Q: My husband, Ronald, and I are about to send our only son, Matthew, off to college. He hasn’t been away from home much, except for camp and that sort of thing. The thought of him living on his own at the college dorm 200 miles away does bring worries, but I’m still excited for him.
I’m feeling many emotions about his leaving. I’m just so confused! On the one hand, I know Matthew is excited to go. On the other hand, I think he’s probably scared to death about leaving home.
What can I do to smooth his transition into college?
A: Although you may be feeling a bit scared about sending your son to college and also sensing his fears, the good news is that you can do a lot to ease him into the dorm. Simply having some discussions about the upcoming change can allay some fears for both of you.
Talks with Matthew about school will progress best when you’re both relaxed. Create a comfortable setting. Maybe he’s particularly receptive when you go out to dinner at his favorite restaurant or when you’re both in the family room reading or watching television.
During your talks, inquire about how Matthew feels about the topics in the conversation, rather than just doling out advice.
Bringing up these topics one by one over time will help Matthew prepare for the transition to college:
1. First things first: boost your son’s confidence about the move. Remind him of all the things he can do that ensure he lives an independent life.
- For example, he can, hopefully, sort clothes and do his own laundry. He should be able to use an iron on his clothes, at least for quick touch-ups.
- It’s likely he’s lived with a schedule before and knows how much time to allow himself to get up and get ready in the mornings.
2. Nutrition. Does Matthew recognize the importance of nutrition and know he might feel tired or sleepy simply because he skipped a meal? Knowing these facts will help him to live successfully while at college.
3. Scheduling time for studies. Discuss the importance of setting aside time daily for his studies. Bring up how well he did in high school. Pose questions about things he did to achieve the grades that helped him get into college. Then, lead the discussion to what changes he thinks might be relevant when he gets to college.
4. What to pack? Although he has a roomful of stuff at home, he’ll likely only get half of a very small dorm room at school. Talking about what to take or leave at home will make packing easier for him.
- Although cell phones and laptop computers are musts for today’s college students, a PlayStation, X-Box, or other expensive game system may not be a wise choice.
- How will he secure his valuable items? Cell phones, expensive electronic tablets, cameras, computers, and the like are often the first items stolen at college. Consider a room safe, locking file cabinet, or locks to secure things like laptops to desks or other large furniture.
- Taking clothes only for the current season with an extra jacket and rain gear thrown in may help him best use his space while being prepared for the weather.
Q: Although I want to make this experience all about Matthew, I find myself focusing on my own feelings, like excitement, sadness, relief that he’s grown up, and fear for his safety. How can I handle these feelings?
A: Rest assured that parents usually have such feelings as they send their child off to college. Be open with Matthew, to a certain extent, about how you feel about his going away from home for his education.
It’s appropriate to tell him that, although you’ll feel sad that you won’t be seeing him daily, you recognize it’s an exciting time for him and you want him to make the most of it. Share that you’re truly excited for him and interested in knowing how he feels about it too.
If you shed a few tears during these discussions, reassure Matthew that they are as much tears of joy for him as they are sadness that he’s going away.
Q: I’m a bit concerned about my husband, Ronald, as he’s not saying much about Matthew’s upcoming exit from the house. What can I do to ensure Ronald is doing okay emotionally?
A: Different parents respond in different ways regarding kids going off to school. When you and Ronald are alone, ask him directly how he feels about Matthew’s leaving. Listen intensely. Ask him what he thinks about your son becoming independent. Be supportive of him if you see he’s struggling emotionally with the situation.
Let Ronald know how you feel about it. Share that there are times that you feel pretty emotional about the whole thing. Mention any concerns you have about Matthew’s pending dorm life. See what your husband thinks about those concerns. Seek the emotional support you desire from Ronald so those unmet needs are prevented from overflowing onto your son.
Q: What will we do with ourselves once Matthew is gone? So much of my life revolves around him and, to a certain extent, Ronald’s life, too.
A: If you worry that you’ll have too much extra time after Matthew leaves, share these concerns with your husband.
You might mention to Ronald that this will be a great time for you to re-connect as a couple, spend more time together, and do some things you’ve wanted to do. You could suggest a trip together to a place that you’ve wanted to visit as a couple.
