Tag Archive | off to college

Real Estate Negotiations: What to do with your child’s room (and her stuff) after she heads to college

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By Chris Little

If you’ve got a new college kid, by now she’s off at school. You’re likely adjusting to the quiet, doing a little less cooking and laundry—and walking past her empty room a couple times a day.

About that room: It’s no longer in active use—at least her half of it, if your kids share. So what are you going to do with all that space? And all the stuff in it?

Maybe you’re one of those parents who was tempted to stop by Sherwin Williams on your way home from dropping your freshman off at orientation, so you could set right to work repainting that room and converting it into a home office. Or maybe what you really want to do is shut the bedroom door and leave your kid’s room completely intact, as a memorial to his early days.

I suppose most of us fall somewhere in the middle. As for me, I wanted to leave my son’s room more or less the way it was, so he’s got a comfortable, familiar space to come home to at Thanksgiving. But to be honest, his room was too much of a mess to leave untouched. (No, that’s not his room up above, but you get the idea!)

Over the years I’ve been pretty laissez-faire when it comes to the tidiness of my kids’ rooms. My stance has been that the kids’ rooms are their domain, so they should get to decide how tidy to keep them—within limits, of course! So once the kids got old enough to help, I expected them to pitch in with the house cleaning when I asked them to, but I didn’t clean their rooms for them, and I pretty much let them decide how much or often to clean them—but no dirty dishes or uneaten food allowed!

As it turns out, my daughter is pretty fastidious, but my son is, well, not. Certainly he’ll clean up if he needs to (like when his grandmother is coming to visit), and he vacuums his carpet regularly enough—but the place hadn’t been dusted in quite awhile. I have to admit that part of what got me through sending him off to college was the thought that I could finally get in there and wipe down his bookshelves!

Tidy bedroomNow to be sure, we talked about it beforehand—I told him my intentions, because I didn’t want to invade his space unannounced. And so last weekend, armed with dust rags and wood polish, I addressed myself to his room, dusting off his dresser, bookshelves, and desk, carefully replacing his books and treasures where I found them, and resisting the urge to do much organizing or discarding. I kept in mind that this room is still his room, and the decision about whether to throw away those old movie ticket stubs is his to make, not mine.

I also did some reading about what other parents have decided to do with their kids’ rooms. It seems like there’s a consensus that rushing into renovations is a bad idea. Here’s what I learned:

1. Leave their room intact, at least for a while. For at least the first semester, it’s probably a good idea to leave your college kid’s room pretty much as-is, if you can. Of course it’s a different story if you’ve got younger siblings eager to expand into the empty space (see below). But otherwise, go ahead and do some dusting and tidying, but don’t change things around too much. They’ll be home before you know it for fall break and Thanksgiving, and you want them to feel like they’ve got a home to come home to.

2. Before you toss it out, talk it over. I’m a stickler for privacy and boundaries, so I won’t pick up anything more than a wet towel in my kids’ rooms without making sure they’re okay with it. More reasonable parents might have a great routine for how much cleaning they do in their kids’ rooms. But regardless, before you go in there and start tossing out old school work or donating their Legos to the homeless shelter, it seems respectful that you’d check in with your college kid, preferably before she leaves home or during a break from school. You want to make sure you don’t accidentally throw out something precious to her—and you want to give her a chance to stash her journals, love letters, and anything else it’s really not your business to find.

3. Same goes for big changes. If you’ve got younger siblings who need the space your college kid has vacated, or if you really need to convert that room into a home office, be sure to talk it over with your college kid before you break out the paint brush. And make sure you reserve some closet space and a corner for her bed, or at least a sofa bed, so she’s got a place to sleep and stow her stuff when she comes home for winter break.

4. Be patient. Chances are that when your college kid comes home for Thanksgiving his room will already feel a little alien, the posters a little juvenile, and the old ticket stubs less meaningful. It could be that your kid will even help you do some decluttering over the winter holidays!

5. If you can, let them bunk with you until after graduation. While we don’t want our homes to become storage units for our absent children, letting our kids keep their claim to their bedroom real estate until they’re settled into their own apartment after graduation can pay off for you. It’ll make visits home less stressful—and more likely to be repeated—if your kid has a comfortable place to stay. It may also help your kid make smart choices knowing she’s got a safety net if she needs it, rather than rushing into just any housing situation because she needs one. And keep in mind that even though today it might feel like your college kid has moved out for good, the reality is she probably hasn’t—some studies find that well more than half of college graduates move home for at least a little while after commencement while they’re looking for work.

