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Proactive vs. Reactive College ParentingJennifer Sullivan
There’s a lot that’s going to be different about the fall semester.
My youngest son leaves soon to begin sophomore year at his university in Waltham, Massachusetts. Despite the fact that three of his four classes will be held online, he's chosen to return to campus and I respect his decision. He'll be living alone in a double dorm room and will not have any fall breaks; his school will be going straight through until Thanksgiving, when he will return home until the start of second semester in January.
Unless of course, things change AGAIN and the school has to close sooner. Hopefully not. As we all know, everything is a moment in time these days.
Even if there are no changes to the plan, there will be no visiting weekend for families.
Yes, I realize that’s not the hugest deal in the scheme of things. My son has said he doesn’t care that we can’t come.
However, I LOVE visiting weekend. It’s one of my favorite things about the fall. Our first visiting weekend was in 2009 when we all flew out to St. Louis to see my oldest son. In this case, absence definitely did make the heart grow fonder. The months before my firstborn left for school, he did an excellent job of “soiling the nest.” The time and distance apart helped heal our relationship.
I also discovered that visiting your child at school is a lot different than hearing about it from them on the phone.
First of all, having sons, I don’t really receive a lot of details. Or for that matter, any details. My youngest did call a few times a week last year, which I appreciated. He called much more than his older brothers did when they were in school. But he was very vague. He used the words “fine” and “good” a lot. If I hadn’t seen his course selection and didn’t know better, I would have thought that he was planning a career working undercover for the CIA. He’d be amazing at it. Sometimes, when we were on the phone, I thought we had been disconnected. But it was just him being quiet. I found I had to carry the conversation most of the time.
I NEED visiting weekend to actually see what’s going on.
When I visited my son last October, I got to meet his friends, who had remained nameless until then. After all, as I didn’t know them, it would be meaningless to know their names. I was delighted to discover that there weren’t just “people.” There was a Ben and a Jack and a Josh. Oh, and a JR. And they were all super nice. And they told me that my son’s room always smelled like clean laundry (which it did).
It was also wonderful to see him in his environment. On his turf. And thriving. You can’t get that from a phone call.
And if I am being honest, I also love visiting weekend for me. It’s like a mini vacation. Going up to New England in autumn is the best. The leaves are colorful and the air is crisp. We stayed in Boston last year at a nice hotel and spent some time walking around the city. Although our son attends the same school my husband and I did, I didn’t really sightsee when I was a student. We walked around the Boston common and fed some friendly squirrels.
When I was a family weekend rookie, I would enthusiastically sign up for activities. But we never actually made it to those activities. I learned that going with the flow is what works best for my family. Often, we ended up doing mundane tasks like going to the grocery store to stock my son’s micro fridge. And eating out. My family is big into food. Last year we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston with good friends whose son is also at school in the area.
But honestly, it doesn’t really matter what we do, just that we are together.
Some families only attend family weekend during their student's freshman year. But we always went sophomore year and sometimes even junior year.
It was fortunate that my entire family made it to visiting weekend last year. It ended up being one of our best ones ever. The weather was perfect and we were all in a good mood, which is kind of rare (usually at least one person is grumpy). My middle son, who also attended the same school, was happy to be back on campus, to see his brother and visit his girlfriend who was a senior.
We walked around the campus and gave my oldest son’s fiancée (now wife) a tour since she had never been there. There was a visit to the bookstore where I bought a new t-shirt; it’s not visiting weekend without a new t-shirt.
My youngest son spent many years being dragged to visiting weekends; I’m glad he finally had his turn to have it be about him.
If my son’s school has to close again because of COVID-19, I will be visiting him down the hall in his childhood bedroom. Which is an entirely different visiting experience. One that is likely to include me nagging him about something. I tend to nag less when we are not home.
I know that the world will not end if I can’t spend a weekend with my son at his college. It’s definitely a “first world problem,” as my kids like to say. But it’s definitely one more thing I’m looking forward to being able to do when life returns to normal.