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Your child has decided to go to college far away. They have weighed the pros and cons of attending a college close to home vs. a fresh start — and they have made their choice.
Regardless of whether that choice gives you a little sting, or if you’re excited or nervous about it, your biggest challenge now will be how to stay touch with your college student when they are separated from you by a plane trip or a long-distance car ride.
There are many reasons why kids choose a college far away, often because they want to spread their wings and a college experience out of their comfort zone. A lifelong New Yorker may be sick of the cold and seek a warmer climate. A kid growing up in sunny laid-back California may crave the four distinct seasons and the hustle and bustle of a big city on the East Coast. A Division 1 or other sports opportunity can pull a child far from their home state. Scholarships and financial packages can also entice kids to attend college a long distance from home. Finally, there may be more personal reasons that a student wants to move away.
I went to school at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., 3,000 miles away from where I went to high school on Long Island. I was drawn to Califonia for personal reasons and the lure of the California sun. It was much easier to disconnect back in the early ’90s without cell phones and social media. I could truly escape. Phone calls home were infrequent, and financial constraints made visits home for every holiday impossible.
My daughter, who grew up on the East Coast, attended a school less than a two-hour drive or ferry ride across from her childhood home. It was easy and unobtrusive to connect with her. I could drive up and drop chicken soup when she was under the weather. I could come up to see a freshman-year play or a sophomore magic show. Birthday dinners were a breeze and I supported my college daughter without imposing and taking up too much of her time, respecting a blossoming adult’s need for personal space.
My second child chose a school upstate, a 5+ hour drive on the best of days. That same year my daughter accepted a job and a graduate school across the country in Seattle. So I needed to pivot to find a way to stay connected with my grown children now far away.
Here are some things I learned along the journey that can help you stay connected to an adult child far away:
I must say my reluctance to embrace FaceTime as a preferred method of communication is mostly due to vanity. I look terrible on FaceTime. Like a warped troll. And not those cute ones from Frozen. The FaceTime lighting and angles are just Not Good.
But you know who does look great on FaceTime? Your teen or 20something student. Or maybe they don’t, and it’s a way to gauge their level of burnout or stress. The FaceTime effervescence of a college kid talking about a cool party, a new club or crazy Professor, or lack thereof can speak volumes about your child’s mental health. And one that can be more easily hidden with text and voice phone conversations.
You may not love the way you look on FaceTime (and if you do, please let me know your tips) but FaceTime is a great way for that personal connection for you and your kid. Make a FaceTime date!
Social media makes it easier to stay linked, whether your child is at a commuter school or across the country. If your child is an avid social media user, following them and keeping an eye on their online presence can foster a connection since you will inherently know more about their lives. Of course, social media is not a substitute for real-life interactions, but if used wisely, can be an enhancement to staying connected to your teen or young adult.
During my time at Stanford, I met some distant cousins. My mother reached out to extended family in the area and they embraced me with open arms. Holidays were a lot less lonely and I felt a sense of security with family nearby.
When my son spent his semester abroad, I reached out to family friends living in Madrid. They were my lifeline when my son ran into health issues and I was so helpless across the ocean.
You never want and may never expect an emergency to happen when your student attends college far from home. But it is at those moments where the distance deficit is most acute.
Reach out to family or friends in your child’s new location. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by how they will step up as surrogate moms and dads.
Don’t know anyone in your student’s new place? This is the time to join that College Parent Facebook Group and seek out a parent that lives nearby before you need them. They can help direct you to local resources etc.
Bottom line: with a little creative thinking and adjustment you really can stay connected to a college student who moved far away. And a good albeit sappy reminder for kids and parents alike: close together or far apart, our kids are always and forever in our hearts.