Dealing with Distance
You have packed up your car, dropped them off at UO, and returned home minus one family member. Now what? Your student could be thousands of miles away or right down the road. Regardless, distance can create a wide range of emotions. Perhaps you are grieving and feeling the effects of the empty nest. Perhaps you are experiencing a renewed sense of freedom. Perhaps you are feeling a bit of both. Your student also may be experiencing conflicting emotions about leaving home for the first time or returning to school from summer vacation. Conflicting emotions are to be expected during a time of transition.
Parents and students often wonder about how they will manage their newfound “independence” from each other, particularly when students leave home for the first time. In some families or in some cultures, it feels natural and healthy to be in contact every day or even several times per day. In others, this much contact would seem excessive and invasive.
There’s no “right” way to maintain healthy communication with your student; what is key is whether your student feels supported during this transition and, at the same time, is encouraged to increase autonomy and independent decision- making. How can you maintain a supportive, nurturing relationship with your student now that they may no longer be “under your roof?”
Here are some points to consider:
Talk about your expectations with each other. It is unlikely that your student packed a crystal ball along with their shower shoes and Nintendo Wii. You each might have different ideas about when or how often you expect to communicate, and talking this through early on can help you avoid misunderstandings and negative feelings.
Make your “talk time” meaningful. With advances in communication technology, you can reach your student nearly any time of day or night. With seemingly 24-hour access to your student, it can be tricky to know when or how to make contact.
College is an opportunity for personal exploration and growth. Students learn how to make decisions, build relationships, and manage time and responsibilities, among many other developmental tasks. When parents are too involved in students’ lives, students can feel that they are not trusted to make good decisions. Students need some space to develop confidence in their decision-making skills and to practice handling difficult situations and emotions independently. On the other hand, parents can also make the mistake of backing off too much and providing too little support during this time of emerging adulthood. The key is striking a balance. Communicating early about how to create balance between independence and support can help ensure that you and your student are “on the same page.” At the very least, give this some thought.
Find other means for meeting emotional needs. Many parents find it helpful to connect with other parents who are dealing with similar transitions. Additionally, it can be a time for you to reconnect with old friends or perhaps even make some new friends. Remember, this is a growth opportunity for both of you. It is a chance for you to rediscover interests from you “pre-parent” days or to develop new interests and hobbies. Contrary to its name, the empty nest can actually be quite full of possibilities for personal exploration and fulfillment.
How to handle homesickness
Homesickness is very common, especially among students who have left home for the first time. While it can be tempting to maintain constant communication with your student or to arrange for frequent visits home, it is important to remember that the “cure” for homesickness is to develop a sense of belonging and attachment to their new “home.” Try to encourage your student to make connections on campus. Getting involved in social clubs, volunteering, or organizing dorm events are great ways for students to make friends and stay active and involved on campus.
If it seems, however, that your student is so homesick that they are unable to find any enjoyment in the transition to college or attend to academic responsibilities, you might encourage them to seek counseling. The University Counseling and Testing Center can provide support and help students get connected and work through feelings of homesickness.
Chaunce Windle, M.A., was a former intern at UCTC