As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!
I’ll never forget the fear I felt several years ago when dropping off my son at Rich Falk Basketball camp. He was 11. For four nights, he would be living in a college dorm with dozens of boys his same age. I didn’t even want to imagine the rowdiness that would undoubtedly ensue.
Just before leaving, I said a few things to him: “If something doesn’t seem right, please don’t do it,” “Actions can have consequences,” and “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Now, as I prepare to drop off this same kid — now a college freshman, at University of Illinois, ironically, the same advice applies. What’s different is, I find myself with so much more to say.
I recently wrote my son a letter called, “9 Things I Want to Say To You Before You Leave.” Feel free to use these and add to them to express what you think will help your college student when it comes to missing home, staying safe, and being happy.
1. You have given me more joy and happiness than I ever thought possible.
Start with how you felt holding him or her as a baby, and talk about all the times growing up that he or she made you proud and happy. Include kind gestures, hard work, accomplishments, hilarious moments, and personality traits you see. What you tell your child is what he or she will see in the mirror.
2. I believe in you.
A kid going to college needs to know that his or her parents believe he/she will succeed, that he/she is capable of doing the schoolwork, living independently, and taking care of him or herself. Also, let your child know why you think this way. Tell them, “I respect you,” “I trust you,” “You are a good person who makes good decisions,” and any other reason you believe he/she will thrive while away.
3. Push yourself.
Remember that you won’t be there on a day-to-day basis to motivate your child to go the extra mile, to try new things, or to get involved in something that might feel uncomfortable or scary. So why not say it now? Maybe try, “This is going to be such a wonderful time in your life and I want you to enjoy it, but it’s also a time to challenge yourself.” He or she might hear those words at some point and thank you.
4. You will be fine.
As excited as they are, I don’t know one kid who doesn’t have anxiety when it comes to such a huge life change. Assure him or her that despite times of homesickness, fear, stress and loneliness, they will not only survive, but will become stronger and more self-sufficient. And, tell them they are welcome to call you as often as needed, even if it’s four times a day for awhile.
5. You can tell me anything and I will never judge you.
The open lines of communication between you and your child are more important than ever during college. We all know kids are going to make mistakes and do things they regret. Mistakes are unavoidable, and actually some of them are beneficial because they teach. Listening, understanding, and having a non-judgmental attitude will lead to your child telling opening up to you, and you being able to offer comfort and support.
6. I will miss you.
This sounds pretty obvious, but that doesn’t mean your child doesn’t need to hear it. Talk specifically about what you will miss, whether it’s having breakfast together every morning, working out together, or even just kissing each other good night. This will make him or her feel important and special. Don’t forget to include that the dog will miss him or her, too!
7. I’m sorry for…
If there’s anything for which you feel you owe your child an apology, this is a great time to speak up. The validation will mean so much to him or her, and will give them confidence. Also, kids learn from your behavior, so you are also teaching them to own something.
8. You will always have a home.
Give your child the reassurance of knowing he or she is always welcome to visit or even to move home. When someone has the security blanket of knowing they are welcome in their childhood home, it causes them to thrive and be even more independent.
9. You are the best decision I ever made in my life.
Our kids see us working, being social, and living our own lives. I have to believe they might sometimes wonder if their parents are glad they had kids. Don’t make them wonder ever again. Telling them what a great decision they were is like giving them a huge dose of self-worth; something they could really use as a college freshman.
In closing, as nice as it is to express all of these things, there are a few additional “rules” you might want to put in place when you drop off your freshman at college. These include: “I only pay for A’s and B’s,” “Just because your roommate’s doing it, doesn’t mean it’s OK,” and “You have to stay on Life360.” And lastly, if there’s one white lie you must tell, it’s this: When you walk out the door and say good-bye, add, “I’m crying because I’m happy for you.”
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.