Westmont Magazine When Children Go to College
Parents respond differently when their children leave for college. Some go into mourning and leave the empty bedroom untouched as a kind of shrine. They mope around for months and sit at home, hoping for a phone call. Gradually they recover. Then one day, in the the middle of summer vacation, they ask their student, “When are you going back to school?”
Others count the days until college begins and they regain control over their student’s room. Within weeks, they have redecorated it as an office, guest quarters, or sewing room. Like all parents, they miss their students — especially when they have to figure out how to install a new ribbon on the printer, program the VCR, or change the settings on the cell phone.
Experiences differ depending on the gender of the college student. Parents of daughters may spend two weeks shopping with them to furnish their small room. Color-coordination is essential: not only should the drapes, carpet, and throw pillows match, but so should the folding chairs, TV tables, alarm clock, mirror, and that cute little beaded lamp she couldn’t live without. Add to this a futon, an entertainment system, and an extensive wardrobe, and it takes a van and a car to get it all to campus — and a full, back-breaking day to move it in.
Guys may make it easier on parents by passing on the matching furnishings, but they probably consider a refrigerator, VCR, TV, and stereo as basic necessities. Visits by mom are welcome because she brings the car and lets them drive it anywhere they want to go.
Distance is another factor that impacts parents. When students go far away, their folks may decide to visit fairly often. Now that they have more time on their hands, a little travel seems like a good idea. Never mind that they traverse the same route over and over. Mom and dad have shown up a little too often when they greet everyone in the dorm by name, give directions around town to visitors, and know all the local hangouts.
Despite their parents’ highest hopes, students who choose a school close to home may not be around much. At first they regard the dorm as a place to visit. They take only a sleeping bag, laundry basket, change of clothes and toothbrush. Then the bike disappears. Soon they realize one change of clothes won’t cut it. When they decide sheets would be nice, you know they’ve made the transition. In fact, some students get so comfortable visiting their parents for an occasional meal that they never come home for weekends. If the school didn’t close the residence halls at Christmas, they wouldn’t spend another night in their parents’ home.
College students are notorious for only phoning home when they need money. How does your student measure up? Are you hearing more from the college (newsletters, handbooks, brochures, bills) than from your kid? Just how easy is it to reach your student by phone or e-mail? If you’ve compiled the numbers and addresses of roommates and friends, you know you’ve got a challenge.
Parents of college students share one universal experience: dirty laundry. When their children show up, so do the unclean clothes. Some even fly it home. The brilliant young student who can program computers and VCRs stands pathetically in front of the washer and asks, “What setting should I use?” Can any mother resist this plea? Of course not! They cave in and say, “Oh, I’ll do it. No problem.”
How do parents cope with the barrage of emotions they feel when their children go to college? Chocolate helps. Exercise can dissipate some of the angst. Long-delayed home-improvement projects occupy the mind. But the best therapy is contact with other parents who have experienced the same roller coaster of responses. They help you put it all in perspective — and maybe make you laugh.