When your child goes to college, it’s their time to test themselves against something approximating real life. Despite knowing this, you may be worried that (a) they’ll never survive without you; and/or (b) you’ll never hear from them again. Luckily, it’s possible to strike a healthy balance between these two that encourages them to stay in touch, without imposing too much on their new-found freedom.
There are plenty of ways to do this:
A regular email keeping them up to date with what’s going on at home will help them feel connected and let them know that you’re thinking about them. Don’t expect an instant reply though – in fact you may wait some time for one. This doesn’t mean they no longer care about you. More likely, they’re just so busy getting on with college life that emailing home becomes a slightly lower priority.
It’s also possible that they’re struggling a bit, especially if it’s their first time away from home, and they don’t want you to know. Keep writing as they probably look forward to receiving your news, even if they don’t want to admit. Just adjust your expectations and let them know that you’re there if they need you.
Giving them a regular allowance of air time if they have a cellphone, or a pre-paid phone card if they don’t, maximises the possibility that they will phone, and serves as a subtle reminder to them to stay in touch. Let them initiate the contact though, rather than stipulating regular phone calls at so and so time.
Use your phone time with them to connect and share. Ask them how they’re doing and tell them anything important from your side. You may even like to keep a short list of topics you want to talk to them about near the phone. Allow them to control the length of the call and if you do genuinely need more time to talk about something, set up another call rather than trying to squeeze it in when they’re anxious to get on with studying, going out or whatever. You won’t have their attention then anyway.
When you’re far away, there’s nothing better than receiving a parcel of goodies from home. Consider including edible treats, photos or news clippings, books or magazines, a card with a personal note – or quote, or anything small that reminds them of home.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit wherever they’re studying, give them plenty of advance notice and let them know that you don’t expect them to spend every moment with you. Set up some time with them, as well as other activities in the area and invite them to join you for those if they choose (and try not to take it personally if they don’t).
What to say and what not to say
When you connect, you want to make it as positive an experience as possible. That way they’ll want to do it again.
- Sharing positive news of home
- Asking them how things are going for them
- Gentle guidance if they need it
- Reassuring them you’re there for them, no matter what
- Chastising them for not connecting more
- Voicing any anxiety you may have about them and their activities
- Going on at length about people they don’t know
- Asking questions you’d rather not know the answer to
- Responding judgmentally on anything they share
Done well, connecting can be wonderful for all concerned, not to mention putting your mind to rest around how they’re doing. Following these few simple rules will keep you on track.