When you’re the parent of a college student, life has a rhythm: you drop them off in August, maybe see them for Family Weekend in the Fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas Breaks, back to campus in January, Spring Break in March, finals, pack them up and either cheer at their graduation or get ready to do it all over again in August.
Not this year.
This year the rhythm of life has been interrupted
This year, many of us found ourselves scrambling in the middle of March, making arrangements to get your college student (or students) home after they were abruptly ejected from their campus and sent home for socially-distanced, on-line learning. And, if you’re like me, it’s been quite an adjustment. Along with their backpacks and books, their linens and laptops, they came home with a whole other set of emotional baggage that is taking a while to unpack. My family is several weeks into this new reality now, and I’d like to pass on a few things I’ve learned that that might make it easier on everyone during this uncertain time.
What parents need to remember
1.This is not a break and they’re not supposed to be home. Unlike a typical college break, your student isn’t coming home to sleep for days, do their laundry, clean out your fridge and head back to school. They aren’t supposed to be home right now and nothing feels right to them.
Their internal clocks tell them they should be going to class, hanging with friends, studying on the quad, partying on the weekends and enjoying all that comes with a college spring. Being home right now is counter to everything that feels normal and it’s unsettling.
2. They have work to do and classes to take. Sure, our kids often come home with a paper to write over break or some reading to get done, but this is different. They have actual classes to attend – even if they’re on-line. They have assignments, and due dates and all the pressures that they had when they were attending class in person. This means that even though we’re stuck at home and everything seems a bit aimless, they still have a schedule to follow.
3. They miss their friends. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you, or that they don’t want to be with their family, but they are keenly missing the close connections of their college communities – the inside jokes, the rituals of coffee dates or meeting for lunch or late-night study sessions. This has left a gaping hole in their world.
4. They feel robbed of a big chunk of the college experience. For underclassmen, it’s hard enough to feel cheated out of nearly a full semester of school, but for seniors it can be devastating. Gone are all the rites of passage they’ve worked so hard for – senior balls, commissioning ceremonies, pinning rituals, honors and Baccalaureate ceremonies, and of course graduation. Such emptiness and sadness left on the blank pages of calendars no longer filled with exciting pomp and circumstance feels crushing to them.
So, what can you, their parents and families do to help get everyone through this time when other worries and pressures consume you?
Perhaps you have younger ones at home and you’ve been effectively marshalled into homeschooling them through the day. Perhaps your job, like so many of ours, is in jeopardy or you’re suddenly working from home, learning new technology, missing your own daily routine and your own colleagues and friends. Perhaps you, like us, were content empty nesters who suddenly find themselves with an expanded household leading to more meals, more laundry, more dishes and more of everything except space and distance.
6 things that may help you with college student at home
1.Don’t force them to spend time with you. Remember, they’re not supposed to be here now, they should be in their dorms or their apartments living their lives. If they decide to hang out in their rooms all day FaceTiming or texting the friends they miss – let them. Pretend they’re still away at school where you have no idea what they’re doing from minute-to-minute.
Remind yourself this isn’t a holiday break and right now they’re reaching for any hint of the familiar and comforting, and for most of them, that will be their friends. Respect that the space of their room may be all they have right now to feel like they’re still on their own. Give them their space and they’ll be more likely to reappear when ready to spend family time with you.
2. Do respect each other’s schedules. The first week of on-line classes, my daughter let us know what her class schedule was and that she would have some virtual meetings with professors and advisors that week. Each morning she reminds us of her classes and we check in about our own work schedules.
I try not to schedule Zoom meetings when I know she’s in a 2-hour seminar so our WIFI doesn’t have a nervous breakdown. She tries not to jump into a Google Hangout when she knows I’m dialing into my weekly staff meeting. Keeping ourselves to these schedules makes things feel more normal.
3. Do listen to their ideas. Frustrated with how often we were running the dishwasher with three women at home getting frequent coffees and glasses of water, my daughter proposed we each have one water glass and one coffee cup per person per day, a brilliant idea and one that is keeping the dish situation from getting out of hand. Ask them for ideas for the menu plan for the week or the best way to set up your new home office. Let them be a part of things.
4. Do let them talk about school. Right now, talking about their friends, their classes and their assignments makes them feel closer to the campus they left behind. Let them ramble if they want to, and be grateful for the glimpse into their lives you may not otherwise have gotten.
5.Don’t let it be all about them. All this being said, we are all in uncharted waters these days and while their situation has been and is difficult it’s ok to bring them into your world as well. Share highs and lows at the dinner table and ask for their perspective or advice. You’re all in this together and these young adults can have remarkably insights into how to navigate this new reality.
6.Do let them help you with technology. Zoom? Google? What? For many of us this is new territory, but a walk in the park for them. Let them set you up with a Zoom account and teach you how to FaceTime, you’ll both benefit.
Of course, every family is different, and some of these may work for you and some may not. But, as we feel our way to whatever our new normal may be, try to be patient with them and with yourselves and do your best. After all, one benefit of being stuck at home is that we can all try again tomorrow!
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