The first year your baby heads off to college is likely to be the most difficult, both for parents and for new freshmen who will have completed the initiation ritual of moving from high school to college. Parents need to remember that moving into a dorm room does not really signify entrance into full independence.
For that reason, it’s important for parents to play their cards right during freshman year, to figure out how to balance parental involvement with distance, and to match this balancing act with the individual child’s needs.
All parents want some reassurance that their freshmen children still love— even remember—them despite geographic separation. I can reassure parents that a time will come, in the not-too-distant future, when you will get all the love you deserve, but it may not be during the first year away from home.
Until they are clearly standing on their own feet, they are likely to be quite ambivalent about contact with parents. They will be happy, of course, to keep in touch and let parents know how they’re doing—though this may not be often enough for parents’ tastes.
Seventeen and 18-year-olds, living away from home for the first time, usually want to maintain just enough distance so they can remind themselves that they’re on their own. But some go to the other extreme. It’s not uncommon to see students walking around campus with cell phones to their ears and checking in with parents several times a day. Everything in moderation. Don’t hang up on them, but don’t allow cell phones to become satellite controlled umbilical cords either. Let them know you’re thrilled to hear from them, and certainly always leave communications open, but try to limit calls to one a day or fewer.
Many parents express sadness when they first visit campus. They have difficulty understanding why their children seem rude or embarrassed by their presence. They notice how friendly a roommate is toward them, but feel empty because their own pride and joy greets them unenthusiastically. (Of course, they never saw how chilly the roommate was to her parents.) Rather than feeling hurt, parents need to understand the ambivalence many college freshmen feel by seeing parents on their own new turf. They love their parents, but that love makes them question whether they’re really ready to be independent. These conflicting emotions create confusion and anxiety that comes out as rudeness. When they become confident that they can stand on their own, they will be more comfortable about giving parents the embracing welcome they deserve.