Freshman Year Down: Why I Learned More Than He Did

I look at the college phase of parenting much like a marriage. No one can accurately prepare you for the highs and lows, frustration and joy, disappointment and pride you will experience at various turns, especially during freshman year.

A mom's observations after her son's freshman year of college

Let’s face it, if someone told you, you wouldn’t have believed them anyway. If I had benefit of full disclosure, I would have homeschooled my son in the basement where I could keep an eye on him.

Alas, I did not. And thank goodness, because otherwise I never would have known what we were both capable of. With one year of college under our belts, here are my observations:

8 Observations After Freshman Year of College

1. I can exhale – Well, sort of. Those first few months, I literally held my breath every day. And night. OH MY GOD, THE NIGHTS.  I stopped short of putting the phone in the bed with me but I seriously considered it. Only the memory of news reports about exploding phones and mattress fires stopped me. With each passing week, though, I slept better and worried less.  Unless he was home on break in which case I reverted to worrying until he walked in the door and latched it behind him. #iwillsleepwhenIamdead

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2. They’ve changed and we have too – College is an education for everyone. I just wish the fact that I was learning so much somehow compensated for tuition rates… Anyway, your child is entering into a phase of discovery about themselves and the world at large. So are you. You will see all the things your child is capable of without you.  Conversely, you will adjust to letting them figure things out on their own which may not necessarily be the way you would tackle something.  Maddening but true.

It is important that they not lose that wealth of knowledge over the summer after freshman year.  In fact, we should be building on it Don’t fall into old habits and patterns – yes spoil them upon their initial return to the nest—but then step away and come up with a plan to co-exist with new expectations and goals and avoid bloodshed.

3. Anxiety is a given – Not just yours, but your child’s as well. All freshmen are going to be overwhelmed and anxious at some point. Whether it is the rush process, classes, roommates, time management, bad dining hall food and worse professors or any host of other topics. My son had two major meltdowns that I talked him through on the phone, all the while fighting the urge to caffeine-up and climb in the car and drive 7-hours to see him.

When you speak/text/Face Time don’t be afraid to ask leading questions.  Make sure kids know the normalcy of feeling this way and that you are not judging them for it (then follow through by not judging them) This generation is so used to being achievers, showing a chink in the armor is completely foreign to them. Share stories about times you felt overwhelmed (it was shocking how many I had to choose from) and just do whatever it takes to start a dialogue. It is important for you to know they have someone or some way to relieve stress and anxiety.  And that the mechanism does not require a fake ID.

4. Time is the enemy – Admittedly, I am like Goldilocks and never quite happy. When he is at school, time drags on. When he is home for long stretches, I sense it is time for him to return to his independence. When I think about the time we have before he moves out for good, my heart aches.  It is rarely just right. Well, maybe those first few days when he basks in the glow of our attention and I overlook his crap all over my house. After that, it is a roller coaster dipping and turning your emotions at will.

5. There is never enough food or sleep – I honestly believe the only reason my son wakes up is to eat and I feel moderately guilty that we don’t offer him a buffet complete with sneeze guard, hand him a tray and make it a social event.  We are definitely not on the same meal plan. Breakfast is usually combined with lunch and dinner rolls until well after we eat, followed by a run at 10:00pm and then a snack when he finishes.  The dishwasher is groaning because the kitchen never closes.

6. The Fan – Apparently my son and millions of students like him, use a fan to block noise in the dorm and keep their room like a meat locker while they sleep.  Now, he can’t slumber without it blowing RIGHT ON HIS FACE AT HIGH SPEED. His room is like a cryogenic lab that just happens to be covered in boxers and reeks of Old Spice.  If his plan was to keep me out of there, it worked.  I am too lazy to layer up, throw on a North Face and brave the cold just to do some mundane chore.

[Read Next: The First Year Of College Is Over. You Can Exhale Now, Moms!]

7. Boys steal each other’s clothes too – Even back when dinosaurs roamed campus (you know, the early 80’s when I was in college) the uniform for guys was a kick-ass t-shirt.  It seems that the 3000 shirts my son left with were not sufficient and he came home after freshman year with stuff I have never seen before.  T-shirts are traded, pilfered or just magically appear in the pile going home and they are yours to wash forever.  My only hope is that we thinned out the herd by dumping some of ours as well, but in a sea of white cotton it’s hard to be sure.

8. Need to Know Basis – What my son does all day is largely a mystery to me. I have a vague idea of classes and when he has to be at a field for practice or a game but otherwise I got nothin’.  By the same token, my son does not need to know the minutia of things back here on the Ponderosa. He does not need to cloud his brain with the fact that the basement tv almost exploded or that his brother never does his homework because he has to maintain Snapchat streaks.  Keep it light, people, and move on. If there is something major he needs to be a part of, by all means loop him in.  But I soon realized my idle chatter was stressing my son out. I had forgotten how crazy our house/schedule is and it sounds overwhelming from a distance.  Repeat after me, “Less is more…”

Being that I still have two kids left to embark on the college process, I guess I am in the thick of this for a while–for better or for worse.


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About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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