Going off to college is a big adjustment for any young person. It’s their first true taste of freedom from “my house, my rules.” It’s a time when they must leave people behind who they’ve probably known for decades to form new friendships and relationships. And they quickly come to realize that there is an art form to things like being responsible, taking care of finances and, inevitably, learning how to do laundry.
But on the other side of that coin is the adjustments parents need to make. What to do with the sudden emptiness at home? How to stay in touch with a child while he or she is away at school without smothering them? What to do to feel more comfortable that you have raised your children properly, understand that they will make mistakes, but need to forge ahead on their own (for the most part)?
Here is some insight from parents who have already been through the drill.
Wendy Moore’s son Chris is a freshman at Radford: “I think the first half of the freshman semester is the hardest. You walk past their empty room every day, and you may talk with them occasionally to get the feeling that everything is OK, but you don’t really know for sure. I would advise all parents to go to Parents’ Weekend (if the school has one during the first semester) so you can actually see how they are doing. After I saw Chris, I knew he was doing OK. You just have to give them space to find their way.”
Mary Copeland, whose son Mitchell is a freshman at Christopher Newport University, agrees that holding on loosely is the key to success: “Offer to take them to school and help them shop for dorm items, but do not take over in the process. Let them show you their independence and ask for advice, if needed. Show support, but let them find their own way. Home life is different when they’re gone, but it’s wonderful when they come home. I don’t even mind doing loads of laundry.”
Leslie Wright, a native of Norfolk who is now the assistant director at University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Career Center, offers some rather pragmatic advice: “No texting or calling the student during business hours. They’re at work.”
Denise Vaughn, senior director of corporate communication at Ferguson Enterprises in Newport News, is a veteran of empty nest syndrome. Daughter Eliza Lavery is graduating from NC State this year. Daughter Natalie Lavery is finishing her second year at James Madison University. So when youngest daughter Hallie Lavery heads off to school next year, Denise will be ready: “I probably get a little ‘lecturey’ at times about alcohol, the buddy system, using common sense, staying safe and heating healthy. The reality of college campuses today and the fact that biologically young adults feel invincible at this stage in life are really scary as a parent. I share a lot of information and, without scaring my kids, try to help them realize that bad things can and do happen, and there’s a lot they can do to protect themselves. College students can never be reminded too frequently to stay true to their values, trust their instincts (if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t) and always use their best judgment.”
The bottom line? Communication is important. Check in with each other by phone or text on a regular basis to provide support and ease your mind that everything is OK. Be supportive, but allow your kids to experience the ups and downs of independent living. And just as your young adults rely on you, find others in the same situation to share thoughts and emotions. After all, life is a continuous learning experience.