Freshman college move-in is behind you yet, a new set of highlights and hurdles await your child. Like my daughter, your child may be leaving home for the first time and potentially attending a school without a tested friend group. Navigating a new environment and nurturing potential friendships takes a lot of energy, patience and courage. Then, add the unknowns of academia and this timeframe constitutes a great growth cycle for them. Yet, the magical moment when your child meets someone and recognizes “What? You too?” (CS Lewis) is the moment that validates the process. But it takes time.
This is an opportunity for us as parents to support them from afar even when you might want to hop on a plane and “do something” as a reaction to the first phone call dripping in emotion and homesickness. It might be the first time your child has felt lonely. It might be the first time your child has had to share a bedroom. It might be the first time that no one is there to wake them up, make them food and wish them a good day. A few things I found helpful amidst my helplessness:
If you had a college experience, try to remember
those initial feelings. Few escape this
learning curve. I realized about myself that I was “remembering” my college
experience as a collective one… all four years and the end-result feeling which
was positive. It’s easy to harken back
to your favorite moments when talking with your freshman child but our memories
have decades of blending, editing and deleting!
When I went back and truly considered the first quarter in college with
a roommate that wasn’t compatible, undiagnosed mono and the rigor of school, it
wasn’t rosy. And, I survived without
hand-holding. They can too!
· The loneliness piece always sparks a
visceral reaction in a parent.
Visualizing your child alone and sad is too much to bear! However, what you are hearing on your end of
the phone is the worst-case scenario in your child’s world. That’s why you answer the phone so as, to
buoy at the worst of times. I had an experience
with my daughter whereby I received the doomsday call, ‘I have no friends and I
was ditched at a party’ only to find out that while that happened at the party,
it wasn’t an everyday occurrence. She
was meeting people, loved her roommates and was having fun, it’s just those
uncomfortable feelings needing to be vented.
· Inversely, the social media factor highlights the best-case scenarios. All our kids see are their high school friends thriving. Intellectually we all know that social media represents the best in their worlds but those snaps and posts take on a life of their own and it’s difficult for a child feeling lonely to remember that the post may be masking their friends’ own vulnerability.
So, when your child reports that he’s joined an intramural team you can be assured he has some acquaintances- good start! Similarly, your child has found a study-buddy from psych 101- yay! Likemindedness! And, despite the grumblings of not having friends, your daughter decides to live-in her sorority next year- great start to finding your people!
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another. What? You too? I thought I was the only one” (CS Lewis). It is the moment that the best and the worst experiences unite and they see in someone else the same struggles, the same interests and they are no longer alone. As parents, we want this to happen sooner than later, but friendships take time. Those BFFs left behind may have been relationships dating back to elementary school or even, babyhood. There’s no instant gratification in genuine friendship. The friends they have at the beginning of college may not be those who celebrate with them at graduation. That’s okay. There’s courage in the process and as soon as they recognize they aren’t “the only one” then doors open and friendships blossom.