That moment on Move-in Day when you say your final goodbye to your college student and get in the car to drive away is a moment that will change your relationship with her forever. This is the moment that many parents fear. This is the reason that we try so hard to hold on tightly that last August. This is the reason that some parents hover and earn the “helicopter parent” title. This is the dreaded moment that can elicit tears.
Sending your student off to college is a milestone. And your relationship with your student will change. But that change may not be what you expect – or fear. As most parents worry about their changing relationship with their student, they think about what they may lose. They may not think about that relationship improving and getting better and even more fulfilling.
How can that be? How can your relationship improve if you aren’t there all of the time? Can this really be true?
According to some of the data in a recent Harris Poll which surveyed over 1500 U.S. college students in their second year of college, students remain close – or even become closer with their parents.
64% of the students surveyed said they get support from their family.
61% of the students said they felt their relationship with their parents improved.
70% of students said they tell their parents how they are doing academically.
63% of students said they tell their parents how they are adjusting to college life.
And it’s not just communication.
43% of students said they were extremely concerned about their family back home.
Yes, they’re worried about us.
Researcher Barbara Hofer, in her book The iConnected Parent said many students interviewed for her research describe at least one parent as their “best friend.” And Hofer also found that the majority of college students found that they communicated with their parents much more than they had anticipated before they left for college.
Parents may not even be aware of some of the fondness that students feel for their parents. Faculty and staff members often note that students quote their parents. “My dad always told me . . .” or “My mom always says . . . ” are not unfamiliar expressions on college campuses. Those lessons we spent years trying to instill may be sticking after all.
College parents need to be careful, of course, that increased closeness doesn’t resemble hovering or the kind of relationship that inhibits increasing responsibility and independence on the part of students. Quality trumps quantity. And quality sometimes means stepping back to allow your student to handle things – or even fall down and pick herself up. Parents who do less “caretaking,” even from afar, leave room for more “coaching” and more meaningful conversations with their students.
The amount of contact matters, and the type of involvement matters, but it looks as though you can anticipate getting to know your student in a new way – and becoming even closer than when she was living under your roof.