You likely have had some thoughts and dreams over the years of things you’d like to pursue but just couldn’t find the time. Maybe it’s something like taking a yoga class or even a college course at the local university. There may be a craft or hobby you’d love to learn more about. Keep in mind that before you were a mom, you had your own interests.
With Matthew away at school, you can expand your own horizons socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Open yourself up for some new interests and activities. Establish contact with some old friends and spend more time with your current ones.
This can be an exciting time of life for you, too!
Q: I know I’ll want to talk to him each day to know that he’s okay. How often should Ronald and I plan to see Matthew? Should we wait for Matthew to say he wants to come home for a weekend or what?
A: The wonders of modern technology ensure that you have plenty of ways to keep contact with Ronald. Even so, you’ll want to temper meeting your own needs with Matthew’s needs. For example, you could let Matthew know when you drop him off at the dorm that for the first week, you’ll likely send him a quick text daily just to know that he’s okay.
You may also want to talk to him on the phone a couple of times that first week, too. Share that, after the first week or two, you both can see how often you feel the need to touch base. Perhaps visiting him one month and having him come home for a weekend the next month will work for both of you.
Communicating with him as you would with other adults provides a wonderful model to him of what effective communication looks like.
- Listen to him with great attention.
- Ask questions for clarification.
- Show interest in the subjects he shares with you.
Q: One subject that does stress me out quite a bit is the whole financial thing with Matthew going off to school. I’m worried about giving him large amounts of cash or depositing high balances into his checking account for him to access. I want to have peace of mind when it comes to Matthew managing money, but how should we go about this whole thing?
A: The budget is one of the biggest items of concern to parents of new college students.
You might want to look into the university’s cash card system. Most universities have such systems now and the more you understand the system, the more comfortable you’ll be with Matthew using it.
Basically, students receive a credit or debit card that works at all the cafeterias on campus. He simply presents the card when he shows up to eat.
Even many fast food restaurants and school and art supply stores on campus will accept the cards.
Find out from the university in advance how much their meal plan is. Load that much money on the card and inform Matthew that you expect him to be able to stretch that amount for the entire semester.
To avoid budget blowouts and frayed nerves, spell out exactly what you expect of Matthew financially.
If you want him to have some additional pocket money, it’s wise to make a small monthly deposit into his checking account.
If he requires more than that, you may want to directly ask him what he’s spending his pocket money for. Have a talk with him about the budget and his responsibility to stay within what you’ve all agreed on. No college student needs an abundance of extra cash lying around.
Q: I’m almost afraid to say aloud what my next concern is. I’m worried that Matthew may be unable to handle the lack of structure and discipline very well. What if he starts skipping classes, drinking alcohol, or just generally wasting his time and our money? Perhaps I should have more confidence in him, but I remember what it felt like when I first moved away from my parents.
A: It’s understandable that you might have these types of fears, as many parents of college-age kids do. However, you might be able to look at Matthew’s past behavior and make some reasonable predictions. Have you noticed him having difficulty making responsible choices and controlling his own behavior in the past? If so, what helped him get his behavior back on track?
Also, you and Ronald might find it helpful to talk with Matthew about the “craziness” of the first year in college and that he will see some of the kids at the dorm making negative choices about how to spend their money and their time. Ask Matthew what he anticipates about the first year of college and how he feels he might respond.
When you state clearly your expectations, you’ll feel better. For example, let Matthew know that you and Ronald will help him with college costs for four years and that you hope he will avoid wasting his time and your money.
In other words, if he blows off the first semester partying, you’ll still assist him financially for four years, which means he would eventually have to come up with whatever it will take to finish his education.
Something else that may help alleviate your anxieties is to establish with Matthew from semester to semester the number of credits you expect him to earn that semester. This way, for his sake and yours, you’ve made your expectations clear.
Also, some studies show that college students who engage in extracurricular activities earn higher grades than those who have no such activities, so it may be wise to encourage Matthew to get involved in just one or two activities that he’s interested in.
Your ability to cope with your son beginning college has a lot to do with how well you related to him before he leaves, as well as after he’s on-campus. When you communicate openly with him about your feelings and expectations, and listen to his thoughts and feelings, you’ll smooth his transition from high school teen to young college adult for all of you.