Some Thoughts as My Life as a College Parent Winds Down

I only have a year left to refer to myself as the mom of a college student. 

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

The youngest of my two kids is entering his senior year of college. Come next August, I won’t be worrying that the end of summer means a child of mine will be packing up to head back to school soon. For those of you who are sending your first child off to college away from home, here’s some advice based on my experience. (This earlier post shares other lesson’s I’ve learned.)

Accept that the whole experience is new for all of you For your college freshman, nothing will be familiar—where he eats and sleeps, the faces he sees, his daily schedule, etc. That sounds scary, except he’ll be sharing the experience with a bunch of other freshmen. Keep in mind that colleges place resident advisors (RAs) in dorms and other upperclassmen in academic counseling offices specifically to help new students. I’ve also found most kids are ready for a change of scenery and a fresh start, mixing in plenty of excitement with their initial fears.

Unfortunately, for mom and dad, there isn’t the same support system. Don’t be afraid to lean on those experienced parents you talked with during the college admissions process because they know exactly what you’re feeling. They will tell you it gets easier once you know your son or daughter has settled in. (Check out my post on surviving the emptying of the nest.)

Time apart can improve your relationship No matter how well you get along with your 18-year-old, these stressful few weeks before she heads off can strain even the best parent-child relationship. She can use a break from being reminded to pack or clean up after herself and you’re ready to be done nagging. Seriously, a little distance helps a lot. After meeting new kids and learning about their lives she’ll likely develop an appreciation for her life at home, and you.

Homesickness is normal, and should pass Missing home overwhelms some kids as soon as their parents drive away from campus and others don’t get phased by it until a month or two later. But almost all freshmen experience it at one time or another. If it gets worse and your child doesn’t turn a corner within a few weeks, then it’s time to find help on campus. The RAs received training in this area and most campuses have a counseling office to assist, too. If you’re really concerned, make a visit to campus to assess how bad it is in-person. (My post on college students and depression should help you recognize when it’s more than homesickness.)

They do their own laundry at college, they can do it when they come home Moms especially fall back into the habit of washing their kids clothes, usually when their child returns for the first time. But I recommend showing him that you recognize he’s a young adult and letting him do it for himself. Besides, what he really needs is a home-cooked meal. Put your time and effort into delicious, and nutritious, meals.

The rules at home have to change, so don’t fight it You have the right to say what goes at home, but consider what adjustments need to be made to rules about her curfew, visitors to her bedroom, use of the family car, showing up for family dinners, etc. Start thinking about what you consider reasonable so by the time she comes home for a weekend visit or Thanksgiving break you can discuss the issues calmly. 

Your college student still needs you Some kids become very independent at college and barely keep in touch once a week. But even the most independent child will call or text asking for mom or dad’s opinion once in a while. This is the time to help your child learn to make his own decisions so your advice should guide him to make the choice that is best for him. Often he just wants someone to listen or help talk it through. Your role is not to leave your kid hanging out there without a direction, but to help him find his direction.

Life at home will never be the same, and that’s okay Let’s face it, all the work we’ve put into parenting our kids the past 18 years was about this moment. Our job is to help our children become young adults and that’s who will be coming through the door from now on. Enjoy the change.

Share your thoughts on life with a college student.

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