College is an exciting time for your high school grad, and of course you’re thrilled that your child is headed off to get a higher education. But if you’re like most Latina moms, though, there’s a little trepidation mixed with the pride. Your life, as well as your child’s, is about to undergo a huge change. Going away to college means letting go of the sense of control you had over your “baby’s” schedule, no more meals together or church on Sundays.
It also means the opportunity for your children to develop a sense of self and independence, to explore their interests and make their own decisions on everything from new friends and what to eat to when to study and do laundry.
During this transition, it is critical for you to maintain an appropriate level of involvement and support. It’s not easy for your child to leave you either, and it is an awesome accomplishment for your teen to go to college. So you must avoid making your child feel guilty for leaving you.
Here are a few secrets that can help you and your child stay in touch during this transition period and through the challenges of freshman year:
• Set up communication patterns. Deciding in advance how and when you will stay in touch takes away some of the separation anxiety and the feeling that suddenly you don’t know where your kid is or what he or she is doing. And even though there’s always text-messaging, you don’t want to only stay in touch via text. If your son or daughter is studying close by, consider a weekly meet-up at a café or at home. If college is far away, decide how and when to communicate. Maybe you can have a phone conversation a couple of times a week at specific times.
• A new cell phone with a good plan makes a great Christmas gift. If you can afford it, a smart phones like the iPhone allows you to see one another via the Skype app when you talk.
• Familiarize yourself with Skype. If college is far away, Skype is a great way to keep in touch. It’s free to use and allows you to see each other and your surroundings. If you’re talking from home, several family members may be able to be part of the conversation.
• Establish a Facebook page for your family. Although your children may allow you to post on their page, a separate page just for family is an even better idea. It allows your new grad to keep in touch with the entire family without worrying that you will be sticking your nose into their personal business. Another option is to create a family circle on Google+.
• Create a travel calendar. Part of the fun of having a son or daughter in college is the visits! It gives you an opportunity to bring younger siblings and get them inspired about college as early as possible. Knowing who’s visiting and when also helps calm some of the anxiety of spending long stretches of time apart. Sometimes, it’s easier for students to travel home, particularly if they are within driving distance. If they don’t have a car, they can often share the ride with schoolmates and share expenses. Some bus companies also provide special shuttles to students.
• Show interest in your child’s new life. When you talk to your children be sure to ask them about professors, exams, extracurricular activities, new friends, concerns they have, and any new experiences. At the same time, you must give them some space. It’s inevitable that your child will miss a few phone calls or communicate less around exam time. It’s hard for all parents to let go, and this is especially the case for our tight-knit Latino families, but it is part of the growing process. Giving some space now paves the way for warm visits and a great relationship down the road.
• Be ready to help when needed. Freshman year can be difficult, so be ready to lend a sympathetic ear. My book, Latinos in College: Your Guide to Success, is a great tool for new college students. You can also send your child the link to this video where Williams College students talk about surviving freshman year.
Undoubtedly, freshman year is hard for most families. However, if you keep the communication channels open, the process can be a little less painful and far less stressful—for all of you.