You sent your child off to college this fall. It was hard. You said goodbye. You worried. You worked at adjusting to the empty nest. You worried some more. But somehow, both you and your student survived. You got through that difficult first semester. It may have gone brilliantly, or there may have been some hiccups and room for improvement, but you both made it through.
So sending your student off for the second semester should be a breeze, right? No big deal. Maybe. But maybe not.
The college parent timeline
Every parent’s experience is unique — because every student’s experience is unique. But there are some universals, and there is a cycle of college parenting for many families. If you are having a difficult time with the second semester of college, you are not alone.
One problem, however, is that you don’t realize that you’re in good company. No one talks about it. When you sent your student off to college for the first time, you knew everyone else was feeling similar heart-tugs. From articles, to the stories other parents shared, to the communication from the school, you knew you weren’t alone, and everyone told you it would be OK.
But no one talks about sending your student off this time. You’re supposed to be over it all. If other parents are experiencing similar concerns or twinges, they’re not talking about it. That first semester was a milestone, now there is a let-down. But there may be lingering concern.
You may also be feeling a different sense of loss of control this semester. Your student has been home for a long Winter Break, and you realize that they’ve changed. They’ve grown (at least in some ways) and they are maturing. Perhaps you feel a little less needed this time around.
Your concern for your student in the second semester of college doesn’t come out of nowhere.
- You may be anxious and concerned because your student’s grades for the first semester were less than stellar. Will they underperform again?
- You may also be concerned because your student’s grades were good. You’ve heard about grades dropping in college. Will your student be able to keep up the good work or are they in for a shock?
- If your student is experiencing some second-semester-blues, you worry — especially if neither you nor your student were prepared for this.
- Spring break is looming in another few weeks and that can feel like a monumental letting go. If your student is planning to travel or spend Break away, you’re already worrying about what may happen.
- You may panic at transfer talk by your student. It is not uncommon for first or second semester freshmen to think about transferring. There are many reasons — including ”the grass must be greener.” If your student is considering a transfer, you worry about their unhappiness and also how daunting the transfer process may be.
- While your student was home for Break, they may have used the opportunity to vent about their first semester experiences. You’ve heard all about the problems with classes, professors, friends, the dorms, the food, the lack of social life, or too much social life. How can your student possibly survive with all of these problems?
Obviously, some of these concerns are legitimate. But some may also be part of the normal cycle of the first year of college. Try to analyze each concern and determine how real it is. Look for perspective.
What can you do?
One of the dilemmas that we have as college parents is finding ways to be appropriately involved. What can we do that is appropriate — without overstepping?
- Examine your expectations. Are they realistic? Are you expecting too much from your student too quickly?
- Connect with other parents. Is there an online community with whom you can connect? Does the college or university have a parent Facebook or other gathering forum? Can you connect with other parents who are at the same point in this college parenting cycle — or who have survived this stage and can give you some advice or reassurance?
- Be clear about appropriate campus contacts if you feel you need to call the school. Is there a parent office or parent ombudsman? Avoid calling your student’s faculty members or academic advisor.
- Don’t call/text your student a lot more than normal. Let your student take the lead on contact — but, of course, call if you are especially concerned.
Channel your fears and frustrations constructively
- Send a wonderful care package. Spend time thinking about what to include. Channel those concerns to something positive.
- Point your student toward resources available on campus — and then let them decide what to do next.
- Help your student create goals and action plans. And then step back and let them move ahead.
- If appropriate, discuss a behavioral contract with your student. Are your expectations and limits regarding social behavior clear?
- If they don’t already have one, encourage your student to get an on-campus job if there is anything available. Students who spend a few hours a week working on campus need to manage their time carefully — and they make important on-campus connections.
A different goodbye
This second semester goodbye may seem anticlimactic. There’s a flurry of activity on Move-in Day in the fall — and then the Big Goodbye. It can be high drama.
This second goodbye is different. You know, in some ways, that you are not saying goodbye to the child you brought to college in the fall, but are saying goodbye to a more mature individual. This second send-off is more informed, more considered, in some ways more poignant.
Savor the moment. It is another step on the long college journey for both you and your student.