Friday, August 12, 2011

8 rules to help first-time college parents stay sane

And it's off to college we go . . .

Getting ready to send our firstborn off to college feels a little like giving birth. It's exciting. It's painful. It's full of uncertainty. It's punctuated with a million little details. And it seems like the delivery of her to her new "home away from home" will be over in a blink.

I'm excited that my oldest has made it to this milestone. It's also a little scary to help my child pack up and then send her off into the big unknown. But, it's made me do a lot of thinking about what kind of parent I want to be to our adult-child. Here are some thoughts that might help other parents with the college transition process. These are my first-time college parent rules.

1. Breathe. Although I really didn't find this advice all that helpful while giving birth, I'm finding it useful this time around. Our daughter made it to 18 in reasonably good shape, so there's no reason to think she won't be just fine in college.


2. Buy the right comforter. My mom thoughtfully bought me a rainbow comforter for college (think Care Bears). And I was grateful, but I still remember the way it looked next to the much more sophisticated comforters of my two roommates. As a result, my daughter and I spent a bit too much time searching for a comforter that projects the right level of collegial sophistication. Feminine but not frilly. Colorful but unlikely to clash with the overall color palette of the room. Durable but washable.

3. Leave your emotional baggage at home. Our child's college years are just that -- her college years. We know how important it is to not project our college experiences onto our child, good or bad. Well, with the exception of rule number 2. No one likes to look like a dork.

4. Get out of the way. Despite the school's valiant attempts to involve us in her college experience, we believe it's better to let her find her own way. Will we be there if she needs to talk? Absolutely. Will we check on her grades every week and offer to intervene should she have roommate problems? No way!

5. Help her establish a budget, and then remember rule #4. The cost of sending a child to college can get out of hand fast. That's why we decided to help our daughter set a budget based on the money she earned over the summer. That $4 cup of coffee may not be the wisest way to spend those hard-earned summer dollars, but then again, it's not my money. When the spending money is gone, it's gone. Welcome to the real world, little girl.

6. Limit those phone calls and text messages. The best way to get acclimated to a new environment is to become immersed in it. That's hard for your child to do if you're constantly calling or texting. Unless it's an emergency, we plan to limit our calls to once a week.

7. Listen. Be a sounding board rather than a problem solver. Be a supportive ear rather than a task master.

8. Celebrate. Sending a child off to college is a huge accomplishment. You've navigated the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, the scatological sixes, the tween years, and the dreaded teen years. College is a time to sit back and enjoy what is one of the most intellectually and socially rewarding time of your child's life so far.

So there you have it. Eight rules to stay sane as your first child flies the coop and heads off to college. With one down, we'll have one more to go in just five short years. But by then, I think I'll be well prepared.