Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dropping our Daughter off at College

I am in a reflective mood this Sunday morning as I sit here both missing and rejoicing in my daughter's newest life adventure: college. I, like millions of parents across the country, am wondering where the time went?? And to think a few weeks ago I was alternately counting the days until she would leave and wondering how I was going to survive the loss.
Taylor and I had our biggest fight 6 days before we were to pull out of our driveway in Eugene Oregon heading for LA....She had one foot out the door and I was holding on tight. Sigh.... I don't have any regrets, but it was quite a somber experience. I won't go into detail, but I wonder if other parents out there experienced the same thing? Tay and I get along great, always have. She was the EASIEST teenager on the planet....didn't stress about clothes or boys (she's gay, as it turns out) or spend hours on the computer or phone. She is a good student and a happy person. Proud mom? You bet.
Then she suddenly grew up on me. I mean, really grew up! It was what I needed to see and feared.

When she came to us a year ago having firmly decided on Whittier College we told her if she wanted to go to a school that (ahem) expensive, she would have to pay her own way. If she wanted to got to the U of O, we'd help and if she chose to go to Lane Community College - we'd pay AND buy her a car! We also told her that she would have to show us that she could handle the basic necessities of life (do her own laundry, feed herself, etc). My husband and I were of little faith (sorry, Tay) and I'll be darned if she didn't pull it off with honors! Really - this kid, smart but a little lazy, kicked it into high gear and secured scholarships, grants, work study to the tune of 44K!!! And yes, she did laundry on Sunday and made sure she left the house everyday with food and snacks to carry her through her busy schedule.

Taylor was wonderful when we dropped her off. The move into her dorm was such a fantastic experience for our whole family. Whittier is amazing! Her roommate and family were fun and sweet and the whole orientation experience couldn't have been more well thought out , moving or inspiring. The convocation was fantastic (I embarrassed our 8-year old by sobbing through most of it). Tay was engaged and loving.
And now I miss her. She was nice enough to send me an update on her life (thank God for Facebook!) but now she is busy working (2 jobs) going to school and being a well rounded, overwhelmed, intimidated, happy college freshman....

What about ME???

Whittier seemed to know exactly what I needed when they published their parent handbook. I took to heart their advice (which is why, I am convinced, I got that first "update" from Taylor so quickly).
I've printed the advice below - or you can click on the handbook link above.

                                PARENTING YOUR COLLEGE STUDENT
Each year, more than two million students begin a new phase of their lives as they enter college.
The coming year will be filled with excitement, joy, fear, pain, anticipation, and discovery for you
and your student. While no one can predict what your student’s college experience will bring,
here are a few suggestions that will help you adjust during your student’s years in college.

                                                        Expect change
Your student will change. It will happen either dramatically within the first months,
slowly over the college years, or somewhere in between. It’s natural, inevitable, and can
be inspiring and beautiful; though change can be difficult, too. College, and all the
experiences surrounding it, affect changes in a student’s social, vocational, and personal
behavior. You can’t stop the change and growth. You may not understand it, but it is
within your power to accept it.
Remember that your student will basically remain the same person that you sent away
to college, aside from interests and experiences. The changes he or she will experience
are part of a maturation process that doesn’t happen immediately.

                                        Remember, it takes time to adjust
The first few days and weeks at school are packed with new experiences. The
challenges of meeting new people and adjusting to unfamiliar situations take a lot of
time and energy. The transition to a new environment may seem overwhelming to your
student. There may be moments when they long for the tried and true life they have left
behind. Still, most students adapt well to their new environment, and in time, will
become used to the new “norm.”

                                       Write (even if they don’t write back)
While it may seem that your student is eager to embrace the independence that
accompanies college, most students are still anxious for family ties and the security
those ties bring. Some family members may misinterpret the quest for independence as
rejection. Many students would give anything for news from home and family, however
boring that news may seem to you.
There is nothing more depressing than an empty mailbox, so write or send e-mail. Don’t
expect a reply to every letter you write—be prepared for unanswered correspondence.

