Hello, my name is Nadine Nasby and I’m a recovering helicopter mom. I have been hovering-free for the past four years and gladly offer counsel to anyone seeking help when transitioning kids to college.
All kidding aside, I was that mom who micro-managed everything in all of her three kids’ lives from birth through high school, from what they ate, what they wore, what their homework and grades were on any given day, who their friends were, where they were at all times of day, and dare I say, even the most personal details of their daily bodily functions, if you know what I’m getting at.
That was all working fine and dandy until my oldest transferred out of state to college. And then a year after that my other son went out of state for his freshman year. From the time I sat like a blubbering idiot in an advisor’s office the day before flying home and leaving my eldest son at college in a state where we honestly knew no one, to the time we dropped off our other son at the airport to board his flight to India where he would be for the next two months, I have learned how to back off and let them fly away on their own. It has not always been easy and I have had many a sleepless night, but I have made the transition to the other side and am here to say you can too.
As high school graduation looms for so many of my clients, I see myself in parents’ eyes as they are busy planning their kids’ graduation festivities and making their college moving in plans. And I know from experience what lies ahead for them. Here are my tips for helping parents transition their kids to college:
- College Dorm Set-Up – I believe this is the beginning of the end. Forgive me if I sound morbid, but this is the time to allow your young adult to exercise some independence in how they want their college living space to look. If they want your input, great! Have at it as you both study the Pottery Barn Teen dorm catalog or stroll the dorm aisles of your nearest Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond. It can be a bonding time for the two of you. But if they are pushing back and want to have total control of their bedding and other decor, then you need to let them. However, since most kids don’t pay enough attention to emails and other information from their college, make sure they are following the specifications for their dorm, such as rules about microwave ovens and small appliances.
- Contact Guidelines – This can also be tricky. But it’s best to agree on a time that your kid can either call you or FaceTime you. I find that Sunday afternoons or evenings are good times to catch up on how their week went and talk about what they might be doing the upcoming week. As far as texting goes there will be issues that will often come up that will need to be addressed quickly, especially for college freshman, but for the most part don’t expect a reply to your text as quickly as you’ve been used to. Try not to take it personally. And truth be told, I still sleep with my cellphone next my bed every night, just in case.
- Access to their portal – Most colleges will have students set up their portals early in the enrollment process and for students 18 and over, they have to grant access to their parents to see their academic record and grades. Discussing your access before they leave for classes is recommended to avoid any arguments or surprises when you discover that you cannot see their grades. If your student feels they do not want to grant you total access, then this is another time that you’ll need to let them lead the way toward their independence, but certainly set up a standard of what you expect in terms of their GPA, etc.
- Bank Account – Determining your student’s finances is a very personal decision for your family, however I do recommend establishing some sort of budget for things other than books or their meal plan. Again, this should be worked out in advance of their leaving for school. In addition to a meal plan, most schools have a student debit-type account that can be used on campus and at other nearby stores and restaurants. As a parent, you can see what they’re spending online and add funds if they’re running low.
- Vacations – I just assumed that both our sons would be coming home every break they had and we would just pick up where we left off as a family. This has not always been the case; Spring Break is usually the one week that college kids like to travel with friends. I’d also like to give a little heads up about their first time home after being independent in college. They have been used to coming and going without you knowing what time they go to bed, etc. and they will want to continue that trend when they come home. Being able to agree on a reasonable curfew time that is respectful of everyone’s schedule is the goal here.
- Be Available – Just when you think you have got things all figured out and you’re proud of how well adjusted your student has become, your phone will ring. The sound on the other end will not be the one of your mature college student, but instead will be the long lost child’s voice pleading for help with a certain situation. There may even be tears or panic in their voice. Take a deep breath and try with every ounce of your being, not to either get into the car or book the next flight to go comfort them. Instead, you’ll want to be that calming voice of reason and listen to whatever problem they are experiencing. If you can offer a tangible solution, that’s wonderful, but usually they just want you there to listen.
These are certainly just a few areas that you’ll encounter as you send them off to college. There is no easy answer to everything, but the main thing is to be patient with yourself and your young adult. Just like you thought they would never be potty-trained or learn to drive, they will get there, and just like all of those other times, with love and encouragement from you.
Here are my most recent senior portraits from my clients, Alex and Christina, that will be transitioning this fall to the University of Central Florida. From what I can tell, they’re off to a great start since they are so close as twin sisters and will be there to support each other.