For First Time College Parents
"The brain of an 18-year-old college freshman is still far from resembling the brain of someone in their mid-twenties." Craig Bennett
Earlier this summer I wrote about the pain and joy of becoming an Empty Nester. I offered some advice on how to prepare yourself for your high school grad's last --and slightly unsettled-- summer at home before college.
I hope things went smoothly. Or anyway, that you had enough bail money.
Now it's time for a few practical tips on getting them settled and helping them through the first year. Which is the hardest. For all of you.
Note: I can only speak with real authority about the male variety of college freshmen.
Moving In, Moving On
Mom puts together his dorm room freshman year. That's just the way it is.
Up and down the halls you'll see Dads and kids hauling piles of stuff from the car. Inside the rooms, catch glimpses of sweaty Moms making the beds and putting the stuff away.
The kids expect it. After all, their rooms at home came fully outfitted. All they did was add books, trophies, personal items and detritus over the years.
Boys especially have no clue how to create a nest. They think they can fend for themselves, but my anecdotal research suggests that since girls communicate homesickness more readily, they jettison fears--and you--more easily too.
Freshmen boys try to seem stoic but are actually fairly needy. Not to mention helpless. They seek advice on schedules, advisors, food service, anything that was done for them during high school.
By sophomore year they have a better grasp of how to manage their own lives. They begin to look at school, and you, with new eyes. School is an academic challenge and a party venue. You are the money machine and delivery service.
Each new semester they'll need you to help ferry their stuff, maybe let Mom make the bed. Then it'll be, "Thanks, you can leave now" as they find their friends and make plans for renewed independence.
A Few Practical Tips
If they take medication, bring new written prescriptions, then make your kid find Student Health on his own to get them filled.
If the school is anywhere near Canada or the Caribbean, make sure their passports are current and stored in a lock box you've provided for valuables. (After they've been ripped off once or twice, they'll use it.)
Put together a box of band aids, Neosporin, Pepto, Advil, over-the-counter cold and allergy meds, throat lozenges, a digital thermometer, Kleenex and condoms. Freshmen get scraped, drunk, hung over, laid and hit with endless viruses. Insist they get the flu shot the school provides in October.
If the school offers a laundry service and you can afford it, sign up for it. Even the most fastidious kid will sleep on one set of sheets for an entire semester. Really.
If they live close to home, expect them to bring huge piles of laundry for Mom on visits and breaks. Buy lots of Clorox. When you open their duffle bags, you'll gag.
Keep Home Base the Same
Do not touch their rooms. Don't move anything out. Don't move anything in. Protect the image of Home as a safe haven. They'll be more likely to move comfortably and fully out when the time comes.
And trust me, after they're gone you'll find yourself wandering into those rooms, smelling the clothes left behind, touching the old soccer trophies or art projects, picking up a book or a term paper, sitting on the bed. Remembering. And, just a little bit, grieving for a childhood well and truly gone.
Plus, you really don't want to know yet what's under the bed and behind the bookcase.
Tips on the Inevitable
They will lose a winter coat.
Their cell phone will have to be replaced at least once, usually twice. (Our honor student dropped one in the toilet, lost one in the snow.)
You will get a pitiful snuffling, hacking, coughing, sneezing phone call when they catch the flu because they forgot to sign up for the flu shot. (If that happens, they won't forget again sophomore year.)
You will not believe how much books cost.
They will hate the dorm food and beg for money to buy "something I can eat." Translation: pizza, Chinese food and tacos.
Summer will never be the same.
Those four years will zip by in a blink. Graduation will come all too soon.
Our son graduated a year ago. College is over, he's now an adult. He's living his own life and so are we. He shows up when he wants a home cooked meal or just to touch base. We call and email and text each other.
I still give advice. He still gives hugs. My life as an empty nester is still good. But I can't guarantee what'll happen when he's ready to get married.
And I'll tell you a secret...
Even though his room is now used for guests and extra storage, I still wander in there every once in a while. I run my hands over the trophies, pick up a book, smile at the parade of pictures. I open his closet to touch the few things still there. I sit on the bed. And remember my child. As a child.
When your turn comes--if it hasn't already--you'll do that too.