So maybe you didn’t have a chance to visit your son or daughter at college during parents’ weekend, or it didn’t go as you’d hoped. I know I had my own agenda: spend time with his roommate, take his friends out to dinner, sit on a lecture or two, eat in the dining hall, and mingle with other parents.
That’s when I realized it wasn’t all about me. I was hoping our visit would help me get familiar with my freshman’s daily routine. I could imagine him in those great halls of learning, eating farm-to-table food in the dining hall, and finally putting faces to the names of the new friends he’d made.
I would leave reassured and confident about how well my son did with the huge college transition. That was a heavy burden on his shoulders, even if he was a foot taller than me.
My son wanted to disconnect for a bit from the hard work of making a new life. Developing friendships and creating a home-away-from-home takes energy, a lot of it.
He needed to recharge and process the first few months of college to discuss his hopes for the next few years. He just wanted me to listen. He wanted a break from his roommate, and he most certainly wanted a change from the dining hall.
When I told him I’d like to visit, he texted back, “I can’t wait until you get here so we can go out to eat.” I’ve missed you too, son. WE HAD A FANTASTIC TIME once I threw out my itinerary for the weekend.
7 ways to have a great visit with your college kid
1. Be respectful of your student’s schedule
I told him I’d love to visit, but only if it wouldn’t stress him out. Maybe it’s too close to finals, or he has a big project due, or she has a hot date. Your son or daughter has their own life; be flexible to fit into their routine rather than putting demands on their time.
2. Bring your own entertainment
My son was a gracious host, but I didn’t expect him to spend every hour with me or start his day at 7 a.m. I brought some books, journals, and coffee to make at my Airbnb. We parted ways after dinner so he had time to spend with his friends in the evening.
3. Offer to take them shopping
My son’s Florida wardrobe was no longer suitable for the 40-degree fall days in Boston, so we bought some pants and a warm sweater. We also stopped at CVS so I could help him stock up on body wash and shampoo. I think I snuck some hot chocolate into the cart too.
He gets an allowance, but I don’t have many opportunities to spoil him now. I added some money to his Subway card while we were out. Putting gas in their car or buying an Uber gift card works, too.
4. Let them set the agenda
When I visited, I thought we’d spend most of the time on campus. He wanted to go into the big city and show me all the places he’d discovered. I followed my tour guide-son through a majestic library, hidden parks, and walking paths along the river.
During those 30,000 steps, I marveled at how much he’d explored and how confident he was in this new place. Let your students share the places and things they’re passionate about. You’ll see them in a whole new light.
5. Speak to them in their love language
Maybe your daughter misses getting her nails done with you, or your son wants to ride a bike. Do they secretly crave a quick back rub or watch a favorite Netflix show together?
Moving to college can be like landing in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. There’s nothing like having a visit from someone who shares the same dialect to help ease homesickness.
In our family, we share the language of food. Many of our best conversations happen around the table or in the kitchen. During my 48-hour visit, my son and I hit at least a dozen cafes, restaurants, and food trucks. We ate tacos in the park, explored a hidden Italian bakery, and splurged on steak and fries one night. I savored the connection that came with each bite.
6. Ask questions, but don’t be nosy
I wanted to know how my son navigated things like drugs and parties. Did he feel safe? Was he feeling overwhelmed by the academic load? How about homesickness?
Questions that had been hard to ask during our weekly 15-minute phone calls came out more naturally when we walked around town or had coffee. My goal was not to pry or lecture but to open the door if he wanted to talk or needed help.
I started particularly personal questions with, “I’m not asking you to tell me anything you don’t want to share; I just want to know how you feel about…”
7. Offer to take things home
Some students attend college with the bare minimum, while others arrive with a moving truck. Ask your son or daughter if there is anything they’d like to offload, like summer clothes, candles that aren’t allowed, or the extra throw pillows they don’t need. If you have space in your suitcase or car, it will save hassle later if you can downsize now.
Yes, you’re still the parent. But visiting your student at college is like being invited to a dinner party. You’re the guest, and you want the host to enjoy your company, so they’ll invite you back.
Be open to whatever is on the menu. Leave before you wear out your welcome, and thank them for showing you such a great time.
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