Being "There," When You're Not
If you're like most parents of college-bound freshmen, you're experiencing some wildly conflicting emotions. On the one hand, you're so proud of your child for taking this next step into adulthood; on the other hand, you're up nights worried about all the things you know she isn't ready to handle on her own yet. You want her to thrive at school, yet your feelings get bruised when she doesn't seem to miss you very much. You're secretly excited about the free time her absence leaves you, but then you get depressed every time you walk by her empty bedroom, which, for once, doesn't need cleaning.
It's difficult to know how to keep in touch, how to communicate about loaded subjects like grades, and how to support, but not coddle, your child. Here's help from the experts on what's appropriate and what's not, plus ways to cope with your empty nest on the home front.To Call, Or Not to Call?
It's essential to stay in touch with your first-year college student. Every freshman wants to feel like mom and dad love and miss her; she needs you cheering her on as she launches into an unfamiliar world. But how much contact is too much, and how much is enough? Here are some guidelines for communicating with your child:Talking on the Phone
- Give your college freshman a cell phone or pre-paid phone card. It's best to leave the amount, timing, and length of phone calls up to her so that she has a sense of freedom and independence. If you call her too frequently, she may feel stifled, and end up resenting you and resisting contact.
- Some college freshman call home rarely and irregularly. If this is the case, you might want to establish a specific day and time for speaking -- perhaps every Sunday evening. Knowing you can count on this weekly check-in will allay the sense that you've lost your child to another world or that you don't know what's going on with her.
- Some students, on the other hand, call home too often (cell phones make daily calls especially tempting), turning to mom and dad with everything from minor cooking questions -- "How do I boil water for spaghetti?"-to roommate annoyances -- "She turns on the stereo when I'm trying to study!" As a parent, it can feel nice to be needed, but it's best not to encourage your child to rely on you to this extent. "This is the time parents have to learn to step back," says Jonathan D. Lewis, senior psychologist at the University of Delaware's Center for Counseling and Student Development. "Be reassuring, but tell your student, 'This is your dilemma, not mine.'"
- When you talk on the phone, do your best to stay upbeat. If, every time you talk, you express sadness (or even start crying) about your child's absence, the guilt she feels about being away at college may cause her to avoid talking to you all together.
- Though it's fine to ask your child some questions about her life, don't pry. Leave it up to her how much she tells you. And whatever you do, don't nag. It's no longer your job to make sure she gets to bed at a reasonable hour, that she makes it to church on Sundays, or that she eats her greens with dinner. Trust that your eighteen years of parenting have left your child with a solid set of values and a sense of responsibility and common sense.
E-Mail The Internet is a fast, cheap way of staying in touch. As with the phone, though, don't overdo it by e-mailing more than a few times a week.
Snail Mail Good old-fashioned mail is sometimes the most exciting kind for college freshman. Most students check their campus mailboxes without fail -- they love getting letters, cards, photos, and even news clippings from home. Don't be hurt if your child doesn't write you back by mail; that doesn't mean your efforts aren't being appreciated.
Care Packages Care packages are a must-have for any college student. Send a batch of homemade cookies, quarters for laundry, a flower delivery, or anything else that might be meaningful to your child. Packages are great for birthdays and holidays as well as midterms and finals. If you've recently talked to your child and she seems to be going through a hard time -- homesickness, perhaps, or heartbreak -- a care package can be the perfect pick-me-up. Some colleges have on-campus organizations that deliver fruit baskets and holiday treats.
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