When Your College Kid Finally Reaches Back
College. It’s out there. Looming. A big, fat, scary uncharted world. A world with soooo many unknowns. As many for us as for our kids. The biggest unknown, though, has got be whether or not we’re ever gonna hear from our kids again once they leave for school in the fall.
At this point in the school year, our kids have done most of the heavy lifting they’re going to do, so they’re just coasting to graduation day. For them, spring is a time to finally exhale. This is their endgame, when they can relax a little and enjoy the last couple of months of high school relatively stress free.
For us, though, totally different ballgame. For us, this is when the night sweats start. This is when we start to have panic attacks at 2am that our kids are going to forget their home address and our cell numbers once they settle into college life.
That’s because, as moms and dads, this is the point we’ve been dreading since the day our kids were born. That moment when we’re obligated to kiss them gently on the top of the head in the dorm parking lot and eventually release the bear hug and let them walk away. And then, worst of all, drive home wondering if we’re ever going to hear from them again. This is when the out-of-sight-out-of-mind concept becomes very, very real.
Like, will our kids call or text or reach out at all once they’re away? Will they remember who fed and clothed and housed and chauffeured and supported them those first eighteen years? Will they remember that they lived an extended period of time in our uterus? Will our name even ring a vague bell after they’ve left home and gone out on their own?
Now I don’t know about you, but those were the thoughts that kept me awake at night throughout my oldest daughter’s senior year of high school—now two years ago. Which means that if you’ve got a senior in high school right now, you’re awake in the torturous late hours of the night thinking the same thing.
Well, it’s that anticipation of what the new normal will look like and feel like and sound like that’s scary as hell for a lot of us. Because as moms and dads about to send our wittle babies out into the world, we’re desperate to hang on, while our kids are more desperate for us to let the hell go.
Having lived through it once already and gearing up to do it all over again next year, let me say this to help dull some of the sting… The thought of losing that connection we’ve cultivated with our kids their whole life is paralyzing. But the true reality is that after a short period of feeling like they need to pull away from us to save face when they go off to school, most kids find their way back to us pretty quickly. And I conveniently use my daughter Riley as the perfect example.
When we dropped her off at school as a freshman, she did exactly what we expected and went more or less radio silent for the first couple of weeks. And even though it stung like hell, we knew it was a combo of her trying to get acclimated and trying not to show any chinks in the armor. So we kept a low profile and didn’t reach out until she reached first.
And it was physically painful, I’m not gonna lie. Because even the most rational parent mind gets clouded with irrational, completely insane thoughts when our kid goes away to school. Like, she deleted my contact information, I just know it! Or, he’s not going to reach out unless his overdraft protection kicks in.
But the truth is, it was only a matter of a week or two before Riley started calling us regularly. She’d call on her way too and from class or when she was waiting for the shuttle or while she was meandering up and down the cosmetics aisle in CVS or waiting in line at the sandwich bar in the dining hall. And she’d just stay on the phone, chatting away, like we were right there with her.
That’s about when I realized that as much as our kids need to feel independent and self-sufficient when they leave us, they also need to come to terms with the fact that they’re always going to need us. And that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and it happens a little at a time. But it happens.
And then, eventually, we get to a point when our kids reach out to us about everything and actually value our opinion. When they call us constantly, looking for feedback and advice and support. It’s when they finally see us as useful and knowledgeable and helpful. Which is exactly the point when we start letting their calls go to voicemail just so we can finish those last ten minutes of Homeland.
So see, it all comes full circle. We’ve just gotta be patient.