As students prepare to return to campuses across the country, parents are caught up in the frenzy of packing, shipping and transporting their young adults to colleges and universities.
The energy and effort involved in preparing to send your kids away to college obscure the emotions that undoubtedly unfold immediately after they’ve left, and the house is quiet. That’s when the reality sets in: they’re gone, no longer living in your home, only coming back for temporary visits.
Carey Monroe, Cleary’s Vice President, Enrollment Management, who is also the mother of two college students, knows this adjustment well. All parents adjust to the new normal of an empty nest, or a less-full nest, at this time of year and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, there are more unknowns and uncertainties wrapped up in this late-summer farewell.
“Remember, you’ve done everything you can to raise them right from the very beginning,” Monroe says. “You have to trust that what you’ve done will go with them when they leave your home.”
COLLEGE IN A TIME OF COVID
That said, the pandemic “adds an extra layer of anxiety” for parents and students alike, which is why it’s essential to maintain clear communication with your students once they leave. Monroe laughs as she explains her parental tactics: her adolescents only receive their weekly allowance if they call her at least once every week.
“Parents assume that their kids are going to miss them as much as they miss their kids, and they’ll be texting their parents,” Monroe says. “The reality is, they don’t!”
Set parameters for regular communication – especially given today’s public health concerns, she suggests.
“This year, parents are not only worrying about their child leaving home, they’re also worrying about what if they contract COVID on campus,” Monroe says. “That’s a valid concern and it’s so hard as a parent to feel like there’s nothing you can do to protect your child.
“Still, we have to be the strong ones and support our children from afar – even if they end up in quarantine on campus. Reassuring them that they still made the right decision to go to college, even with what’s going on right now, is our most important job.”
Many parents worry that their college students won’t wear masks or maintain social distance from friends, thus making them vulnerable to the virus. The reality is, once your child goes to college, you have to let go of the illusion of control and trust that they will figure it out – whatever “it” may be.
“It’s time for them to go,” says Monroe. “Parents have to let them, despite worries. And now it’s time for parents to readjust their own focus from entirely on their kids to something for themselves.”
IT’S YOUR TURN NOW
Parents who are sending their kids off to college should focus on two things in the aftermath: finding a hobby and reconnecting with their partner or other prominent adults in their life.
“For many parents, their whole life was focused on their kids and their activities,” Monroe acknowledges. “I was definitely one of them! So now, I have to remember what I love to do and reconnect with my husband. It’s crucial to take time for yourself and figure out what you like to do for this next stage of life.”
And all the while, it’s ok to feel what you feel, Monroe says.
“You’ll cry when they leave. We all do! Even if it’s the first two weeks after they’re gone, that’s ok. Be kind to yourself. It is an adjustment for everyone – and we all will get through it,” Monroe notes.