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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
Do you ever find yourself missing something before it's gone?
It can be as simple as savoring the last bite of your favorite chocolate bar, or more powerful, like soaking up the waning days of a family vacation. Parents of seniors in high school and college kids — who've recently had the unexpected gift of extra time with them at home — know just what I mean.
Amidst these struggles, we’ve stumbled upon some precious bright spots. The slowing of life has allowed us to discover (or rediscover) meaningful gifts within ourselves and all around us.
One of these gifts is the extra time with our teens and college kids that we parents have been able to soak in. Of course this time at home came with sacrifice on their part — leaving behind independence, classroom interaction, established routines, a social life that revolved around their friends, etc.
But it also brought them a chance to slow down, reflect inward a bit, and appreciate time with their families that they would not normally have had. If your home is anything like mine, your college student might be the grateful recipient of lots of home-cooked meals and help now and then with laundry!
The extra time at home almost felt like an extension to Spring Break or an early start to Summer Break. Except that it wasn’t. With shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders, they've literally had to stay at home. For the majority of kids who took the situation seriously, there was no hanging out with friends, no going out for fast food at midnight, no going to the movies, no nothing. They were doing school at home, parents were working at home, and everyone was hanging out at home pretty much 24-7.
In our case, we moved from the honeymoon stage of just loving being together to the stage where all kinds of little things got on our nerves. Add to that the heightened stress and uncertainty of the situation, and being all together all the time wasn’t as easy as we wanted it to be. It took effort, patience and time for us to settle into new routines and adjust to our circumstances. But adjust we did, and hopefully your family adjusted, too.
As a mom, I think I’ve had it the best. None of the disruptions were that unsettling to me, and they paled in comparison to the happiness I’ve felt having my kids home for this extended time. The college drop-off of my freshman son last fall, and all of the emotions and adjusting that came with it, now seems like a faint memory. It kind of feels like he never left. And I can’t remember a time when my rising senior daughter has been home this much.
If I were to make a list of all the challenges I faced and blessings I embraced from this time with my kids, there would be far more blessings than challenges. Part of me doesn’t want to think ahead to not having this.
Maybe even get to enjoy a slight taste of freedom in the summer months. But what happens as August inches closer and thoughts of taking our kids back to college begin to fill our minds? If your student will transition from on- to off-campus housing this summer, that date may come along even sooner!
There are so many things to consider and sort out, not the least of which is that we parents will have to start fresh and adjust to separating from our kids all over again. Some students might not admit this, but it just might be a little hard for them, too.
Readjusting. Reconnecting with where we were earlier this year, remembering how it felt and the routines we’d created that helped our relationship with our college kids flourish while we flourished, too.
We will find that rhythm again. For now, let’s immerse in this time with our kids. Let’s fully enjoy where we are now. There’s room to do this and prepare ourselves for the new round of adjusting to come.
The transition always carries with it excitement and some trepidation, as relationships must shift and expand. Add the uncertainties and challenges of this pandemic year, and it’s no wonder that this batch of first-time college parents may experience a whole different level of pre-separation anxiety.
Those of us who've already sent a child to college can support parents who haven’t. But we too are venturing into new territory. It’s unclear what socially distanced classes will look like — probably a blend of in-person and online. It’s unclear what dorm living will look like — will students be able to live with intended roommates or will rooms be converted to singles, forcing some students to relocate? And will our kids spend an entire year at school (we surely hope so!) or is there a chance they'll be sent home at some point?
With so much outside our control, the best we can do is focus on what we can control. We can help our kids prepare for college life in all the usual ways: get what they need to set up their living space, confirm that they’ve connected with an advisor at their school, make sure they’re signed up for classes. We can discuss options based on possible circumstances that may develop this fall so we won’t feel blindsided down the road.
I know there will be some readjusting when summer eases into fall. It will almost be like we’re all first-time college parents in that most of us have gotten used to having our kids at home. So I’m going to soak up all these beautiful moments with them and create lots of wonderful memories to carry me through.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!