As the oldest of three girls, I was the first kid in our house to go to college. I grew up in a pretty strict household and, let’s face it, I was very ready for some independence.
I graduated high school in Vancouver, Washington, and chose to attend Eastern Washington University. It was about the farthest I could get away from my parents with a six-hour drive in between us. However, I didn’t pick EWU because of its location but because of its smaller student population and excellent teaching program.
The day my parents dropped me off at Eastern was a doozy, and the story about how I kicked my parents out of my dorm room that day would follow me around for the next 15 years. I have thought a lot about that day and wanted to share my thoughts to both parents and incoming freshman who will be moving to college soon.
Parents, communicate what your plans are for dropping them off. Are you going to stay the night in town? Are you going to eat dinner with them that night in the commons area? Will your car be available for picking up any last minute items that you realize you need?
And students, communicate with your parents what your plans are for moving in. How many days do you want your parents hanging around campus, or do you want to get right into your new college life? Does the school have any recommendations on how long moving in should take? What is your new roommate planning on doing with their parents? If you are attending a college that is more than a few hours away from home, I would highly recommend that you ask your parents to stay at least one night, giving you adequate time to say goodbye.
Parents, consider writing a letter to your student and tucking it in with their things. The letter can hold everything that you want to tell them on this new chapter in both of your lives and you won’t have to feel rushed or worried that you forgot to say something while your emotions were creating your own personal water park in your son or daughter’s dorm room.
Students, understand that this time is a very emotional one for your parents. No matter how excited you are to fly the coop, please realize that your parents have been working toward this day for your entire life. It is 18 years of laughter, challenges, joy and discipline that have gotten you to this point. Step back from your attitude for a second and realize that your parents may cry in front of your for the first time in your dorm room (not that I have any experience in that or anything).
Parents, you have worked so hard for this. If you have done your job even somewhat right, your child is ready to spread their wings. Well done! You have poured your soul into these kiddos, and they are ready to kick you out of their dorm room because you did such a good job in raising an independent, sociable and well-rounded child. You may feel booted from your child’s life, but remember they are only able to do this because of you.
Stay in touch
Students, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in college life and forget that you have a family back home. Commit to at least weekly phone calls home to touch base with your parents and younger siblings. I didn’t do this, and I really wish that I had been more thoughtful to create a “call home” schedule. I missed out on a lot of my younger sisters’ lives, and I could have felt a bit more connected had I not been so busy having my own college life. College is fun and you will have plenty to do, but don’t forget to check in with those back home.
Limit home visits
Parents, one of the best things my own parents did for me was telling me that I couldn’t return home until Thanksgiving. It seemed long at the time, but that time away really helped create my own identity. It also helped me create relationships by staying on campus during quiet weekends and helped build my growing independence. If your child has the capability to come home every weekend, they won’t ever establish their own life at college (and they won’t be able to bring laundry home for you to do). Share that your home is always open for them if they need it, but establish a firm rule that you don’t want to see them every single weekend either.
College is an amazing experience for a young adult but a somber one for parents. Make sure to communicate clearly and set boundaries to make sure that both child and parent feel comfortable in this new chapter of their lives. (And if you are attending Eastern this fall, go Eags!)
Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois. www.mamabear moxie.com. Visit her website at www.mamabearmoxie.com.