                                             Ask questions (but not too many)
College students are eager to establish their independence and often resent interference
with their new-found lifestyles. Still, some desire the security of knowing their family is
still interested in them.

Family curiosity can be unproductive and alienating or relief-giving and supportive,
depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Questions marked with “I have a
right to know” feelings, ulterior motives, and nagging can be harmful. However, honest
inquiries and other “between friends” communication and discussion will most likely
enhance the family-student relationship.

                                                         Visit (but not too often)
Visits by family (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners) are
another favored part of the college experience. These visits are a nice time for family
members to become acquainted with, and to gain an understanding of, their students’
new activities, commitments and friends. However, spur-of-the-moment “surprises” are
usually not appreciated; pre-emption of a planned weekend of studying or other
activities can have disastrous results.
Expect and encourage students not to come home every weekend. Spending time on
campus is one of the best ways to make friends.

                                                 Call (but not everyday)
Some students, especially at the beginning of their college career, will call you with all
sorts of questions, maybe several times a day. Questions range from how to do laundry
and how to pay tuition, to advice about a roommate situation. Communication is good,
but try to limit telephone calls to no more than once per day. When you do talk to your
student, rather than telling your student what to do, ask questions like, “Who could you
talk to on campus about this problem?” Encouraging independent decision making is an
important skill developed in college.

                                     Don’t say “These are the best years of your life”
At times, your student’s college years will be filled with indecision, insecurity,
disappointment, and mistakes. They will also be full of discovery, inspiration, good
times, and best friends. But, it’s not always the good that stands out. Your student may
not agree that these are “the best years” while he or she is suffering with the trials and
tribulations of adjusting to a new environment. A great deal of pressure can be placed
on students to always appear to be having “the time of their lives.”
Any parent who believes that all college students get good grades, know what they want
to major in, always have activity-packed weekends, have hundreds of close friends, and
lead carefree lives is wrong. So are the parents who think that “college-educated” means
“mistake-proof.” Those who accept and understand the highs and lows of their student’s
reality can help provide the necessary support and encouragement.

                                                               Trust them!
Self-discovery and the transition into adulthood are difficult enough tasks without
feeling that the people whose opinions you respect the most are second-guessing you.
You and your student may have differences of opinion. It is important to realize that
these differences are not a battle between right and wrong; rather, they should be
thought of as different points of view. It is vitally important that your student knows
you love, respect, and are supportive of him or her. Your relationship and the college
years will be better for it.

I moved my office into Tay's old room (she is ok with that) and it seems to be helping. I only cried once last week! I really like sitting here by her window - looking out at the gorgeous trees (yay Oregon!) and wondering what she is doing. 


Isbel said...

When my daughters each left home I took a whole day off work and made a collage of the pictures I had over the course of their lives. I cried all day--grieving is so important to this process. Now I have the collages, although they aren't very important to me since the day I spent on them achieved their purpose.
I encourage you to cry. Grieving is a normal event in our lives--despite what our culture tells us. Otherwise sadness festers and turns inward...then outward.
Letting children go, what a hard thing. And college is only the beginning (said by someone who's children are now 34 & 25 and is looking at letting go her oldest grandchild soon....

Corinne McElroy said...

Thank you for the gift of sharing your experience with your daughter.
I love the advise the school gave you.. It is wonderful advise if your Child is going off to school or moving out on their own.. My youngest daughter Breanna moved out Feb. of this year. I can remember my heart filling so much loss for me, and excitement for her..All the things I heard my mother and my grandmother telling me came rushing back, enjoy them they grow up so fast. It is so true.
I believe the biggest message for me is remembering how close we are, how much we truly love each other, to trust as partners and parents my husband and I did a good job.. Trusting myself and trusting my kid has her own path..
Thank you for sharing it has allowed me to reflect and remind myself.
Much Love,
Corinne McElroy