Of the innumerable moments in your parenthood journey, saying goodbye to your son or daughter as they leave for college is one of the most significant. Many years and countless hours of preparation have led to this major milestone. In the days and weeks preceding their departure, communication remains paramount. Refer to my tips below to get the conversation started.
1. Make a communication plan.
Discuss how much you "expect" to be contacted during the week. It's critical for parents to understand their college student can't respond immediately to every text or call. Be respectful of their independence and full schedule.
2. Discuss expectations.
This may be the first time your child is managing a budget on their own, and it might take a little while to figure out. Establish a clear budget and talk about what happens if they run out of money, how to handle a financial emergency, and who to call first. They are entering a new academic environment; unrealistic expectations about grades (on either side) should be avoided. It takes some kids a semester or two to get acclimated to their schedule and workload.
3. Review safety concerns.
Be proactive when talking about their welfare. Attend parent orientations and learn what safety courses are available on campus. Have a candid conversation with your child on real dangers and precautions they should take. For example, travel in a group, avoid running or exercising on a track alone, take out your earbuds and stay alert, and sign up for a self-defense class before arriving at campus.
4. Send care packages.
A good way to keep in touch without over managing is an occasional box filled with their favorite things. A roll of quarters for laundry, toiletries, a bag of candy, and a handwritten note will be a welcome treat.
5. Don't stalk them on social media.
While you may feel free to monitor their page, "liking" every post and commenting on everything they do will make them feel like you are watching their every move. Be mindful of their comfort level regarding your involvement on their social media accounts. Ask them what they prefer and respect their input.
6. It's not personal.
If you don't hear from your son as often as you hoped, or your daughter wants to spend the weekend or holidays at her roommate's home, understand that it is part of asserting their independence. You are the foundation, and your child is learning how to spread their wings. Avoid the guilt trips and tears.
7. No surprises.
If you plan to make your son or daughter's room into your dream office, let them know before they come home to visit. While they may appear to "have it all together," they may feel they have lost their roots if you implement major changes without a heads up. They may be going through their own quiet separation anxiety, and coming home to a fold out bed in your new digs may be overwhelming.
8. Discover a new hobby.
If you are an empty nester, now is a great opportunity to find something that excites you. Not keeping yourself busy may put unnecessary pressure on your young adult child to feel responsible for your happiness while they are trying to adjust to life on their own.
Make a point of meeting people, reestablishing relationships with those you care about but lost contact with throughout the years, take a yoga class, or learn a new skill. You will have interesting things to talk about with your child as you model what a healthy transition looks like.
9. Don't overschedule their lives when they come home.
Let them breathe. They will no doubt have multiple people they want to catch up with after being gone for several months. Let them enjoy their break and consider having their friends over for a get-together at your house if you really want to have your kid nearby.
Feel secure that this is a growing experience for everyone, and it's the next step to building an evolved, stronger relationship with your maturing "adult kid." They always come back to visit the nest!
And, finally, for parents with kids entering, or still in high school, Mark Reford, Chief Business Development and Brand Officer at BASIS Educational Ventures, told US News, "Don't be in touch too often." His advice: "If you have a child in high school and you are touching base with your kid's teachers on a daily or weekly basis, then you are profoundly disempowering your child." He goes on to say, "The message you are sending is, 'I don't trust you to handle yourself.'"
High school is a time where parents need to allow their kids to become independent and learn to problem solve on their own. A parent can parent while teaching their teen how to start taking the reins.