When a child leaves for university: a parent's coping tips
I thought I was prepared when my 18 year old triplets left Singapore to attend university in the United States. After all, having a child leave home to go to university is considered a measure of success – a sign that you have prepared them for the world. In reality, there are many unique challenges you just can’t prepare for when your teenager moves 15,000 km away.
When your child heads off to university the sense of loss can feel unbearable, particularly when they are on a different continent. While trying to be a supportive positive parent, I often found myself slipping into the role of a helicopter parent while they were in high school. One child has a chronic medical condition and another has a learning disability. I was used to helping them manage their schedules and smoothing the path that lay ahead of them. How would they manage without me? How would I handle the distance?
Fortunately, planning ahead can help you (and your children) cope with this new stage of parenthood. Start early and help your kids learn basic skills: how to cook simple dishes, do the laundry, or clean a bathroom. It’s never too late for laundry lessons. We actually had a lot of laughs the day they each learned to iron a shirt. They initially thought it was silly - until the competition between them became fierce!
Make use of social media
As you prepare for them to leave, take advantage of social media - If your child’s university has a parent’s Facebook page, join the group. It’s a great way to get answers to questions about the campus and the community. Several members of the parent group at my daughter’s university live in the area and occasionally post photos of campus events. It’s also helpful to know that in an emergency there is someone local I can reach out to.
Communication is key
Once your child has settled into university, communication is key; you need to give your child space to become independent and enjoy their new life, but checking in to find out how they are is healthy. Don’t be surprised when their lengthy texts in September dwindle to weekly emojis by December as they make friends and juggle university courses.
Stay busy to stay sane
Although it may sound like a cliché, staying busy really does help. Children take up an awful lot of time. Give yourself permission to feel sad - and then fill up that now-free space with projects that mean something to you.
Be prepared and stay calm
But be prepared for that phone call. The adjustment to university can be difficult for students. There may come a time when they call to tell you they are miserable. They hate school, they are overwhelmed academically, they have no friends, they hate the food, they are ready to come home. As parents we naturally want to fix things and make things better for our children. It seems so much worse when you are far away and that call comes in the middle of the night.
Try not to panic! Understand that this phone call may be a normal part of the adjustment to university. Being prepared for the situation, while hoping that it never arises, will help. Be positive and encourage them to reach out for help that is available on campus.
This month marks the fourth year that I will say goodbye to my children and send them off to university in another country. It gets easier every year. The time between visits seems to get shorter and shorter. It seems as though the house has just quieted down before they arrive home during a school break and the whirlwind begins again. Don’t tell them, but I’m secretly beginning to enjoy the quiet...
*Jacqueline's daughter is currently studying in Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts) while her twin brothers are attending the University of Rochester (Rochester, New York).