I am a maniacal worrier.
I’m more than maniacal.
I could worry professionally.
I’m pretty confident I’d take All The Gold Medals — a la Michael Phelps, if worrying were an actual Olympic event.
This is to say that when my firstborn went off to college, I went down that rabbit hole of worry almost daily. And I do mean DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, as in, my irrational, statistically impossible worrisome thoughts and “what if’s went from 0-60 in less time than a new, fully charged Tesla. My mind kept digging deep into that vexing hole of uncertainty when, daily, unanswered text after unanswered text, the anguish chipped away at all rationality, and I became completely unglued with worry.
Finally, somewhere around the late fall of his first semester away, I started to climb out of the hole of worry. And now, as I get ready to load up and drop off my second child at college in just a few weeks, I can happily (and restfully) say with confidence to all the new and potentially rabbit hole-digging, new college parents, “It’s all gonna be fine, so stop worrying and relax, OK?”
And by stop worrying and relax, I mean, don’t sweat the small stuff, and yes, it really IS all small stuff — all of it. The dorm essentials lists, the dropped classes, the lost wallets, and all of the other adult things you’re going to worry your new college kid can’t handle — guess what? They can handle it, and they will figure it out.
Do NOT worry about these when your teen leaves for college
1. Dorm room furnishings, layouts, and high beds
There are currently thousands of measuring tape-wielding mothers out there right now pacing IKEA stores, trying to redecorate a sterile 14 X 14 dorm room into an interior design masterpiece worthy of an HGTV prime time show slot. To them, I say, STOP. Stop it right now.
Buy a $10 rug, a bed in a bag, a set of plastic drawers, and call it a day. Why? Because everything you’re buying and designing right now will be completely trashed and end up in the trash in about nine months. Save your money.
2. Germs, germs, and more germs
I just read a post on a college parent message board from a mother deeply concerned with the cleanliness of shared bathrooms and worried that things like mildew and other “bathroom germs” can and will cause chronic respiratory problems for her child. She wanted to know if she could send a cleaning service into the dorm weekly to sanitize the bathroom.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her the following; 1. Just. No. 2. Even if you send up giant cleaning supplies, nobody will ever use them. EVER. 3. When and if they get sick, it won’t be from the bathroom germs. This leads me to #3.
3. They’re gonna get sick, but it’s gonna be OK
My kid got very sick only after a few weeks away. Not sleeping, eating like crap, and living in tight quarters with 50 other people living the same way don’t bode well for actual wellness. I panicked, and my inner mama bear wanted to drive four hours to take him to a proper doctor.
I got over that quickly and realized that he needed to begin to take care of his health — and that meant making his own doctor’s appointment, or visiting the on-campus health center, thus learning to become a smart health consumer. Just remind your kids this — FINISH ALL THE ANTIBIOTICS, and yes, strep throat is caused by making out with strangers.
4. Hygiene, laundry, and clean sheets
All of the above are no longer your problem. I repeat, No. Longer. Your. Problem. If they choose to sleep in crusty, pizza sauce-covered sheets, live in a room wrought with garbage and wet towels, wear stinky clothes they haven’t laundered in days, and grow long hair, a beard, and neglect flossing for a month — it means they don’t care, and neither should you. (They grow out of this, by the way.)
5. Being hungry
Remember when you had a picky toddler who didn’t eat anything and worried they would starve? They didn’t. Your college kid will not starve either, but if they have real food insecurities, have them reach out to an on-campus social worker or someone at financial aid or the student services center.
Many campuses also have an on-campus food pantry, and almost every club or organization offers free pizza at every event. And yes, they can survive off of pizza and Ramen noodles — at least until they come home for Christmas break.
6. Being broke
How does one learn the value of a dollar? When they only have ONE to their name. Nothing teaches young adults more about money and money management than having none — or having very little. Suddenly, $5 cups of coffee are no longer looked at as a need, which is a very good thing because being broke in college means learning the important difference between needs and wants.
7. No instant responses to texts or phone calls
Your college kid will not have the same daily schedule as you. When you’re waking up, there’s a great chance he is finally going to bed for the day. Remember when you text him at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and you don’t get a response until 2 o’clock in the morning? They’re like bats, only with dead cell phones and completely clueless that we think no immediate answer means they’re in a ditch somewhere.
Got it? Good. Now relax, turn your phone off, and let your kids figure out life On. Their. Own.
(And that money you would spend on cleaning supplies for them? Get a pedicure.)
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