OK--the big day has arrived (or almost). Know that you have done your job. Your goal is for them to be happy, safe, well-adjusted and content. As you pull away from campus after hugs and good byes, it's going to be up to that son or daughter to make proper decisions and to move in the right direction.
Your job isn't done -- but you will no longer have the same power to fix things or influence them on a daily basis. Their new friends and the entire college experience will shape them. All we can really do is hope for the very best for our adult child.
So what can you expect, how should you behave and what might surprise you? Here are some nuggets of advice from parents who have been there:
- A lot of emotions will be swirling in the weeks leading up to the drop off. In order to channel this, I ended up working on a letter to my son with some life advice he would have rolled his eyes at in person. Many other Moms wrote me that they did this too. My letter became a place I could put my thoughts instead of constantly voicing my feelings and advice in the weeks before he left. I left the letter on his college desk. Of course, weeks later he still hadn't mentioned it !!!!!
- You may have visions of a nice, quiet meal together the night before drop-off, but it may not work out that way. Be prepared for them to just go off on their own when you arrive and they start meeting people.
- Have the important or emotional conversations before drop off -- I loved this anecdote..... "We stayed overnight on the big weekend and planned to take Jack to breakfast and give him the "we are proud of you speech." He came out to the car the next morning and told us he was invited to the breakfast diner with Bambi and Kiki, and hoped that we have a good drive back home."
- The night before we left I whipped up a quadruple batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies to leave in my son's dorm room. That Tupperware container got passed all around the dorm floor while kids and parents were moving in. Food can be a great connector.
- Ensure that your child has read the policies on drinking and what happens should they get busted. Each campus has very different rules and consequences. Many colleges require kids to read and sign a form.
- It's important to have the "binge drinking" conversation at some point. Newfound freedoms can result in totally new behavior. Make sure your child knows that if someone has passed out from drinking, never let them lie down. Roll them on their side or stomach or force them to a sitting position and call 911 no matter how illegal the circumstances.
For The Homesick Child (And You)
Look at the calendar and mentally break the academic year into chunks of 6 or 8 weeks between the various long and short breaks or visits from you: Mid semester, Parents Weekend, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. This is also helpful for the family that misses their child! They are home way more than you imagine.
Setting Up The Room
Parents offered conflicting advice on room set-up. Some of it depended on gender. But again, you know your kid best.
One piece of advice was universal -- Get to the dorm as soon as it's legal. The early bird actually does get the best bunk. If you lose out, you can suggest switching at the end of first semester.
Be prepared for aggressive parents who might have a different style. One Mom wrote -- "I moved Anna into a room for three girls. We were not supposed to go to the room until 10:00 am Sunday morning. But one girl and her mother-from-hell managed to get in the night before and they made up the single room bed with her stuff and took over the drawers they wanted. Nice start! I wanted to rip their faces off -- but I held my tongue."
"Setting up the room with my daughter took us almost an entire day to get it just right. My son took 2 hours!!"
"When you arrive at college with your new student, don't stick around. Be ready to leave when it's time to go. Let them set up their own rooms including making their own beds. They love that you've helped, now move along so they can get down to settling in their way and meet new friends."
"Busy yourself in the room making the bed - it will be the last time it will have clean sheets until spring when you rip them off and throw them out. I told my son that his face will break out in massive zits if he didn't change the pillow case. So maybe that means it made to the wash three times?"
- Be as neutral as possible with comments about the roommate(s). Not over or underfriendly. Let them navigate their own way.
- Introduce yourself to the resident advisor, (RA) these days they are more cop than friend but it can't hurt to know their name if there are ever any problems.
Some Final Words Of Wisdom For Them
- Meet your professors. They are people. They can help you. Someday you will need a recommendation. You might actually like them.
- Contact your professor if you're sick to let them know why you are missing their class.
- If you're sick, go to the health center. You are paying for it - use it.
- Sleep at night. Do not stay up until 5 and expect to be at full capacity.
- Be open to meeting people. If your school has a Greek system, go through rush just to meet people. Go to concerts and sporting events. Get out of your room.
- If you're having trouble academically, let your parents know. Do NOT wait until they receive a letter in the mail informing them of your loss of scholarship.
The Final Goodbye
Be ready to get teary, but try to hold off actual full-on sobbing until you are alone in the car. You don't want to have them lose "street cred" by making them tear up too.
On drop-off day, I had expected to stay into the afternoon and attend an ice cream party for freshman kids and parents. My husband had left earlier and so it was just the two of us at the party. While my son was being polite, I could tell he was chomping at the bit to be set "free" from the parental/child conversation and go off with his new roommate. I ended up leaving campus 2 hours earlier than planned. He walked me to the car, I fought back tears, put on the shades and with a big hug, was out of there. You will know when its time to go. Be prepared to be flexible.
Lastly, the trip home will be long. A few Moms described needing to pull over to the side of the road to cry. Resist the urge to call them from the car. Let them call you if they want to hear your voice. My advice? Get a good book on tape.
See more from Lee at www.leewoodruff.com.