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Parents' Survival Guide


From a student's perspective ...

Don't ask them if they're homesick
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. A student once explained, "The idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me, with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked, 'Are you homesick?' Then it hit me." The first few weeks of school are activity-packed and friend-jammed, and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a freshman's time and concentration. So, unless they're reminded of it (by a well-meaning parent), they'll probably be able to avoid the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. Even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.

Write (even if they don't write back)
Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can fit into those first weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring. This surge of independence may be misinterpreted by sensitive parents as rejection, but most freshmen (although 99% won't ever admit it) would give anything for some news of home and family, however mundane it may seem to you. There's nothing more depressing than a week of empty mailboxes. (Warning - don't expect a reply to every letter you write. The you-write-one, they-write-one sequence isn't always followed by college students, so get set for some unanswered correspondence.)

Ask questions (but not too many)
College freshmen are "cool" (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their new-found lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is interested in them. Parental curiosity can be obnoxious and alienating or relief-giving and supporting, depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. "I-have-a-right-to-know"-tinged questions with ulterior motives should be avoided. However, honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the relationship of parent and freshman.

Expect change (but not too much)
Your son or daughter will change (either drastically within the first few months, slowly over the years, or somewhere in between). It's natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring and beautiful. Often, though, it's a pain in the neck. College, and the experiences associated with it, can affect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. An up-to-now wallflower may become a fraternity member; a pre-med student may discover that biology is not his or her thing after all; or a high school radical may become a college egghead. You can't stop change. You may not ever understand it, but it is within your power (and to you and your son's or daughter's advantage) to accept it. Remember that your freshman will be basically the same person you sent away to school, aside from such interest changes and personality revisions. Don't expect too much too soon. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process, and you might well discover your freshman returning home with some of the habits and hang-ups, however unsophisticated, that you thought he/she had "grown out of." Be patient.

Don't worry (too much) about depressing phone calls or letters
Parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It's a lot of give and only a little take. Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (a flunked test, ended relationship, and shrunken T-shirt all in one day), the only place to turn, write, or dial is home. Often, unfortunately, this is the only time that the urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the "A" paper, the new boyfriend, or the domestic triumph. In these "crisis" times, your son or daughter can unload troubles or tears and, after the catharsis, return to routine, relieved and lightened, while you inherit the burden of worry. Be patient with these nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place phone calls or letters. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear, or punching bag. Granted, it's a service that makes you feel lousy, but it works wonders for a frustrated student. Again, parenting can be a thankless job.

Visit (but not too often)
Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners out) are another part of the first-year events that freshmen are reluctant to admit liking but appreciate greatly. Pretended disdain for those visits is just another part of the first-year syndrome. These visits give the student a chance to introduce some of the important people in both of his/her important worlds (home and school) to each other. Additionally, it's a way for parents to become familiar with (and more understanding of) their student's new activities, commitments and friends. Spur-of-the-moment "surprises" are usually not appreciated (pre-emptions of a planned weekend of studying or other activities have disastrous results). It's usually best to wait for Spring Family Weekend to see your student and the school; that way, you may even get to see a clean room.

Don't tell them that "These are the best years of your life"
Freshman year (and the other three as well) can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. They're also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and people; but, except in retrospect, it's not the good that stands out. One student notes, "It took a while (and the help of some good friends) for me to realize that I was normal and that my afternoon movie/paperback novel perceptions of what college was all about were inaccurate. It took a while for me to accept that being unhappy, afraid, confused, disliking people, and making mistakes (in other words, accepting 'me') were all part of the show, all part of this new reality, all part of growing up. It took a while for my parents to accept it."

Trust them
Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing. An alum noted, "One of the most important things my mom ever wrote me in my four years at college was this: 'I love you and want for you all the things that make you the happiest; and I guess you, not I, are the one who knows best what those things are.' She wrote that during my senior year. If you're smart you'll believe it, mean it, and say it now."