Dear Parent of an Incoming Freshman,
Whether you’re on your tenth college visit or you’re on your very first one, I’m confident you’re rolling through a number of emotions–the excitement for your son or daughter to undertake new adventures of their own, a slight awkwardness realizing that you feel older than you hoped to feel walking around a college campus, nostalgia as you remember your own college memories or life’s journeys, and the undeniable weight that your own life is changing. It’s okay to be feeling sad and excited at the same time–very normal even.
I am not writing from a parental perspective, and so I can only begin to grasp how hard it is to watch your kids grow up and move away. But I am a Hope College senior with four years of experience under my belt–four years of all the good, bad, hard, and joyful memories that Hope has provided for me and four years of watching my parents struggle to let me go, empower and encourage me, and love me unconditionally from afar. So, to whomever is reading this, from my four years of experience, this is my advice and encouragement to you:
Move-In Weekend will be terrible. Let yourself cry when you need to. I’m pretty sure my mom cried like 20 times–carrying my stuff into the Dykstra basement, through my entire Freshman convocation ceremony, and I’m sure a couple times in the bathroom that I’m not even aware of. Move-In Weekend was such a blur for all of us. Let your son or daughter go to orientation events without making them feel guilty to leave you, and find little times in between to steal them away to get pizza downtown or a treat at Captain Sundae. This is a really big weekend for them, but this is a big moment in your life too. Soak it up, and don’t feel guilty when you’re relieved that it’s over.
The first few weeks will be crazy, and the only calls you will probably receive from your child will be asking for passwords. But there will be a moment–two weeks in, maybe a month even–when their schedule hits a little lull and they’re going to realize how homesick they are. Be ready for it, and don’t freak out when it happens. First semester of Freshman year is the best and the worst of times–you meet tons and tons of people every single day, sign up for fifteen clubs at once, realize you actually can survive on cereal and french fries, realize you shouldn’t survive on cereal and french fries, get slammed with a lot more homework than you ever anticipated, navigate living with new people, all while surviving on 5 hours or less of sleep per night. Leading to my next point–
Don’t be afraid to call first. They’re not always going to have time to answer, but they’re going to feel loved that you called. Tell them you miss them, but reassure them that you’re okay too. They need to know you really are doing okay. Let them talk through their week, and if they sound tired, don’t take it personally. Trust me; they are tired. Encourage them, let them complain about how much laundry costs, and reassure them that they got this and that they’ll hit their stride before they know it. Some moments of college will be hard for them. Let them be hard. You can’t always be their “fixer,” but you can always, always be their listener.
I remember being surprised how often breaks would sneak up! And if you can recall from your twenties, college breaks are the best. Driving home for college breaks have become some of my favorite memories. Every year as the pace of life at Hope seems to speed up, breaks spring up a little quicker, and I’m reminded that home was never as far as it often felt.
They’re always going to need you. I’m 21 years old, and I am fully aware of how much I need my parents! This isn’t an end; it’s a transition. And I don’t think my story is unique when I say that my mom and I got even closer when I went to school. Ten minute phone calls between classes, really long, hard phone calls when I was struggling, weekend visits when she would buy my groceries, the many times she proofread essays for me, and even breaks at home only strengthened our bond. Their independence doesn’t need to be at war in your heart with the dispensability of your role in their life. It will take time and intentionality, but this can be a really incredible opportunity for a new friendship.
I can’t express how often I heard people say to me or my mom: “it goes so fast.” I would get so annoyed, because my million essays per week didn’t feel like they were “going fast.” But as I approach graduation this spring and avoid emails about our commencement stoles (gosh, I don’t even know what a commencement stole is), I can’t believe how fast it went. Parent who’s reading this, it goes so, so fast. Before you know it, you’re going to be telling your daughter what a commencement stole is, and you’re going to be the one realizing how fast four years flew by.
So, soak in every moment–even the hard ones. Call, and listen well. Let them struggle, and be a voice of encouragement. Venmo them some laundry money once in a while. And know this is a season of your life, and a fun season you will most likely learn to love.
–A Hope College Senior