As a mom of two college-aged children, I know a thing or two about the challenges of kids leaving the house and figuring out life on their own. My girls decided they didn’t want to go out of state because they like to visit us often, enjoy a non-dining hall dish, and don’t need to wait on a washer or dryer to become available.
When I sent my oldest daughter off, I had no clue what to expect, so I read a bunch of posts from other parents to prepare myself. Most of them covered “what to bring on the move-in date” or “what you need to get for your first day of class” but nothing covered the emotional aspect of leaving your freshman at college and driving home with an empty van.
That’s why I decided to share what I learned (so far) after dropping off two kids to college (I have another 3 years until I have to drop off my son but I have a funny feeling he won’t stay in state).
- Give them space. Don’t expect them to call you every hour of the day. If they don’t, it means they are comfortable and are not seeking your advice right now. Let them call you first.
- Don’t get mad. College life can be a lot. Sharing a dorm with another person and a bathroom with 30 others can be intimidating. There is always something happening on campus like parties, school events, group meetings, etc. Focusing on classes and studying for tests can be challenging sometimes. Don’t expect too many As in the first semester. They will still be able to graduate at the end.
- Take care of yourself. Instead of asking what they might need, think about what you need right now. That is different for everyone and can be anything from a wellness weekend with your friends to a trip to Paris with your spouse. And sometimes a tasteful dinner in your favorite restaurant does the trick. Celebrate yourself for raising a great kid that will have an awesome time at college.
- Take care of your relationship. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you are being honest, the last date night or weekend away has been a while…as an empty nester or a parent to older teenagers, we can now plan on more alone time with our spouse, invent ourselves new as a couple and try out new hobbies that we enjoy doing together. For me and my hubby that was always traveling. We did a lot of exploring with the whole family, but now we enjoy the easiness of being more spontaneous with trips (aka school breaks are not relevant anymore) and understanding that finding a table for 2 in a restaurant is much easier than for a party of 5. Also that having a Pina Colada for lunch is fun!
- Spend time with siblings. I still have a high school freshman at home that needs my help sometimes. He just got his permit and we often hit the parking lot to get some practice in, but mostly I cook his favorite meals and drive him to football practice. Just don’t put too much attention on the siblings. Especially when they are teenagers, they get annoyed easily.
- Keep busy. You don’t necessarily have to open your own business as I did, but picking up a new hobby or being more active in your community will just help you as much on not feel useless. Spend your free time wisely on things that give you joy but also serve your community.
An additional tip for the first break: If your kid goes to an out-of-state school the first time they come home is probably around Thanksgiving and you are already excited about it. To spare you the disappointment the only thing my girls wanted to do was stay in bed for three days straight. Resting and recharging are all they need right now. The best way you can help them is by taking care of their laundry, cooking their favorite meal, and checking in on them once in a while. What they don’t need is arranged meetings with extended family members or doctor’s appointments that are not urgent. They probably don’t even want to talk about college and the least they want to share is the grades they are expecting to get.
For me, the first year was always some kind of grace period that they need to figure it all out. After that, it will all fall into place. Show them that you trust their decisions and let them know that it is normal to make some not-so-smart decisions. How else are they learning?