In this era of helicopter parenting, more and more colleges are offering parallel freshman orientation programs for students and parents. Our recent summer orientation at UMass Amherst is pretty typical – the soon to be freshman check in for a two-day session to meet with advisers, finalize housing choices and start to learn their way around campus. They get their ID cards, learn how to use the online registration and scheduling system, eat in the cafeteria, stay up late in the dorms and start making new friends.
For parents, the optional two day program was filled with sessions devoted to how to pay your bill on-line, college policies about substance abuse and drinking, and information about students rights, i.e. you pay the bill and the college doesn’t have to tell you anything about their grades, behavior or health. Lunch and dinner receptions allowed parents to compare notes on how their kids had ended up selecting UMass and to get a sense of the kinds of families that are sending kids there in the fall. We enjoyed meeting UMass Alumni who were preparing to send their first child to their alma mater. Their reaction to the many positive changes since the 1980s was reassuring!
Parent were treated to tours of the campus and the dorms — some even brought measuring tapes to help plan out what to bring in the fall. A session about the various dining options and food plans was helpful for making an informed decision about which meal plan to purchase and the sessions about the University’s health and security services were more or less re-assuring.
Despite all the information shared, it was clear that one of the University’s primary agenda items was to coach parents into letting go come September. Parents were advised to develop a plan that limits checking in to a once a week phone call or skype session and to make sure to call ahead before visiting campus. They were also told to never appear in the dorm unannounced before noon on Saturday or Sunday.
The final parents’ session provided a step by step overview of how the move-in process will work, how to schedule a drop off time, and how to leave gracefully – including an entertaining video about how NOT to say goodbye. The session concluded with a video constrasting photos of cute toddlers, kids and tweens with images of the soon to be freshman hanging out in the dorms and around the campus. It definitely underlined how fast those 18 years have flown by, but, we are not sure it will help make saying goodbye any easier. The University’s parting advice: get them settled in the room, have a meal in the cafeteria and then leave before they see you cry….
After all years of coaching and providing emotional and financial support to help your teen get decent grades, create a well rounded activities resume, take the SATs, visit and apply to colleges and successfully get accepted at a school that is a good fit for them, sending them off to school will leave a big hole at home. It is easy to understand how parents who have spent the last two years focused on their teen’s college quest might have a hard time finding a new hobby.
Our nest will still be half full but its pretty clear that there will be more and more travels without teens in mom and dad’s future. Even as we are sad to see #1 Son leave home in the fall we are excited for him as he starts the next phase in his journey to become an independent adult. We’ll give him a good send off!
Have you sent a teen off to college? How did you deal with the empty nest?