“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” ding dong, ding dong. You know the song. Perhaps for you, it still conjures up images of holiday decorations and good cheer. Not for me. Not since 1996, when Staples came out with that clever commercial of the mom gliding through the aisle, joyously tossing post-its and pencils into her cart, and two children slugging along behind her. For me I must agree, it IS the most wonderful time of the year.
Yes, I am a mom who is happy to send her kids back to school. That part rings true, but there are other reasons I find it to be the most wonderful time of the year. It means the big kids are coming back to campus after a quiet summer. It means the new freshman will arrive with their spirit and hope. The energy of September is palpable as you walk around campus. It is a time to start again. Much like the New Year, I find myself making lists of new goals to achieve.
However, as a parent of a new college student that commercial that may have been silly and humorous doesn’t seem so anymore. As parents we worry. It’s part of our DNA. We have concerns about whether our children will succeed. If they are going away for school, we may worry about their new found independence. These are valid concerns. As a parent of a new student, you may find yourself asking what should I expect or what is my role?
First, it is okay to miss your child. You probably will. Those feelings didn’t get dubbed with “the empty nest syndrome” for nothing. You may feel emotions of sadness to grouchy bad moods. Try to come up with a method for staying in touch. Make it something that you and your child can agree on. A phone call or text a day? Maybe once every two or three days. Technology can help you. Gone are the days of your child standing in line for the pay phone at the end of the hall. Maybe plan to Face Time or Skype once in a while or even plan a monthly campus visit. However, caution is advised, this is a time for your student to spread their wings. Try not to text and call too often. Let them reach out to you. They will, and they will come to enjoy that time as much as you.
My biggest caution is against the temptation to be overly involved. Remember the term “helicopter” parenting? Unfortunately, it still holds true for today’s college student. Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a parent in the office. College is a time for the student to handle their problems on their own. Offering advice and suggestions are helpful, but they should manage with your support from the sidelines. They will leave school with a greater sense of self and independence if you do. (In another blog we can discuss FERPA).
Help your child know who they can go to as a college resource. Anyone from their Resident Advisor (RA) to their Academic Advisor can help. Each university and college around the nation has student support services available just to help your child navigate the college waters. The sooner your child knows where they can get answers, assistance and support for issues and concerns, the better.
Remember that feeling of palpable energy I spoke of? Well, it doesn’t last forever. Even after the first week of school (often orientation week), there can be a let-down. Freshmen may question their decision. School work begins to set in, and so does the reality of the work involved. Often the first six weeks of the semester can be a difficult transition for the new student. It’s not just you who will be making some adjustments. The first series of posted grades can be a huge disappointment. Helping your student problem solve can be a great assistance.
In a future posts, I will also talk about setting expectations with your college student. But for now, even if you are not feeling that sense of joyous exuberance as your child packs up, keep in mind that this is just a new phase. You may never throw socks into a suitcase with the joy of the mom and her post-its on TV, and that’s ok. However, packing for college will be the new norm for the next few years. Just like that first day of kindergarten when they got on the bus. It may take some getting used to, but that’s ok too.
(Oh, and for goodness sakes after the first move-in day, let them pack themselves!)