Whether the nest is empty or short just one family member, parents often have trouble adjusting to parenting at a distance when their kids go off to college. One key to staying in the loop is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. What this means is different for every family and every parent-child relationship. Depending on the model of communication you have set with your child before he or she left for college, you may be talking daily, weekly, monthly, or only when your child needs some cash or advice. What is important to remember is there is no right or wrong amount, only what is manageable and satisfactory for you and your child. With the plethora of multi-media resources now at our fingertips, you and your child may find yourselves text messaging, emailing, video-chatting, or even “Facebooking” to stay in contact. You might write each other letters, you might send care packages with the dorm-room essentials. You may talk on the phone daily or just a few times a month. It is also important to remember that your child is exploring life on his or her own, likely for the first time, and is excited to loosen the ties to the folks and start making decisions and acting independently. Do not leave the initial contact up to your child, but be sure to let him or her know that you expect to keep in touch with a reminder that you are still the parent and deserve to be in the loop! Chances are after the first few weeks and initial adjustment shock, you will fall into a comfortable routine.
Trust me – your child will not forget that he or she has parents within one semester. You don’t have to insist on weekly visits, with either you or your child making the trip, to maintain a presence in your child’s life. You want to offer your kid the opportunity to behave independently, make his or her own decisions, and begin to mature by being responsible for him or herself. But while your child is learning how to be independent, he or she may need a hand from time to time. That’s where parents come in, to offer advice on a career move, help solve a roommate or peer issue, quiet a case of home-sickness, or just be a friend. Care packages are a great way to let your child know you’re always there and rooting for him or her every step of the way. Packages can consist of just about anything – some comfort food from home, the local paper, pictures of little brother’s soccer game, recipes, personal letters, spending money, childhood relics, books, even things that “just made me think of you.” A care package is sure to put a smile on your child’s face and initiate contact - “Did you get my package in the mail?” or “I just called to say thanks.”
Perhaps the only way to stay sane during this transition is to remember that things will change! But not everything has to. If possible, keep your child’s room the same, so it offers a safe haven when your kid comes home. Don’t rush to fix every problem, but be supportive when you’re needed. Be excited and ready to hear about your child’s new life, and offer guidance when it’s required. Parenting from a distance means you’re still parenting, but you also get to enjoy not worrying about your child’s every maneuver.