Many parents are taken by surprise by how "plain old sad" they feel in the aftermath of a child’s departure. When the first kid goes off to college, your own parents ( the college kid's grandparents) are most likely more fragile or have died. That may add an intensity to the sense of loss for the sandwich generation. Younger children left behind are readjusting and going through their own emotions. And of course some siblings are quietly celebrating.
There is no question that the dinner table dynamics will be completely different.
So, after drop off, book a spa appointment ahead of time, a lunch with girlfriends, plan a big family dinner or even a get-away. One Mom reported taking a weekend trip with the sibling at home to make them feel special in the wake of her son’s absence.
Hard as it may be—most parents suggested to wait for your kid to call you. It means they are in a talkative mood and you won't have to play 20 questions.
From one Mom… “texting is a great way to say hi ... they can respond when they want and no one has to know its their Mom.”
“I made limited phone calls. It was impossible to know when he was studying, in class or out w/friends and didn't want to be bugged by his mom. I was the QUEEN of mom texting. Random. Every day. Always short. A lot of love. And funny. A line from a movie we'd seen together. The mundane stuff like what I cooked for dinner--or who was at the grocery. All the little pieces of our life that we always shared..we were just doing it in a different way.”
One parent/psychologist suggested “Don’t keep telling your kid that this is going to be the best time of their lives (even though it will be). The first months are the toughest times in many ways... making decisions on their own, meeting all new friends, hard work, no family...It almost sets them up to feel as if they are losers for not feeling like this is the best time ever.”
Make sure you have your child’s permission to log onto to his school account so you can see his grades and progress. It's snooping, but not snooping, especially when you are paying the bills.
DON’T BE A HELICOPTOR PARENT
Experts caution not to swoop in to save the day once they are on campus. Let you child tough it out with money, bad grades, etc. If they run into "trouble", encourage them to use the university's resourceful and trained faculty and staff. It's not abandonment; it's empowerment. College is a time for them to learn about the difficult choices adults need to make, and to do it without feeling alone.
Anna Quinlan’s advice to me is one of my favorites – “When we dropped our daughter at Kenyon they gave us a card with the words "What are YOU going to do about that problem?" They suggested we put it by the phone and read it when our kid called complaining about the roommate/the courses/the food/the advisor. There's way too much parental involvement at a time designed for separation. Parents today call the provost to complain about a grade on a daughter's paper, or the president to talk about a room assignment. It's insane.“
One father advised, "listen, more than talk" and above all else, "do not lecture". When the phone call with a sad voice comes, and it will, steel yourself to be a listener not a savior. In the end, tell your child that you trust that they will make the right decision for themselves.
I liked one parent’s 24 hour rule. “If your child calls home with a “crisis,” roommate problems, locked out, etc., wait 24 hours. Then call them and most of the time they will have forgotten all about it.”
Mark Horowitz who lectures regularly about parenting through this stage of life offers this real world anecdote:
“When I took my son to college we saw his room mate sitting on the bed, while his "Mommy" was folding his underwear and socks and putting them in the top drawer of a dresser (a place the kid won't go to for the next 6 months!). "Daddy" was filling out forms after all parents were instructed NOT to fill them out but let their students do it since "they will be on their own for the next four years."
And we wonder why so many college grads have no practical knowledge and a hard time surviving in the "real world." I read that 40% of our kids in their 20s and 30s who move out of the house later move back. So my advice to parents, if they really and truly want to help their kids grow up, is to LEAVE THEM ALONE! Let them muddle through the unknown, the new, the different. Let them fail! At orientation, they will learn about all kinds of counselors and advisors who can help them in both academics and campus life – parents need to tell their kids that this is the way to go. “
More than a few Moms cautioned against sending the pre-packaged C.A.R.E packages offered by some schools and internet sites, feeling they were a waste of money. “We started putting together a box of our son’s favorite noshing foods, whimsical trinkets, candies, homemade anything. The package arrived the week before exams. (Exam week they usually are too fried to enjoy the goodies.)
“Send enough food for the floor. It’s a way for them to share & make friends. Junk food is preferred. Healthy food will just rot in their rooms. I sent pizzas for the floor for her birthday @ 10 PM. Big hit. “
If you are sending cash (not a good idea) ensure it gets in their hands. True Story—I sent a box of brownies to my son via another visiting Mom and told him I was putting a note inside (to surprise him). In a burst of motherly love I even added some extra bills. My son had totally forgotten what I’d said and $300.00 ended up in the dumpster. Never again.
IF YOU VISIT
You are probably going to want to see where they live so brace yourself.
“My son and his roommate had what they proudly called “the pile.” It was a tangle of dirty and clean laundry on the floor. I never dug down to see what else was living there.”
“Resist picking up his roommates tooth brush that has been under the bed since October. Turn around & know their immune systems are better than ours.”
While you are there you may want to find a local storage place for some of the belongings to save on lugging home too much stuff at the end of the year.
WHEN THEY COME HOME
Just when you have adjusted to them being gone, they come home. Margaret wrote…“All of a sudden everything feels discombobulated and LOUD!!! On top of that, the first few times home, Ben always acted like he didn't like the rules at our hotel... we had to explain he couldn’t stay up all night like at school. We had to re-set the house rules.”
A parent who sent one child to college and one to the military offers this advice….”Be ready to support your kid when he or she comes home by keeping their room intact. Don’t plan your new office or guest room just yet. They need to see its still their “home.”
WHAT I TOLD MY SON
The letter I gave to my son when he left for school was cathartic to write. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him but also give him some practical and wise advice. These were my main points:
Be True to Yourself
Make Smart Choices
Learn From Your Mistakes
Stick up for the Underdog
Be in Contact
Take Advantage of these Four years
We Are Here for You
You’ll have your own version of this advice -- and they may never listen—but at least you’ll feel better.