The Journey of Letting Go

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Okay parents, you had those initial "talks" with your son or daughter, you packed up half of the house and your child and delivered everything and everyone safely to campus. Now the car is unloaded, the dorm room is packed, floor to ceiling with boxes, and your child is standing on the curb waving "goodbye" as you pull away and head for home. Letting go ... It sounds so simple. Now what?

Do you remember the tips and help you sought during those first few days, weeks, months and years of being a "new" parent? Well, it's that time again, only this time you hold the title of "New College Parent." Even if this isn't the first child you have sent off to college (we'll call you "Seasoned Veterans"), you may still find things that can be added to your own bits of wisdom and advice.

Tip #1

Don't ask them if they're homesick.
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. The first few days/weeks of the semester are activity-packed and the challenge of meeting new people, adjusting to new situations and schedules will take up the majority of a new student's time and attention. The majority of students won't have time to feel homesick as they make these adjustments to campus life.

Even if they don't tell you during those first few days or weeks, they do miss you, they still need you and they will continue to need you in varying degrees while they are in college and after they graduate.

Tip #2

Provide support and encourage growth.
How? Listen, listen, listen ... and send things from home (email, voice mails, letters, cards, care packages, good luck messages, hometown newspapers and "edible goodies"). Although new students are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first weeks, most still want to feel like they are a part of "home." You may even want to take advantage of "TLC Delivered," a service provided by the Millersville University Dining and Conference Services. "TLC Delivered" offers a variety of gifts that can be delivered right to your son or daughter's dorm room.

Tip #3

Show your interest, ask questions (but not too many).
First year students need the security of knowing that someone from home is interested in them and what goes on in their lives. But, remember, parental curiosity can be alienating or supportive, depending on how it is given and received.

Tip #4

Be a good listener.
Don't worry too much about stressed-out phone calls or e-mails. You may find out that quite a bit of the communication between you and your child involve crises that have occurred in the course of a day or week. You may not hear about the "A" they got on a test or about the new friend that they met at a party last weekend. You may hear about the "horrible food in the dining hall," or "the professor who gave them too much work to do and not enough time to do it." During these "crisis times," listen to your child. Your child sees you as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear, miracle worker, or a punching bag. Yes, it's a tough job, but for a frustrated student, there is no cure like a parent who listens to them when they don't think any one else does.

Tip #5

Visit your child on campus, but not too often.
Spur-of-the-moment surprise visits may not be appreciated. Wait for special occasions such as, Family Day, Homecoming Weekend, a special occasion or a birthday. Whether or not your child will admit it, it makes them feel good when you take time out of your busy schedule to take them to dinner or a movie or shopping. It also gives them a chance to show off their new-found independence, friends, etc.

Tip #6

Trust your child.
Recognize that your child will likely change, and while that is to be expected, it is not always in the direction that you had in mind. When it comes to things like values though, our kids usually find their way back to the basics that we taught them. When will you see these changes? It is usually that during that first fall break when parents and students tend to clash. It is a good idea to work out things such as curfews, time spent at home versus time spent out with friends in advance, and what to say about the new earring or tatoo that wasn't there when they were last home.

Tip #7

Encourage your child to get involved in campus activities.
Involvement in a club or organization, exercise class, job or a new friend helps to reduce homesickness and to keep students happy in college. But also stress to your child the importance of keeping a balance between in-class and out-of-class activities. A good formula for time management is to spend about two hours out of class for every hour spent in it. So, a student carrying 15 credits should be studying about 30 hours a week. Have them work their other activities around this basic formula. For additional information on athletics, Intramurals, clubs/organizations, fraternities/sororities or SMC Fitness Center, click on any of the links listed below:

Tip #8

Recognize your own feelings.
Parents, be aware of your own feelings about your child entering college and that will help you deal with his or her feelings, as well. For instance, feeling proud, happy, sad and lonely is a typical mix. By the same token, take time for yourself in the days and weeks preceding and following your child entering college. You will find that much time and attention is given your child but you too, will need some time to sort out your own expectations of your child as a college student. What are your expectations ... good grades, good athletic performance, joining a sorority/fraternity, getting a job, choosing a major? It is easier to help your child with these and many other issues if you are aware of your own expectations for your child.

Tip #9

Make use of resources already available.
There many books out there for parents to help them understand and adjust to the changes that happen when their child or children go off to college. One such book, entitled, Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, provides a compassionate approach, practical information, and advice about the physical and emotional processes of letting go.