My baby went to university! This is what we learned.

One year ago we prepared to send my oldest daughter off to university. The final year of high school had kept us busy: driver’s license √, university acceptance √, prom √. We made it; but we had a new mountain to climb. She was moving away to go to school.

First day of College

Trying to prepare her for this big step wasn’t easy as I struggled with my own big emotions. Where had the time gone? Truth be told that on move-in day, my heart was bursting with pride at the independent person she had become and filled with grief to see her go.

It’s one year later and I want to share what we learned to help get us both ready.

Before the big day

Ensure they have the life skills they needCheck out Cynthia’s blog here. Laundry is a big one. Are they living off-campus? Basic cooking and cleaning skills, knowing how to shop and check for expiry dates. When I was a student, I lived with someone who was away from home for the first time. I found a (not-so) frozen chicken pot pie… in the kitchen cupboard. For real. It happened. Don’t let your kid be that kid. 😉

Teenagers and home choresThe university or college website will provide a list of what they need to bring with them. Do they need a fridge? A Wi-Fi modem? It varies school by school and even dorm by dorm. One word of advice that I valued was to buy in advance of the end of August rush! If your student doesn’t know their dorm specs (like bed size) until the last moment it may be worthwhile picking up several sizes of bed linens (double check their return policy first!). This will help you be prepared for any bed size and give you peace of mind. Don’t forget to send along helpful supplies like a first-aid kit including pain medications and bandages, sun screen and bug spray.

The goodbye

Make a plan for the drop off day goodbye. Doesn’t everyone do better with a plan? Ours looked like this: 1) move her in 2) shop for a few items that we had inevitably overlooked 3) take her for lunch 4) <this is the tricky one!> leave.

The residence had scheduled a mandatory meeting for students at 4:00 pm so it created a deadline for departure. This prevents lingering, as we may be tempted to do! If your student doesn’t have a built-in deadline; make one.

When it is time to leave; tell them you’ll miss them, squeeze them tight, or maybe you do none of that. It can be an emotional time for everyone. You can’t do it wrong. My daughter made it easy for me; a quick “Bye!” and the door was closed…. in my face. You can picture this. I stood there conflicted; understanding that she was trying to avoid an emotional farewell, but man, I needed more! Least of all a picture of her on her first day! So I knocked, she opened the door, and I managed to squeeze in an official good-bye hug. She even offered me a pose at the door for the family photo album.

What comes next

Walking by her empty bedroom was hard. I had to fight the urge to text her. Balancing respect for her independence and my need to be ‘in the know’ was tricky. I wanted all the answers: What was she doing? Was she safe? Was she making good choices?

During the first few weeks try to let your child take the lead in contacting you. Figuring out how and when to stay in touch before they leave helps. Mutually, we decided on a minimum of two check-ins a week by video chat and that worked for us.

As a parent, I found it hard being so far away as she struggled at times to figure things out. Encourage your child to advocate for themselves when they have an issue or problem. Guide them to think about who their supports are. This isn’t easy when they know very few people but they can start with a peer leader, residence don, an academic advisor or maybe a medical centre. You will want to jump in and solve it but remember this is all about learning to live away from home and taking that next step in their personal growth and development. We all need to be challenged, that is how we learn.

Mom hugging daughter goodbye in dorm room

The adjustment to life away from home looks different for every budding independent. Your easy-going go-getter may surprise you with a request to come home in the first weeks away. Alternately, your home-body may go days without reaching out because “there just hasn’t been time”! Another unpredictable parenting moment to look forward to.  🙂

With one year under our belt we are in a very different place as we plan for second year. We know better what to expect, but I still feel sad at the thought of dropping her off. I am not sure that will ever change. Thanksgiving can never come soon enough.

Have you sent someone off to school and have ideas to share? Let us know! We love to learn and grow together.

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000

About Nicole O'Donnell, RN

Hi! I have been working as a nurse supporting children and their families in acute care, clinic settings and now in public health for over 20 years. As a mother of 4 girls I am walking the walk and talking the talk – from elementary school to post-secondary; life is never dull! I am so thrilled to be connecting with all of you and look forward to sharing this parenting journey together!
This entry was posted in Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Teen, Teen Brain, Teens and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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