By Lauren Whitley, Family Ambassador to the Parents Program
People always ask my mom what makes our relationship different from that of the typical parent and college student relationship. I can’t definitively say what makes our relationship different, but I can tell you what makes our relationship strong.
For starters, I’ve always been close to my mom. Even when I was going through my angsty teenage years, she was still my go-to person for advice or even if I just wanted to talk to someone. I do think, though, that there have been moments that have brought us closer together.
Halfway through my senior year of high school, my parents separated. My dad, mom, older brother, Mark, and me had been living with my grandparents. My eldest brother, Scott, was living by himself at the time. Mark helped my grandparents a lot because he was out of school and unemployed at the time. So, when my mom and me moved in with her mother after the separation, Mark stayed to continue helping them out. So, into the tiny spare bedroom of my grandmother’s my mom and me went, and I finished my senior year of high school sharing a bedroom of two twin beds with her. After I graduated, my mom and I moved into our own place, just the two of us. My mom still lives there today, and I consider that house to be my home. As the saying goes, home is where your mom is.
My freshman year of college began at Penn State’s Mont Alto campus. I was offered a 1+3 Scholarship, as many freshmen were that year, and went to the closest campus that offered on-campus living. So off I went, to a very rural school three hours away from home. My mom dropped me off with tears in her eyes and I knew it was going to be a little rough.
That first weekend was the toughest weekend of my life. I didn’t know anybody, all of my friends back home still had a week or two before they started school, and I experienced a massive culture shock. I went from a diverse, heavily populated suburb of Philadelphia to a school in a very rural area. I went to a high school of 2,000 students, so going to Mont Alto, a campus of roughly 1,000 students, where most students commuted was a culture shock. I almost dropped out of school that first weekend because I was having a really hard time adjusting to life in Mont Alto. I must’ve called my mom about 20 times between the time she dropped me off that Friday and the time I went to bed on Sunday night.
I eventually adjusted to life at Mont Alto. Meeting people really helped that process. I lost contact with most of my friends from home so the only thing I had left from home was my family, specifically my best friend, my mom. Our close relationship gave me a lifeline that helped get me through a tough year of my life. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her. I probably wouldn’t be attending college, that’s for sure.
Which brings us to the present. I live in an apartment off campus in State College with three roommates with whom I get along with fairly well. I still talk to my mom at least once a day, typically twice a day. I volunteer as a Family Ambassador for the Parent’s Program and my mom is a member of the Penn State Parent’s Council.
I don’t know what makes our relationship different from other students and their parents, but I know that I wouldn’t change it. The moments we’ve shared with my mom through tough times have really strengthened our relationship. As I’ve grown, my mom has come to rely on me as a confidant for her troubles as I have relied on her. We have a mutual respect that runs deep because of the events that we’ve gone through together and because of our closeness.
We acknowledge, though, that what works for us isn’t going to work for everyone. We talk so often because that is what works for us. Neither of my brothers call my mom twice a day because their relationships with our mom are different.
People often ask my mom how they can get their student to call more often and the answer is, you can’t force it. If my mom forced me to call her, I can’t honestly say that I would. I call her because I know she’s there if I need her but it’s not an obligation. Half of the time when I call anyway it’s just a quick “Hey, how are you? Have a good day, I’ll talk to you later,” because we are both busy women and we have a lot going on. It’s not always an hour-long conversation, because who has time for that twice a day? Your relationship with your student might not look like my relationship with my mom, because it’s different for different people. That is okay. Find what works for you and makes you both happy.