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Preparing to Return After a Difficult SemesterJennifer Sullivan
Social distancing has been a huge adjustment for everyone, and it has placed a heavy weight of social responsibility onto all our shoulders.
For me, it came while I was still living in my college town, in my college apartment, with my college roommate. Except for the fact that we were recent graduates (having earned our degrees in December), prior to the pandemic our lives were much the same as they'd been during college.
Then came the lock-down orders, and suddenly we’re lost — possibly more than we’ve ever been — and we don’t know where to find answers.
So, to our parents, who we know worry endlessly about us, here’s what I’d like to share.
I don’t know if we have ever needed each other more than we do now.
If we're living apart from you (as I am from my mother), we swear we are trying to be responsible to the best of our ability. If we're living with you, we promise we're not trying to put you in a difficult position in our frustration with this situation.
The truth is, we're struggling these days to stay positive and hopeful, even with all your efforts to encourage us. Most of us are still lamenting the loss of our carefree life: our college experience, our spring breaks, our graduations. We feel robbed, and the hardest part is knowing nothing can be done about it.
Though we love you, many of us are in the midst of adjusting to living without you and it’s difficult to find our independence during this time.
Every young person around me is dealing with this differently. I see some of my peers taking things too lightly, choosing to invite friends over to hang out in the warm spring weather for all the world to see. I witness other peers taking things incredibly seriously at the expense of their mental health, isolating themselves completely and chastising those who aren't doing the same.
Most of us are struggling to find a balance, envying those who appear to have no trouble staying home in isolation or those who seemingly have no qualms about socializing with friends. We've been fed contradictory news coverage telling us we are both in danger and completely safe. We’re desperately trying to be responsible to our community, but we also want to recognize our responsibility to ourselves.
We’re trying to learn how to make good decisions for ourselves as a general life skill, and having a terribly difficult time with it. We know enough to understand our duty to the high risk individuals around us, and to our community and country as a whole. We just don’t know where that leaves us as individuals.
The fact is some of our peers are still traveling during this time, either sequestered away in exotic locations or going back and forth between their off-campus college place and their parents’ houses. It's excruciating to watch them exercise so much more freedom than we afford ourselves.
At the beginning, it was easier to laugh off the situation as an excuse to stay home and wear pajamas all day. We could more or less treat the whole thing as an unexpected (if boring) vacation. We kept up with the news, but stayed optimistic about the information we were given. It was almost fun for the first week or two.
Then we started to realize we were in it for the long haul and and it was harder to stay positive.
Fear set in. My roommate and I are terrified of the grocery store. Going to the store is a reprieve from the confines of our apartment, but it's also a haze of confusion, panic and danger where we’re surrounded by strangers (who all seem as scared as we are) and have no idea where anyone’s been or what we risk taking home with us.
On our eight-minute journey to the grocery store, we drive past other college houses and, more often than not, see dozens of people gathered in the front yards. They’re talking and laughing and playing games; definitely having a better time than we are. It’s a discouraging sight. But we continue on to the store, brave the crowds, and sanitize everything.
Back home, we go on social media and see more of our friends traveling, socializing and taking full advantage of their free time. True, we also see photos of Zoom calls and read stories about how other friends are dealing with staying home. But the balance is skewed.
We want nothing more than to visit our friends, go on adventures, and treat coronavirus as an extended vacation. We know it’s irresponsible. But if other people are doing it, why can’t we? If just an hour or two with a few of our closest friends would make a world of a difference — raising our spirits up and alleviating the unbearable feeling of loneliness and discontent — why do we have to continue to be the responsible ones?
We’re starting to understand that this will continue to be difficult — and that the temptations to ignore social distancing recommendations will only get worse. But we’re also starting to tire of the severity of everyday life. We get that we’re putting you in a tough position when we ask you if we can go see our friends. And we do ask because, although we’re adults with the prerogative to make our own decisions, we honestly have no idea what's right and we need your guidance more than ever.
So, again, thank you for being an endless source of love, support and understanding even if you don’t really know what’s going on in our heads. Truth is, our heads are filled with confusion more than anything else. We’re just doing the best we can.
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