Again, every family is unique, as is each individual within it. It follows that everyone is likely to have their own experience of this life passage, with their own particular challenges, joys, expectations, and concerns. However, there are a number of ways you may help to nurture your relationship with your college student, so that it can be as growth-promoting and satisfying for both of you as is possible.
Here are some suggestions for working toward that goal:
Set reasonable expectations about academics
Your student may have been a super-academic achiever in high school, but may not get straight-A's in college. To some extent, your own expectations continue to influence the expectations students set for themselves. Help them to accept that doing the best they can is terrific, even if they do not make the Dean's list. If they truly do need academic assistance, encourage them to seek it out.
Be a good listener
When problems arise at school - which they inevitably will do - listen carefully to what your child says. Support them in exploring options and finding their own solutions, without taking it upon yourself to solve the problems for them.
Be emotionally supportive
Be positive and encouraging, but don't push them to follow a particular course of action, or pressure them about majors or grades. You can be clear in expressing your own opinions, but trying to impose them on your student is likely to create unproductive conflict rather than positive changes.
Stay in touch
It can be tricky to walk the line between maintaining connection with your child and giving them the space they need at this age. Email, letters, care packages, and phone calls from home can help fight homesickness. Express interest in your child's experiences at school, and ask them about their classes, activities, and friends.
Ask them what they need from you
When you are not sure what to do, it's okay to ask your child what they feel they need from you at that moment. They may want you to just listen, for example, while they "vent" about something, without having you respond or be "helpful"; perhaps they need sympathy, a hug, a visit, a phone call, or some distance. For further insight, read NU Student Affairs Advice for Parents.
It's important to take care of yourself as you care for your son or daughter. Consider the following ways to cope with the stress that his or her situation can bring.
- Allow yourself to experience your emotions. It is normal for family members to feel many confusing and conflicting emotions when child leaves home. These feelings can include sadness, guilt, relief, joy, or apprehension. Whatever you are feeling, there is little benefit in pretending these feelings are not there. A healthier approach is to talk about these feelings with family, friends, religious or spiritual support, or some other listener.
- Make your own well-being a goal. During stressful times, it is important that you get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and get adequate exercise. Spending time doing things that you like is also an important step toward your own well-being. This is the perfect time to find a new outlet.
- Remember that coming to Northwestern is an important developmental step for your student. Having a student at Northwestern signals, in part, your success as a parent or guardian. It is a very big step toward adulthood and responsibility for making more independent choices. Be proud of yourself!