As some of you know, I work for a private university and we like many schools start classes this week. This means there are a lot of parents missing their first, middle, or last child right about now, and in the many years I’ve been working with students, I’ve found there are four lessons for the parents to learn without their college freshman in this upcoming semester.
1. Leave them without calling non-stop.
The temptation to stay extra days to ensure they have absolutely everything they could ever need for the first 150 days of college will be strong, but you must drive the car away from campus. When you leave, it forces your child to get involved in their new community. Say goodbye and let them experience all the highs and lows of being in a new place. Then, once you've left, don’t call every hour checking in on them. That somewhat defeats the purpose of leaving. Don’t fear the absolute worst if they go three hours without answering their phone. Recognize that not only must you leave them, but you also must let them breathe.
2. Let them fight through the lonely.
I know this is like a knife to the heart for most parents. No one wants to see their child upset or hear loneliness in their voice. Your first instinct is to figure out how to fix it for them, which most often entails inviting them home for the weekend (or going back to visit them). Part of growing as an individual is developing strength to push through the difficult seasons- the lonely seasons even. It is completely normal for college students to feel lonely at different points in their first year. Has anyone ever moved to a new place and not felt the twinge of loneliness some weekend? Instead of inviting them home to what’s familiar, encourage and challenge them to meet new people and try new things. Help them see that friendships take time, and they will eventually find their group. Encourage your child to stay at school the first six weekends. I know that might sound like an eternity, but the weekend is where they will relax, enjoy what the campus has to offer, and will start to make friends.
Loneliness will fade, but it can be a powerful teacher while it’s present. It can be the push your child needs to talk to their neighbor, classmate, or suite mate. Push through your own loneliness without your child at home, and encourage them to start making their college campus feel like home.**
[**If your child struggles with depression or anxiety, you might need to be involved a little more.]
3. Let them figure things out.
Your child may not get along with their roommate. They may have a terrifying instructor. They may get a parking ticket. They may flunk a class.
I can promise you there will be something in their first semester that does not follow the plan because it’s life, right?! When does everything always go perfectly? When something unexpected happens, if your first instinct is to call the professor, the residence hall director, or the campus security, sit on it. Let your child set an appointment to talk to their professor. Let your child learn how to speak to their roommate about their disagreement. Let your child talk to someone about their parking ticket. We are not helping our children by fixing every problem for them. Eventually they will need to pay their own bills, deal with their own conflicts, and find solutions for their own problems. I’m not saying you can’t give your child advice and direction for what steps they should consider taking, but I am saying it’s important to let them have the conversations and take the steps to address their problems. College is a great place to learn how to “adult,” but too often college students aren’t encouraged to learn those lessons. Adulting may not always be a fun lesson to learn, but is one that is essential for their success after college.
4. Love them through it.
Your child is navigating a whole world of “new-ness,” and even for the student who is a pro at navigating change, it can be overwhelming. Be the cheerleader. The encourager. The chief “You can do it!” voice in their life. You probably know your child better than anyone, so remind them of their strengths, their gifts, and their value. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are still one of the most important voices in their lives, and you can boost their confidence in the face of the unknown.
I know dropping your child off at college is incredibly hard, but it’s also an incredible privilege. You’ve always known your child’s strengths, but now they’re learning how to share their gifts with the world. Your role as parent has not diminished, it’s just changed. Now you get to be walk alongside them more often than leading them and that’s a very special place to be.
About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!