I don’t think I will ever forget the day my husband and I dropped off our firstborn for his freshman year of college. It would have been difficult enough under any circumstances, but the fact that we had homeschooled him through high school made it even more so.
For us, the first day of college felt almost like the first day of kindergarten, as we stepped back from being the primary directors of our child’s studies and daily schedule. We knew he was ready for this step in his life, and we felt good about the institution he had chosen to attend. Nevertheless, after he told us goodbye, walked up the sidewalk and disappeared through the front door of his dorm, I had a good, hard cry on my husband’s shoulder. I had a few more as we drove the eight hours back home.
Three years later, this scenario was repeated when we dropped off our daughter for her first year. Was it any easier the second time around? I think it was in the sense that we had gained a little more wisdom about what to do and what not to do. But saying goodbye and driving away was no easier. No matter how old your kids are, there is something in the parental gut that screams “No!” at leaving them behind.
There are, however, ways you can make the transition to college easier on both your child and yourself. Here are a few.
1. Find a Good Church Together
If you are not a church-going person, feel free to skip to No. 2. But if you have raised your child in the church, nothing is more important than taking steps to make sure he remains connected to that church while away at school.
If there’s any time a young person’s faith is going to be tested, it’s when he is on his own for the first time, with no parents around to insist that he go to church on Sunday. Meanwhile, he will also likely be confronted with regular temptations to make poor choices, as well as professors who intentionally set out to challenge the teachings on which he has been raised.
If your child is going to be equipped to resist either, he needs to be in church. Either a strong campus ministry in the denomination to which you belong or a church home in the town in which he is attending school will not only provide him a spiritual lifeline, it will provide him an immediate, built-in community.
My husband and I made sure there was a church in our denomination for our son and daughter to attend, and we visited the church and met the pastor ahead of time. We are indebted to those congregations for their spiritual care of our children during the time they were at school.
I think some parents are of the mindset that once kids leave home, they are naturally going to rebel against their upbringing and spurn their parents’ counsel. I beg to differ. Our kids were raised going to church, and they received from us the clear message that we expected that to continue. It did continue, as much because our kids knew they needed it as because they knew we expected it.
2. Don’t Skip the Parent Orientation
Parent orientation might seem unnecessary or even hokey, especially if you went to college and already know the basics. Go anyway. A lot has changed since you walked this path.
Attending orientation with your new college student is an opportunity to learn and to meet the administrators who represent her college. If possible, meet a few of her teachers. Walk around and see where she is going to spend the next four years. The place is going to have a huge influence on the rest of her life. It’s worth getting to know it a little.
3. Send Your Own Care Package
A few weeks into your freshman’s first semester, you will receive an official-looking piece of mail that appears to be from the college. It isn’t. Instead, it’s from a company that would like to convince you to purchase an overpriced “care” package to help him survive midterm exams.
Don’t put down the money for store-bought snacks that he may not even eat. Instead, put together your own care package. Wrap up some home-baked cookies, toss in a few coffee or restaurant gift cards, and enclose a handwritten card or note about goings-on back home. It will be the equivalent of mailing a box full of love, something the prefab gift can’t begin to rival.
4. Don’t Overload on Dorm Trappings
Avoid the temptation to spend a lot of money upfront on things your student won’t ultimately need or use. Instead, buy the bare minimum. Then, if possible, visit a few weeks later to check on things. You can at that time see how your young adult is adjusting and get a better idea of what she needs that she doesn’t have.
5. Do Send Meds for Basic Sicknesses
Make sure your student has supplies on hand and knows what to do and where to go if he gets sick. He certainly will get sick, and when he does, you will both experience one of the biggest challenges of that first year.
For the mom used to nursing kids when they’re ill, it is hard to be miles away, unable to help. For the patient who is used to having a sympathetic caregiver, it is hard to go it alone in an unfamiliar environment. But if you have equipped him with a basic supply of over-the-counter medications and an action plan for what to do and where to go if professional treatment is needed, it will be easier to survive that first illness.
6. Don’t Electronically Hover
Resist the urge to text or call too frequently. At this point in the game, there’s only so much you can do. Your “child” is now legally an adult, and she needs to learn to act like one. If you’ve provided a strong foundation and built a relationship of mutual respect and trust, you can rest in the knowledge that she has the ability to make good choices and the kind of relationship with you that will encourage her to seek your counsel when she needs it.
If you are sending your child to college without that foundation of principles and trust, I’m sorry to say it’s a little too late to make it happen now. (Note to any new college students reading: sometimes your mother will send you a panicked text to the effect that she needs to hear from you now. Don’t make her wait. Call and let her hear your voice. You’ll both be glad you did.)
7. Remember to Pray
In those moments when you are fear-stricken, worried beyond words, and simply missing your kid terribly, pull out some favorite photos, read some old texts and emails, take a deep breath, and pray.
By the way, prayer shouldn’t be the last resort, but the first. In fact, it’s the best thing we can do for our kids, from the day they’re born until the day we die. Nothing else even comes close.
This is all about the parent’s perspective on sending a child to college. As parents, we need to remember that as wonderful and exciting a time as it is for our child, it’s also scary, difficult and sad. Whether they always show it or not, our children need us. They rely on us. It’s a big change for them to suddenly be navigating life without us constantly nagging and encouraging, chastising and cheering. This is their life, after all. Let’s remember and respect that.
To the college freshman of 2018-19: have a great semester (but not too great). To their parents: after you watch your kid walk away, blow into that tissue one more time, toss it in the trash, and treat yourself to something fun, tasty, or frivolous. You’ve earned it.