5 Tips For Surviving When Your Child Heads Off to College

Family Matters on 08.22.11
Contributor bio | twitter

Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I always felt that I wanted to raise my children to be independent of my husband and me. We've never been clingy parents, insisting that the kids call us or email us all the time. Having said that, the months following my daughter's departure to university were among the hardest I've ever spent.

My son went to university in the city where we live, so for the first two years he still lived at home. When he moved out at the age of 19 I was fine with it, and my daughter was still at home. However, when it came time for her to go to university, she chose one that was out of town, necessitating moving into residence. Other than the tears shed when it was time to leave after moving her into her new dorm room and meeting her roommate, I thought I was doing alright. That is, until I burst into tears in the middle of the grocery store two weeks later. I have no idea what particular thing precipitated that response at that particular moment, but I can tell you that when you weep uncontrollably in a very public place, people move away from you really quickly.

I realize now that it was grief, pure and simple. My life had changed irrevocably, and I knew it. Five years later, my daughter has just a couple more courses to take to get her degree and she has moved back home, but our relationship is not the same. She's an adult now, and she lives her own life. Obviously, I'm still her mother, but I don't tell her what to do. She comes and goes as she pleases and she has friends I've never met.

Here are a few pointers for dealing with the newly independant teen in your life and learning to accept their absence.

1. Give them space.

It won't help either of you if you phone all the time. I knew a woman who phoned her daughter every morning after she left for university and would make herself insane if the girl wasn't home. When she would finally reach her, she would demand to know where she had been. A little confused by all the hysteria, the answer was usually, "I'm in university, I have classes to attend!". It's reasonable to want to stay in touch, but once a week is probably enough. If it works for you, set aside an agreed upon time to speak to one another and stick to it, unless of course, there are emergencies to be dealt with.

2. Don't make a big deal of it if they are a little homesick.

This is a big change for everyone, and kids often get homesick, especially in the first weeks. Be available to talk and encourage them, but don't drop everything and run to their aid, which will only make it worse. Give them the chance to work things out themselves. Most schools have places for students to go if they are having trouble adjusting, so encourage them to get some help from people who know exactly what they are going through. Some kids do have significant problems, but most just need a bit of time to get used to their new surroundings.

3.  Don't worry, be happy.

Get used to the fact that they have their own lives. There is a certain amount of wisdom to "out of sight, out of mind". Your kids are going to go out to parties, probably stay out too late, probably drink, and worrying yourself sick isn't going to change that. I understand that it's easier said than done not to worry, but you have to believe that you have taught them well, and they will be fine.

4. Keep busy.

My house was cleaner that fall than it has ever been before or since. I also got an awful lot of piano practicing done. Sitting around worrying about what your child is up to will turn you into a crazy person. Start a new hobby, go out in the evenings, see friends, reconnect with your spouse in a way you couldn't with kids around the house.

5. You'll get used to it.

It might take a little bit of time, but soon it won't be such a big deal that your kids have all left home. In fact, when they return for holidays or for the summer and they take up all the space that kids of any age inevitably do, you'll wonder when they are going back to school, as my husband always does. I remember when my daughter went into Grade 1 and suddenly was away for the full day. I dropped her off on that first day, went home and had a little cry, and then pumped my arms in the air and said "Woo-hoo, freedom!". It took a bit longer to have that sense of freedom, but it comes.

Top Articles on College
I Don't Care if My Kids Go to College
Preparing Kids for College - Starting in Kindergarten
Want Your Kids to Go to College? Start a Savings Account