As I prepare to send my second child to college, I feel somewhat more prepared than when I sent my oldest child. Thinking back to when I dropped my daughter off at New York University three years ago, I believed that walking out of the dorm without falling apart would probably be the hardest part. Wrong! The most difficult part of taking my child to college came after several weeks and months at home, when I realized how different our relationship was becoming. My daughter was now on her own in the Big Apple!
While she was in high school, my daughter and I had a wonderful relationship marked by great communication, and I felt that it would continue unchanged. What I did not understand was that she was setting out on her own new adventure, trying to separate from her parents and becoming independent in her new role as a college freshman. Because in the past I had been “up” on everything going on in her world, I was sure that she would call me about every new experience and with a description of every person she had met. When that didn’t happen, I was sad and confused. In fact, the only way I talked to her was if I made the call, and then only if she answered the phone. When we did talk, I got very little information about the big new world she had entered. I realized that her lack of communication was her way of breaking away from home, and she needed me to back off a bit. On top of adjusting to setting one less plate for dinner and walking past her vacant room, I recognized that this was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated.
Although separating from a parent is normal and healthy for a child entering college, it can be very difficult emotionally for the mom. She can feel like she has been let go from a job she’s done for the past eighteen years.
Here are five ways to help stay connected.
Let your child know how you feel about staying in touch. When I didn’t let my daughter know how I was feeling about our new relationship, our conversations would become argumentative, and we would both hang up the phone feeling upset. I finally explained to my daughter that it was okay if she did not want to give me every little detail about her life. After all, she was now an adult living on her own and I respected that. However, for my own piece of mind, I needed to know that she was adjusting to her new life and she was doing well. This could be accomplished in many different ways, but I wanted to hear her voice at least once a week. We also communicated through email and text messages. Once she understood my needs, we were better able to keep the lines of communication open.
Use social media channels. Although sending your child to school with a nanny cam or a GPS tracking system on their phone or car may be a tempting thought, it would be a very bad idea. However, you can try to be friends on Facebook. My daughter set up my Facebook page months before, but I rarely ever looked at it. After she left for college, this became a great way to feel connected. We would write messages on each other’s walls and she would direct me to her pictures so I could see her new friends.
Write letters letting your child know you are thinking of them and you miss them. I usually add a little gift card or some fun goody. Once, I sent her a Halloween garland to hang on her door. My favorite thing to enclose is self-addressed stamped post cards with a series of questions so that my child only has to check a box or fill in a word. They will appreciate this because all students love mail, and the postcard will make them laugh. You will love it because the responses are often very humorous.
Set up specific phone dates. For instance, a friend of mine told me every Tuesday they would talk on the phone at 8 a.m. over a cup of coffee. This gave them a predictable time to connect one on one.
Plan a visit. You can’t visit your child every weekend nor should you, but most schools have a parents’ weekend which you should mark on the calendar as soon as you know the date. Parents’ weekend for us was a real learning experience. We saw what her world had evolved into and had a great time. Most schools schedule them early in the first semester after your child has adjusted to college life.
The good news is that this transition is the beginning of a new phase in both of your lives. It’s the start of your child becoming an independent adult. When I gave my daughter more space, her calls home came more frequently and the conversations became more detailed. Now we rarely go a day without talking to each other. Although our relationship is different, we still share a strong bond, and when we are together we have a great time.
When I leave my son at school in just a few short weeks, hopefully I will be a bit more prepared for this new phase in his life. It is a reminder that our lives are always changing and my role as a mom will be ever evolving.
Janine Sherman, RN, MSN, WHNP-BC, is a Woman’s Health Nurse Practitioner who specializes in the care of adolescent patients. She currently works in a busy OB/GYN office in Houston. She is also the co-author of Start Talking: A Girls Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex, or Whatever (starttalkingbook.com).