From School Bus to Megabus : Parenting the College Student

We are excited to welcome Cindi Oliver as our newest parent blogger. Her daughter, Madison, is a rising sophomore at University Park in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. In her first post, Cindi talk about how parents can prepare for their child’s transition to college.

Letting go of the day-to-day role of being mom or dad is a huge change for most parents. After all, we have been doing it for a long time.  Some 18 years ago on the first day of kindergarten,we suited them up and lovingly accompanied them to the bus stop, lunch box in hand holding a favorite peanut butter sandwich with the crust trimmed off and a note pinned to their jacket, “Bus # 9. Madison Oliver. If found return to homeroom 109.”

Madison Oliver (center) and sisters ?? upon her arrival at Penn State University Park last year.

Madison Oliver (center) and sisters Daniela (left) and Aubrei (right) at Penn State University Park.

As our college-aged students prepare to leave for greener and freer pastures this fall, many of us will relive that kindergarten day, that moment of fear and myriad emotions we felt so long ago.  Once again we must learn to say goodbye and leave them to a larger, sometimes more dangerous world. One that is full of promise and intrigue for them, but trepidation for us. 

When we return home without them, are we relegated to face the dreaded “empty nest syndrome” we’ve been told about? A decidedly dark period where we will have nothing to do but cry and worry, and fill our emptiness with building bird houses and watching re-runs of classic television. Can we gather our strength enough to navigate this dark period by hoping our child will stay in touch, and keeping the goal in sight … a college degree and a job?

As a mother of five who has sent several children off to school, I am happy to share that I have not built any birdhouses. In fact, I am completing a Ph.D. with some of my new found time. I also happily enjoy an active and refreshing adult relationship with my college children.

However, making that transition wasn’t easy and you can likely expect it to be at least emotional. Encourage your student to be gentle on you.  As an “experienced parent” I gave some thought to some things that might help other parents to mitigate your fears help you get through the first few weeks.

Sit down have a heart to heart talk with your student. Talk frankly and openly about how they might handle drugs and alcohol, integrate studies and fun, and identify who and where they can go for help. Penn State has many resources to offer, including an excellent health services center, school clubs, flexible meal plans, a strong parent’s council, and tons of academic advising.

Talk about fears. Knowledge is the best way of providing comfort to parents and students. Set up regular times to talk each week and schedule a few visits home. Otherwise, your uncertainty might overwhelm them with too many calls, and too much concern and you become the helicopter parent they like to avoid as they flex their wings.

Fortunately, today’s electronic world makes it easier to stay in touch than it was in our college days. You can do it in creative and fun ways. Texting can keep them in touch with family issues and day to day life. A funny e-card, picture of their now clean bedroom, or an interesting fact or saying just reminds them you are there. Then when they really need you, you will be the first one they call.  

My daughter likes cats and we have gotten into the habit of sending funny cat pictures and silly sayings.  We really look forward to them and often really do…. lol. Snail mail still works and the kids love it because it is “traditional.”  I sent a nice care package to my daughter at finals and seeing it her friend said “Wow, your mom must really love you!” I texted her back, “Of course I do!” It was a $25 and 10 minute investment that made both our days.

In the end, it will be an emotional transition that you will survive. You still have the same ritual, just one where the backpack is now an iPad carrier and the school bus is replaced by CATA and the Megabus. Take the time to say a proper goodbye, and then call as soon as you get home. It reminds them that as much as things have changed, they are still the same. Enjoy your new found time and build all the birdhouses you want if that’s your interest, or take a little drive to University Park.

And don’t worry, even the most independent of them, like my daughter, who genuinely believes she can and may one day be president, still gets a bit teary eyed every time we say goodbye.

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