As the weeks of summer vacation whiz by, the reality of your child’s impending departure for college becomes harder to ignore. If your son or daughter is like most other college-bound students, little packing has actually taken place and few plans about the move have been solidified. Whether the college is 300 or 3,000 miles away, a little preparation will help the transition go much more smoothly, for you and your child.
What to Pack
In addition to the essentials such as clothing, desk supplies, and toiletries, don’t forget these less obvious items:
• Twin XL sheets (the standard bed size in most dorm rooms)
• Simple tool kit, including a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, scissors, flashlight, and a measuring tape.
• Basic first aid kit
• Extension cords and surge suppressors for computers and electronic equipment
• Laundry bag/basket, detergent, and quarters for the machines
• Desk lamp (check with the college regarding rules about halogen bulbs)
• Flip-flops for shared bathrooms
• Caddy to carry toiletries and shower supplies
• Wastebasket, if one will not be provided
• Fan, if dorm is not air-conditioned
• Supply of envelopes and stamps
• Photos of friends and family, high school yearbooks, or favorite small knick-knacks as reminders of home
For students who are moving far from home, Bed Bath & Beyond’s “Pack & Hold” system allows them to order items from the website’s “Shop for College” tab and then have their purchases held and shipped to their college on the ship date they select.
• Remember that dorm rooms are typically very small, so discourage your child from over-packing. A good rule of thumb is that if it won’t fit in a minivan, it won’t fit in the room!
• Don’t be insulted if your teenager doesn’t want much to do with you on moving day once you’ve unloaded the car and the roommates have arrived.
• Realize that roommates need to work out their own differences and negotiate the details of their living arrangements without parental supervision.
• Plan to leave as soon as the move is complete, allowing your child to attend orientation activities, dorm meetings, and dinner with their new friends.
• Check to see if there are special orientation events for parents.
• Try not to make your child feel guilty or worry that you won’t be OK without him or her.
• Bring tissues, but make an effort to save the big tears for later.
Keeping In Touch from an Empty Nest
• Cell phones, texting, and email have made communicating with college students much easier, but don’t expect them to call or write often.
• Don’t overreact when students call home unhappy—the crisis usually blows over and they just need you to listen. There’s no need for parents to call the R.A. or dean at the college unless you have a serious concern. In their excellent book “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years,” authors Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger remind parents that “reaching for the phone at ‘down’ times is a freshman phenomenon, [and] parents often receive a skewed view of their son’s or daughter’s psychological well-being. The ‘ups’ are reserved for friends and the ‘downs’ for them.”
• Encourage your child to use the support systems on campus, such as R.A.’s, academic advisors, and counselors.
• Stay in the loop by taking advantage of opportunities the college has designed for parents, such as handbooks, newsletters, websites, council meetings, or regional get-togethers.
• Mark your calendar to remind you to send a care package to your son or daughter during the crunch of midterms and finals.
• Send cards, photos, gift certificates (chains such as Starbuck and Smoothie King often have locations right on campus), cookies, or holiday decorations throughout the year. Many colleges offer a delivery service for birthday cakes, flowers, or balloons.
• Try to focus on some of the positive aspects of having your child move away from home, such as more time to devote to your spouse or younger children, freedom from “taxicab” duty, or just being able to add mushrooms to the salad again!
Throughout the summer days leading up to that last tearful goodbye in the dorm, you may find yourself panicking about all of the things you didn’t teach your children before sending them out into the real world. Instead, have faith that over the years you have instilled the right values and instincts in your children, and make it clear to them that you will always be a source of unconditional love and support, no matter how old or far away they are.