May 10, 2022 By AnnMarie Christiano & Anne Zirkle

Dear Parents of College Freshmen: Here’s What to Expect

Suddenly, it’s time to send your not-so-tiny humans off to college. You might be asking, “How did we get here so quickly?”

Between our two families, we’ve sent five children to college, and we’ve learned a lot in the process. In some ways, it’s gotten easier each time because we’re better prepared, but that’s not to say the transition doesn’t come with its challenges. We’re sharing some of the things we wish we’d known the first time around so you can fully embrace this special milestone.

Family graduation

Set Expectations Before Your Student Leaves for School

Students often have more freedom at school than they do back home. So, how will you handle this transition? We quickly learned that our expectations were different from our kids’ when they came home that first time.

We envisioned them hanging out and spending time with us. Family dinners. Game nights. Long talks. Imagine our disappointment when we soon discovered they had plans of their own. They were all-in for family dinners. But they also couldn’t wait to catch up on sleep and hang out with friends who were also home.

Person smiling

We both realized that we’d need to talk to our kids to establish appropriate expectations before their next visit. Two-way communication is so important. They were learning to be independent and isn’t that one of the objectives of college?

While it’s important for our kids to understand how their actions affect us, it’s equally important for us to respect their choices. The key is finding a middle ground. Talk to them-their insight and perspective may surprise you.

At school, they have the independence to come and go as they please, without any thought about the time of day. While kids are all very different, all of ours became very nocturnal since leaving the nest. Neither of us gave our college students curfews, however, we made house rules that they had to be quiet and respectful of those already asleep at night.

Two girls smiling

Create Space for You and Your Student to Find Your Way

For both of us, sending our kids to college was a difficult emotional transition. We missed having them around. We realized that our lives revolved around our kids before they left home. It was time to figure out who we were in addition to being their moms, and our blog, Simply2Moms, grew out of that process. We urge you to use this transition to your advantage. Focus on you! Many parents haven’t had much time to entertain their own goals and interests in nearly eighteen years. This is a great time to find new activities and hobbies to fill that kid-sized hole in your daily life.

Of course, some other emotional challenges varied with each of our kids. It was hard when they didn’t call or text as often as we would have liked. Or when they took forever to reply to a text. If we’d had a two-way conversation about our expectations or wishes with our college students over the summer, maybe we would have saved ourselves some hurt feelings. After all, our kids don’t know how we feel if we don’t share it with them. Again, communication is so important here.

Mother smiling at son

On the flip side, it was just as difficult when our kids struggled through the transition. We’ve both received phone calls with crying on the other end. Whether homesick and wanting to come home or having trouble adjusting in other ways, no one wants to learn that their child is suffering. While it may be heart-wrenching, be present for your child and trust that they will find their way through these growing pains.

Empower Your Student to Handle Issues on Their Own

When your student is at college, they need to learn how to navigate life on their own. Whether they’re having an issue with their roommate or struggling in a class, we, as parents, need to empower our young adults to figure it out.

It’s time to let them take the lead in difficult situations. When struggles arise, take a step back and let your student try to handle them independently. While it’s often difficult, wait to offer guidance and advice until they ask for it. Sometimes they just need you to be their safe place to vent. Knowing they have you in their corner will go a long way.

These are the years when our children learn to become independent adults and parenting a college student is just as new for us as navigating early adulthood is for them. We all grow in the process of letting go.

Person smiling

Prepare to Be Unprepared

Like when we began our journeys as parents, we’re never quite as prepared for the big transitions as we may anticipate. No matter how much we’re ready to send them, their insatiable appetites, and their endless laundry off to school, saying goodbye is never easy.

Making time for discussions will help to address any concerns and manage your expectations with your young adult before move-in day. If you work through what family life will look like in the future, your time together will be more enjoyable. Then, you can all embrace the new kind of relationship that begins to develop-because it can be pretty amazing.