice, support and ideas. However, they also might foot more of the tuition bill or get more texts from their student or blah, blah, blah. There’s nothing but potential landmines when you start to compare and compete. Keep in mind what’s best for you and your family and stick to it.
Send letters (even if you don’t get one back).
Did you notice we said letter, not text or email? Whether they’ll admit it or not, your student loves getting mail from home. There’s nothing quite like opening their college mailbox to find real mail, especially when it’s from a loved one. It doesn’t have to be long, either. A card or quick update should do the trick and help them stay in the loop, so keep those letters coming!
Be a coach, not a manager.
We all know helicopter-parenting is bad for a college kids, but a little coaching is just fine. Not all college students are prepared to balance the academic and social challenges of college so while your role has changed, they still need your help. Instead of solving their problems for them, offer guidance and support so they can handle things on their own. Think long-term and try to teach them to problem solve and be a self-advocate to prepare them for life after college.
Pencil in phone calls.
Most parents struggle with not seeing their kid every day and being able to catch up. To make matters worse, college kids don’t have a reputation for always answering their phones when you do call. However, it’s important to still stay connected. A weekly Skype or phone call is a great place to start. You and your student might agree on Sunday nights at 8 p.m., for example, to check in with each other. You might both appreciate the predictability. Another tip, try asking open-ended questions to get more meaningful responses from your student. Also embrace the random phone calls and quick “sorry, gotta go!" hangups. It usually means they’re thinking of you, but are also thriving and enjoying college.
Let them experience conflict.
In college, one thing is certain, your child will be pushed to grow, and sometimes they’ll push back. Whether it’s an unfair professor or a rude roommate, conflict is likely to happen. When it does, resist the urge to intervene. College is about learning to overcome obstacles so, as a parent, you can offer advice but need to ultimately let your child find their own way. This is an important part of life and teaches them the skills they need to navigate daily life beyond their college years.
Visit - but not too often.
For students, the only thing better than going home is getting to see family, without the burden of traveling, in the comfort of their own (new) home. This is especially true when accompanied by dinners out or shopping trips. While you're in town, see what’s happening on campus or go to a home football game. College sporting events (ahem, tailgating) can be a lot of fun. Keep in mind that no one (not even you, mom) likes surprise visitors so give your kid a few days’ notice to clean up and keep their weekend plans open.
Pay attention to signs of trouble.
If your social butterfly student suddenly starts spending a lot of time at home, it could be something to talk to them about. Also watch for their grades falling, going out too often, damaged friendships or symptoms of depression. The pressure to succeed in college can be overwhelming so encourage your kid to talk to their RA or the student counseling office if they’re not opening up to you and you have concerns for their safety or mental well-being.
College may be your kid’s first exposure to sociology classes, new methods of thinking and real freedom. Their experiences help to shape the person they become and it’s only natural to have change and growth along the way. It can be beautiful and inspiring or, often, a pain in the neck. Whether you agree with their choices or not, it’s in your best interest to continue to love and support your student. Be patient, most phases come and go.
Trust your kid.
College is a time for students to discover who they are and who they want to be. You have to believe their good upbringing will pay off. That means no morning wake-up calls, not spying on their social media accounts (yep, it happens) and letting them make their own decisions. This is their chance to grow into an independent, responsible adult and they will if you let them.
College parenting is never easy. While your role has changed, they still need you to be in their court. Take their lead, even though you have more experience, and remember that this is their moment.