My College:
Dear Adina

Uneasy About the Long Drive to College

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

My 2021 high school senior will be attending college three states and eight hours away from home starting next fall. As an out-of-state student, she is allowed to have a car on campus, and she will. She is a safe, responsible, careful driver, but I'm uneasy about her insistence that she needs to learn to drive herself back and forth to school.

The entire route is via a major turnpike, so it's not as if she'll be in some remote area or is in any danger of getting lost. We have national roadside assistance. Of course she'll have a phone. I'm not sure if we should fight this fight. Her dad and I have tried not to make a big deal of things that don't mandate it. But her safety is paramount.

How do we approach this subject with her without implying we don't trust her or making her anxious (she battles anxiety)? We have to be careful how we discuss serious subjects with her so as NOT to exacerbate her anxiousness. As well, we have been college parents before, but to a student on a campus 45 minutes from home. This feels as if we've never been college parents before in so many ways. Thank you for your guidance!


Dear Parent,

Your astute observation that having a child eight hours away feels profoundly different from having one 45 minutes away is what seems to me the thing that’s driving (pun intended) your concerns. It brings to mind that aching feeling in the pit of my stomach the time I watched my son ride his two-wheeler down the hill and away from our house for his first solo ride, realizing it was literally the furthest I had ever been from him in his life.

At that moment I realized he would continue to bike further and further the older he got. It was fantastic emotional prep work for when he went to college (3,000 miles from home) and took a solo summer trip to Italy and Spain at the ripe old age of 19. By then, he had demonstrated all manner of good sound judgment, and I'd gotten used to not knowing what he was doing most of his time.

But you’re not yet used to having your sweet baby so far away! And though your body and mind have acclimated to a 45-minute distance, an eight-hour distance is that much harder. Your second child’s departure may be creating a complex tangle of emotions for you (happy, sad, proud, scared, loving, worried, excited, unmoored…), and it’s possible the driving to and from school has become something of a place to park (pun intended; I’m really on a roll here) all of those feelings.

These transitions are scary for parents, and necessary for our kids to become adults who fend for themselves. You’ve laid out every reason why you know she’s going to be fine: she is a safe, responsible driver. She will have a phone with her. She will have roadside assistance available, and will be traveling on a major highway. So what remains are the nagging fragments of worry that all parents contend with as our kids do bigger and badder things in the world.

I would take her desire to take on this new challenge of independence as a cue that she is ready. There’s never a guarantee that she won’t have a flat tire on that drive, but there was no guarantee a pebble wouldn’t send my son’s bike into a death-skid. We just have to believe in them and their ability to handle the challenges as they come, just like we did.

First they ride a bike down the hill, then they move far from home, and then they drive long distances. What’s next? A career in Australia? Jeesh. How they torture us. But the bike, the move, the drive — these are all points on the same continuum of growing up. It becomes more up to them than us where that continuum takes them.

This being said, there are certainly some guidelines to follow for safe young-person driving.

  1. First, it's essential to be well-rested before getting behind the wheel. Sleep deprivation behaves a lot like driving under the influence. So checking in on your daughter’s sleep habits would be a fair line of inquiry, and insisting she get a full night of sleep prior to driving is fair.
  2. You can also suggest she check on a map to identify in advance the gas stations where she plans to stop every two or three hours.
  3. And if you want her to check in by phone when she takes breaks, that’s fine, too, or you might consider location-tracking apps available on most smartphones (like "Find My" on the iPhone) — she can deactivate the tracking when she reaches her destination.

How wonderful that you are paying such close attention to how your concerns may stimulate her anxiety. All kids look to their parents for cues as to how to feel about things that are new to them. But since this isn’t truly a worry about her capability, it might be helpful to preface any conversation about it with a caveat that your complex feelings about her departure are not true concerns about her — they’re just regular parent things.

When we help our kids too much, we are tacitly telling them we don’t think they can handle things. Similarly, when all we tell them is “we’re worried about you driving all that way,” all they will hear is that they can’t handle driving all that way.

Yet you have said this isn’t the case. So if you mean to say “we’re so happy, sad, proud, scared, loving, worried, excited, unmoored… about your leaving for college,” then say that.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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