As parents, we want to support our college student in every way that we can. We want them to know that we are aware that they are working hard. We want them to know that we are proud of them. We want to be present to see the fruits of their efforts, and to see them shine. The problem is that sometimes we simply can’t get to campus and we need to do our supporting from afar.
What do you do if your student is participating in that important athletic event, playing or singing in that important concert, performing in that play, dancing in that show, being inducted in that honor society, or receiving that prestigious award and you can’t make the trip to the college to be there? As a parent, you’re disappointed and you feel that you’ve let your student down. Intellectually, you know that you have no choice, but emotionally, it is difficult.
Although nothing is the same as being able to be there in person for your student, here are a few suggestions that may help you through this disappointing situation.
- Be sure that you tell your student how proud you are of them and that you wish that you could be there. You know that they know, but it’s always good to hear.
- Acknowledge that this is emotionally difficult for everyone, but know that your student will understand. Although they’ll probably be disappointed too, if you’ve been there to support them all along the way, they’ll understand that you’d be there if you could.
- Recognize that your student may not be the only one who will not have family at the event. Several students may be too far from home for parents to attend.
- Consider whether there is an alternative that you might be able to attend. If the conflict is the date rather than the distance, could you get to a dress rehearsal or playoff game?
- Send something special to your student that will arrive on the day of the event. If this is an especially important event, send flowers, balloon bouquet, candygram, something out of the ordinary, to mark the event.
- Send a special, handwritten letter expressing your pride. (Chances are that your student will cherish that letter and keep it for a very long time.)
- Call your student just before or just after the event to wish them good luck and see how it went.
- Find another family who may be attending the event and ask them to “adopt” your student. They can make a special point of seeking your student out, perhaps deliver a card from you, perhaps take them out to dinner to celebrate or accompany them to the event.
- Consider whether you know any other family members or friends in the area who might be able to attend in your place.
- Ask your student to take lots of pictures, or to ask others for their pictures, to send to you.
- Ask whether the event was recorded and whether you can obtain a copy. Sometimes colleges will record an event for their archives and would be willing to make a copy for you. If a recording is available, ask your student to sit and watch it with you when they come home. They can narrate and share the experience with you.
- Recognize that, although your student will undoubtedly miss you being there, they have probably developed a circle of close friends and contacts who will support them. Part of the college experience is expanding the circle of support beyond the immediate family. No one will ever take your place, but your student is gaining the ability to turn to others in their life for support and encouragement.
- Remind yourself that your disappointment is two-fold. You may be worried that your student will miss your presence, and you are also disappointed for yourself. You want to be there to share the experience. Acknowledge your personal disappointment. It is valid and real.
If, throughout your student’s elementary and high school career, you were the parent who faithfully attended every event in which your child participated, missing an important event at college may be a new and emotionally difficult experience. Knowing that this may be only the first of many such occasions in the future is of little comfort. Recognizing that there are ways that you can still show your student support may help. Remember that your student is gaining a sense of independence and understanding. They know you care – even from afar.