By Chris Little
Sleepaway camp. College. Junior year abroad. A post-graduate fellowship in Europe. A job transfer to another coast. As our kids grow up, they increasingly will find themselves presented with opportunities to do things far from home. If they take those opportunities, we should rejoice! And pat ourselves on the back for raising kids with the self-assurance to explore the world far from their hometown.
And of course, we may mourn just a little bit. We also may secretly hope they’ll change their minds and come right on back home! I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly fine to have those feelings—just not to share them with the kids!
It’s 95 days to First-Year Move-In Day at my son’s university. So naturally I’ve been remembering that first day of kindergarten, when his teacher literally had to peel him off me (both of us sobbing). I’m fairly confident we won’t see a replay of that drama come August, but still, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what his leaving will mean to our family. How will we maintain that sense of family-ness that provides the foundation for our lives—or at least my life (I realize the kids may not feel quite the same …).
It’s done me good to keep in mind that just because my son will be off at college, he’ll still be part of the family. Because our home is not a place. I like to think that we can be connected no matter how far from the kitchen table we may roam. Nice as that may sound (or awful, depending on how well you get along with your family), it seems to me that it will be comforting to have some strategies planned for making those connections felt, especially when my family is far flung. So I’ve been picking the brains of folks whose kids are older than mine for ideas for staying connected (but not too connected). Here’s what I’ve learned:
Okay not constant contact, but surely regular contact. I’ve heard over and over again that it’s important to let your college kid take the lead regarding how often—and by what means—you keep in touch. (Within reason, of course—it seems appropriate to request at least a weekly check-in!)
That said, there’s still plenty of room for creativity. For example, if you think your kid would enjoy them, send photos and videos as attachments to your texts and emails. If your family is like mine and you love watching goofy YouTube videos after dinner, send a few of your latest favorites to your college kid.
But keep in mind that there is definitely such a thing as too much contact. FaceBook and Twitter seem like a great way to keep in touch—but this strategy has a double edge, as any parent who’s winced at her son’s or daughter’s late-night posts can tell you. In fact I’m considering not following my kid on Facebook or Twitter … until the grandchildren arrive.
Everyone loves getting real live mail—especially if it’s a care package from home. These days you can buy a prepaid Priority Mail shipping box at the post office and send anything that’ll fit inside for the same flat rate. I’m going to stock up on a few boxes to have around when inspiration—or a tough exam week—strikes. Here are some ideas for filling that box that I’ve picked up from friends with kids away:
- Favorite home-baked (or store-bought) goodies—include enough to share with roommates!
- Gift cards to local restaurants and shops.
- A few of your kid’s favorite childhood toys—Play-Doh and Tinker Toys could be a lot of fun in the hands of some creative college kids, don’t you think?
- If your kid needs downtime, how about a couple copies of her favorite magazines, or a Netflix membership?
Don’t forget greeting cards and letters. When I went off to school my little sister sent me all kinds of greeting cards—Congratulations on Your Retirement cards, Bridal Shower cards, Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary cards—just for fun and so I’d have something in my mailbox. I loved it. Also it kept my roommates wondering …
Make a local delivery. When I was a freshman and away from home for my birthday for the first time, my family called a local bakery and had a birthday cake delivered to my dorm room. Great birthday surprise! It might take a little research, but you can probably find a bakery or pastry shop that provides a similar service in your kid’s college town.
Sometimes the best care package there is, is you. Just ask first to find out when is a good weekend. Take your college kid and her roommates out to dinner someplace nice, see if she needs anything from the local Target. But respect her space and her privacy—there’s no need to hang out in her dorm room, and don’t expect to dominate her free time for the entire weekend.
These are some ideas I’ve picked up as I prepare to watch my first-born leave the nest. What strategies have worked for you to stay connected to your fledglings? What lessons have you learned that we should keep in mind?