How about you, empty nesters? What did you do with your college kids’ rooms after they left? And how soon did you do it? I’d love to hear your advice!

Images: Messy room: Some rights reserved by Rubbermaid Products; Tidy room: Pottery Barn Teen.

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Left Behind: How to help younger sibs adjust when a big brother or sister heads to campus

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By Chris Little

Until now I’ve been focusing on how the emptying nest feels to the parents (okay, mostly the mothers) left behind. But I’d like to spend some time thinking about how it might feel to younger kids left at home when an older sibling heads off to college. I’ve been doing some reading and found a great article by Dr. Kathy Zamostny, a psychologist at the University of Maryland.

“When an older child leaves for college, it creates a hole in the family unit that presents both challenges and opportunities for those at home,” she writes. “On the one hand, younger siblings may experience a sense of loss when a close (or not so close) older sister or brother takes off for college that may be related to less support or companionship, or even a lower activity level with one less person in the home.”

That’s one thing: The house undeniably will be quieter. And with one less driver in the house, your younger kids might find themselves back on the school bus. What will that be like?

“A younger child’s role in the family may change with the absence of his big brother or big sister,” Zamostny continues. “For example, a second born child moves up to become the oldest, or perhaps an ‘only’ kid at home—which can have drawbacks and benefits. Some younger children may experience increased pressure when an older sib is no longer around to split the attention and scrutiny of parents or to buffer parental demands and reprimands.”

I’ve definitely heard from friends that the last one left at home can feel a little overwhelmed by all the parental attention! But there’s a flip side to that, too:

“Some younger siblings blossom socially when an older sibling leaves home, in part because there is more psychological space to grow and interact,” Zamostny writes. “Also, more physical space opens up—perhaps an extra bedroom that allows greater opportunities to entertain friends. In addition, the family car may become more available, time on the television or computer may be more abundant, and the house may feel more peaceful and quiet. An older child’s absence might also strengthen the bonds among younger sibs as they adjust to their shared loss by forging new relationships.”

The bottom line is, it might feel good and bad when an older sibling heads off to college—and it’s going to take some time to adjust. Here are a few suggestions to help ease the transition:

A-beautiful-hispanic-college-student-texting-on-her-cellphoneKeep them connected. Phone calls and emails are great for keeping your younger kids connected with your college kid. Skype is even better. I read about a pair of sisters who used to love to bake together. When one moved out of the house they continued the tradition, baking together over Skype with each in her own kitchen!

Plan a visit. Is your younger child old enough to spend a weekend at college her big sib?  Having some time together might help both kids adjust. Added benefit: Your younger child gets a chance to experience college life.

Keep up your traditions. Of course you’re going to save as many traditions as you can for when your college kid comes home—like maybe decorating the Christmas tree or baking holiday cookies, etc. But some traditions, like Sunday-night pizza or Monday-night football, should continue even in their absence. Life goes on, and when it does, that’s comforting to everyone.

Start new ones! This is also a good time to take up some new traditions. Did your eldest hate bike rides (or ice cream, or watching old movies) but your youngest always loved them? These differences in taste and personality point the way to new traditions—I think once my eldest is out of the house we’ll be eating a lot less ice cream but watching a lot more Glee!

Keep communication lines open at home. Many kids are missing their older siblings but don’t like to admit it. Checking in with your younger child from time to time, just to let her know you’re thinking about how she’s doing with the changes at home, can be reassuring. You might start this even before your college kid moves out—ask our younger child about her hopes and worries about this next stage.

Celebrate your team. Before and after your college kid heads to campus, make a point of celebrating your family unit. Does that sound hokey? It doesn’t have to be! Just try to notice—and share in a casual way—the times you’re especially enjoying the family-ness of your family. For me, it’s sitting around the dinner table long after dinner is over. I never want to be the first one to get up to clear the plates, and the kids roll their eyes when I bring a dish of cookies over—they know I’m trying to keep them there talking as long as I can! Celebrating your team will help your younger kids know that the family will continue even into September—and it’ll help your college kid know that as he sets off on his big new adventure, you’ve all got his back.

