With autumn upon us, many new empty nesters have sent a fledgling off to college for the first time. Here are some DOs and DON'Ts on how to get through that first semester without losing your mind.
1. Don’t start off on a bad note. It's hard to let our kids go. The day our babies head out on their own is a tough one for any parent. Because of her self-awareness about her emotional outbursts, Veronica opted to stay home with the younger kids while David took our eldest to college.
"I bravely smiled and waved as they cleared security and headed toward the plane -- then sat in my car in the airport parking lot and cried like Tammy Faye Baker on the second day of her period. It was a regular air-sucking, mascara-dripping, please-God-nobody-see-me sob fest."
But it wasn't in front of our daughter. Or all of the potential friends she would be meeting for the first time at the university.
It could have been a lot worse -- we could have done this (from a comment on our post here):
"At my son’s freshman orientation, one of the deans said that he had to go TELL the parents of a certain freshman that no, they couldn’t sleep in their RV in the parking lot 'just to make sure everything is all right his first night.' Thank GOD college professionals don’t let us parents give in to our own worst intentions!" -- Holly Robinson
2. Do wait a couple of weeks before cleaning her bedroom. Veronica learned this the hard way:
"To stay busy, I dove straight into cleaning up our daughters room -- and straight down memory lane. I ended up surrounded by a bunch of her friends' unreturned borrowed clothes, Kleenex and a heavy dose of self pity."
3. Don't expect access to grades. This awakening came our way when we thought we'd receive a report card after first semester midterm exams. As involved parents we were accustomed to seeing grades every quarter, and relied heavily on them for guidance, planning and encouragement. We didn't expect the old sign-the-report-card routine, but it sure seemed like we were important enough participants in the university process to warrant a peek at a progress report.
After all, we were the ones writing the tuition checks, right?
Wrong. College students are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which expressly forbids a college or university from disclosing grades to parents.
From the University of Michigan's website:
“If you wish to find out about your student's grades and academic standing, the best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. College students are generally willing to share information about grades and academic performance with their parents as they assume greater responsibility for their own lives and are able to discuss academic issues with their parents as mature adults.”
4. Do recognize that the meltdown phone calls are not always meltdowns. Sometimes they are simply emotional ventings. We were both lucky enough to have worked in academic settings prior to our daughter's departure. We would regularly see students in tears on the phone with a parent, only to skip off happily with their friends moments after hanging up.
5. Do learn to text message. It only took a month of frustration before we upgraded to a phone with a QWERTY keyboard. The kids these days are right: texting is a great way to stay in touch about the little things.
6. Don't leave comments on their Facebook posts. An online relationship with a college kid is tricky business. All it takes for a swift unfriending is an embarrassing parental comment in front of every friend they have. In order to keep your social media stalking privileges, send a quick, private text message or e-mail instead.
7. Do learn to ignore the background noise. Colleges are full of youth and energy. It is always going to sound like a wild party is going on in the background of your phone conversations.
8. Don’t meddle with professors. A big part of a college education is learning to deal with authority figures in a professional manner. Mom or Dad jumping in to lambaste a professor will not be helpful in facilitating this. Is it ever appropriate for a parent to contact a professor?
“No,” says Ohio State Lecturer Jason Payne, “Once you are in college, you are supposed to be an adult.”
Nevertheless, Payne does receive calls, many times irate, from parents. He recounted a story about a student athlete who turned in an assignment that consisted of a review plagiarized from a book jacket. Word for word.
After Payne issued a failing grade, the student's mother called up to give him a piece of her mind. She let him know that her son was a sports star and the first in the family to attend college. “How dare he” give her son such a grade. (This is a fairly tame example, compared to these stories about parents contacting professors)
9. Don't hover.
“I believe that smothering parental behavior at the university level stifles a student’s imagination and creative thinking. The danger is that they lose a healthy sense of wonder, the immenseness of all there is to know.”
Heady stuff that. And we personally refused to be a part of it.
YOUR TURN: Are these tips helpful? Do you have any to add?