Things We Wish We’d Known BEFORE We Sent Our Kids to College

The GypsyNesters

It’s that time of year again, and many new empty nesters are sending a fledgling off to college for the first time.

Here are some DOs and DON’Ts from your seasoned GypsyNesters on how to get through that first semester without losing your mind.

1. Don’t start off on a bad note. It’s hard to let our kids go. The day our babies head out on their own is a tough one for any parent. Because of her self-awareness about her emotional outbursts, Veronica opted to stay home with the younger kids while David took our eldest to college.

Says Veronica:

“I bravely smiled and waved as they cleared security and headed toward the plane — then sat in my car in the airport parking lot and cried like Tammy Faye Bakker on the second day of her period. It was a regular air-sucking, mascara-dripping, please-God-nobody-see-me sob fest.”

But it wasn’t in front of our daughter. Or all of the potential friends she would be meeting for the first time at the university.

It could have been a lot worse — we could have done this (from a comment on our post here):

“At my son’s freshman orientation, one of the deans said that he had to go TELL the parents of a certain freshman that no, they couldn’t sleep in their RV in the parking lot ‘just to make sure everything is all right his first night.’ Thank GOD college professionals don’t let us parents give in to our own worst intentions!”Holly Robinson

2. Do wait a couple of weeks before cleaning her bedroom.
Veronica learned this the hard way:

“To stay busy, I dove straight into cleaning up our daughters room — and straight down memory lane. I ended up surrounded by a bunch of her friends’ unreturned borrowed clothes, Kleenex and a heavy dose of self pity.

3. Don’t expect access to grades or other information. This awakening came our way when we thought we’d receive a report card after first semester midterm exams. As involved parents we were accustomed to seeing grades every quarter, and relied heavily on them for guidance, planning and encouragement. We didn’t expect the old sign-the-report-card routine, but it sure seemed like we were important enough participants in the university process to warrant a peek at a progress report.

After all, we were the ones writing the tuition checks, right? Well, not always. Often student loans are the bulk of the funds and, as adults, your student is responsible.

Wrong. College students are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which expressly forbids a college or university from disclosing grades to parents.

From the University of Michigan‘s website:

“If you wish to find out about your student’s grades and academic standing, the best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. College students are generally willing to share information about grades and academic performance with their parents as they assume greater responsibility for their own lives and are able to discuss academic issues with their parents as mature adults.”

4. Do recognize that the meltdown phone calls are not always meltdowns. Sometimes they are simply emotional ventings. We were both lucky enough to have worked in academic settings prior to our daughter’s departure. We would regularly see students in tears on the phone with a parent, only to skip off happily with their friends moments after hanging up.

5. Do learn to text message. It only took a month of frustration before we upgraded to a phone with a QWERTY keyboard. The kids these days are right: texting is a great way to stay in touch about the little things.

6. Don’t leave comments on their Facebook posts. An online relationship with a college kid is tricky business. All it takes for a swift unfriending is an embarrassing parental comment in front of every friend they have. In order to keep your social media stalking privileges, send a quick, private text message or e-mail instead.

7. Do learn to ignore the background noise. Colleges are full of youth and energy. It is always going to sound like a wild party is going on in the background of your phone conversations.

8. Don’t meddle with professors. A big part of a college education is learning to deal with authority figures in a professional manner. Mom or Dad jumping in to lambaste a professor will not be helpful in facilitating this. Is it ever appropriate for a parent to contact a professor?

“No,” says Ohio State Lecturer Jason Payne, “Once you are in college, you are supposed to be an adult.”

9. Don’t hover.  Says Payne,

“I believe that smothering parental behavior at the university level stifles a student’s imagination and creative thinking. The danger is that they lose a healthy sense of wonder, the immenseness of all there is to know.”

Heady stuff that. And we personally refused to be a part of it.

10. Do Learn How to Budget.  Sending off kids to college is both emotionally and financially draining. It’s understandable to want to give your kids the best, especially when it comes to gadgets, but do know that expenses add up. If you’re not careful, you may go into debt.

Apart from careful budgeting, consider looking into preloved electronics like personal computers and laptops from certified refurbishing centers. They cost less than their brand-new counterparts do, and because they pass through stringent quality tests, you are assured that they will work as intended.

David & Veronica,

YOUR TURN: Are these tips helpful? Do you have any to add?

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25 thoughts on “Things We Wish We’d Known BEFORE We Sent Our Kids to College”

  1. Such great advice!! We’re not there yet but will be before we know it. I was just talking today to a friend who will need this wisdom when both her twins leave next year–I’ll share it so she’ll know this BEFORE!

  2. I learned about the “no stalking on FB” rule early on, but it was partly his fault for leaving his FB page open on MY computer. I think both our sons have re-friended me, but they’ve consigned me to some super restricted privacy setting. Maybe that’s just as well. When we delivered our younger son to the University of Miami, the college president told us we were leaving our “most prized possessions” in good hands. Our son was last “possessed” during his Terrible Twos.

  3. Excellent advice! Can totally relate to this list—both as a former student who went out of town and as a step-parent with a kid going off to university next year. Giving a little space is about the best thing you can do. It brings everyone much closer in the end!

  4. Oh, I can so relate to this! I laughed and had a lump in my throat as I read your post and then everyone’s comments that followed 😉 My daughter is about to flap her wings for a second time, having come home for a year after university to work in our home town, but on Monday she is off again – re-launching, and I will be an emotional disaster for a few days for sure ;)It doesn’t get any easier.

  5. Great list! Access to grades? Heck, even when you think your kid is showing you the grades know this – it’s not as difficult as one might think to change page source info and alter the grades on the page they actually show YOU. Yeah. Don’t get me started. Like my mother said – I should have raised chickens! CHICKENS!

    I am so ready to be a gypsy. It’s the only soulution. Yep I typed that wrong, but kind of like it that way.

  6. When we drove our oldest to university and settled her into her residence we were covered in smiles and felt so proud. One of her favourite songs came on the radio soon after we left and I cried the two hour drive home.
    I slept that night in her bed, holding a tedddy bear she’d left behind.

    Childhood’s End.


  7. My son is not my friend on FB but he lives at home while going to college, talks to us often, and since we foot the bill for his living expenses, he shows us his grades. I am just fine with all of it. Now with my first one……

  8. Great advice! I’m a new empty nester and texting has made this whole new phase of life so much easier. They don’t like to skype that much because I see how messy their rooms are, ha!

  9. Love this!! My kids are only twelve but I know that college days are right around the corner and, since my kids are twins, they may very well both leave me at once! Tammy Faye move over – I may need to be sedated for the first month or so.

  10. These are all so true! One more is to not expect the worst if you do not hear from your student daily or even weekly. It just may mean they are engrossed in college life and this is healthy and good. 🙂

    1. Good point. We have also earned that each kid is different in how often they keep in touch. With our three, one is several times a week, another about once a week and the third every couple weeks. That’s OK, it’s what works for them.

  11. Great advice. It’s hard to let them go, but watching them soar confirms that we’ve done our job as parents.

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