Keep your balance. As you adjust to there being one less place at the dinner table each night, you might find yourself leaning for emotional support on the kids still at home. Some of that is okay, but be careful about expecting them to carry too much of your emotional weight. Read here for some tips on keeping your inner balance so that you don’t push the kids off theirs.

I can see there’s no way around it: Having a child move off to college is going to change things at home—with an inevitable reshuffling of roles and family dynamics. It seems like the key is to pay attention to how that feels and be flexible, patient—and communicative—as you all adapt.

So of course I want to hear from parents who’ve already got a college kid out of the nest—how was it for the younger kids? How did you get through the change in a positive way? I’m eager for any tips I can find!

 

The Reluctant Fledgling: Encouraging your child when she’s anxious about leaving the nest.

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By Chris Little

You know the classic scenario: Mom, once eager for reluctant Junior to start grade school, ruefully sees the roles reverse when it’s time for Junior to leave for college. Of course, the classic scenario is only occasionally the truest one, and it’s not unusual for high school grads to be less than eager to leave the nest.

At this point, I don’t appear to be the parent of a reluctant fledgling, but I recall having been one, and I know people whose kid has been one, so I wanted to think about this facet of the emptying nest: What do you do when your kid doesn’t feel all that ready to leave home?

First of all, I guess we should consider the fact that some kids simply aren’t. That’s okay! Talk things over: Maybe a post-graduate year spent working at the local diner is a good fit—and/or doing an awesome internship at a nonprofit in town. Taking classes at your community college, or commuting to a school nearby, also might be a good way to ease into the next phase of life. All of that is perfectly fine and can help your kid get her feet under her before she leaves home.

Other times, you might know your kid is ready to leave the nest, and she might even know it too, but for a variety of reasons, she’s feeling some anxiety about it. I’ve been asking friends and reading up on some strategies for encouraging the reluctant fledgling:

1. Treat it all like a big adventure from the get-go. Focus on the positive: College is going to be a fun and interesting ride, for the most part, with some inevitable bumps along the way. If you run into questions you don’t know the answer to (How do I drop a class? What if I get locked out of my room?), no worries—there are folks around whose job it is to help you.

2. Talk about the nitty-gritty details. Sometimes it’s simply the unknown that has your kid flummoxed. So help him with as many details as you can gather: Here’s how to get money out of an ATM. Here’s how to get from your dorm to your dining hall. Here’s the bus to take to get to the train station. That kind of thing.

3. Let your kid know you—and her home—are always there for her. Maybe what your kid needs is a frank (and frequent) reminder: “We’re your family, and this is your home, and we will be here for you when you want to come back.” And mean it: This is probably not the kid whose room you want to convert into a study the week after she heads off to college!

4. But not too much. As a parent, your instinct is to help and protect your offspring, sure. But now is when you start dragging your feet when it comes to stepping in to fix things (if you haven’t already!). It’s time for your kid to leave the nest, after all, and she can’t do that if you don’t let her learn to fly! So resist the impulse to bring her home for the weekend the first time she says she’s homesick. Don’t get involved in negotiations with her roommates about having a boy over for the night. And please, please, please don’t call her professor to complain about her grade on her first English essay! (Yes, that’s happened!) Listen to your fledgling’s worries and struggles, but don’t rush in to rescue her—that’s the refrain I’m hearing from moms and college administrators.

5. Offer some helpful advice. You may, however, share a little wisdom. Reassure your college kid that some homesickness is normal, typically transient—and not a sign that she’s made a huge mistake. Encourage her to get involved in a new club or activity, go for a walk or a swim, and simply give herself some time to adjust.

6. Make a plan for staying connected. This is where scheduling a weekly chat will help. And sending those fun-filled care packages.

So these are a few ideas I’ve been able to collect for cheering on your kid’s first attempts at flight. What about you? What has helped you cope with homesickness in the past? How have you helped your child deal with homesickness when he’s had the far-from-home blues? What are some ways you’ve found to encourage reluctant fledglings?

Home is Not a Place: Strategies for Staying in Touch with Your College Student

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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:

4729801304_d50a7c1dae_bConstant Contact?

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.

LARGE-FRB-01-main-900x695A Little Touch of Home

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?

Other ideas:

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.

Face Time

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.

What else?

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?

Images: Some rights reserved by Sam WolffKeith Williamson, and the U.S. Postal Service.