Idea Enablers

03 September 2018

Empty Nesting: Communicating with Your College Student

Empty Nesting: Communicating with Your College Student

As Written by a College Student

By Guest Writer: Makenna Downing

College is both an exciting and nerve-wracking time for everyone involved in the process. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment within both the student and their parents, but also a sense of stress and sadness. To sum it all up, going away for college is bittersweet for parents and students alike. It is a process of changing dynamics, new beginnings, and coping with new change. If you are experiencing “Empty Nest Syndrome”, this one’s for you. While this time can be trying for parents and students, I am here to inform you this one thing: it will be okay.

I was the second child in my immediate family to graduate high school and leave for college, but the first child to move out of state and farther away from “home base”. My older sister had been thriving in school at UCLA for a year before I was due to graduate high school, pack up my life, and start my new beginning at the University of Arizona. Exciting? Yes. Nerve-wracking? Most definitely. After all, I had big shoes to fill! My genius of a sister was making us all proud by accomplishing so many things at UCLA and enjoying her college experience, and both my parents and I were thrilled that we still got to see her fairly frequently because she was just a couple hours away. Thus, when I decided to go to a school out of state, it was weird to think that I would not be able to come home as often or meet up with my parents for lunch when they came to town for a quick day trip. I can imagine that sending your children off to college to any location can be bittersweet and unsettling to parents, but especially when that campus is a plane-ride away. It was bittersweet for me, too.

Throughout the moving in and moving out, taking new courses, midterms, finals, making new friends, and trying new things, life can get chaotic as everyone is settling into their new routines. It is definitely an adjustment period for everyone: parents must get used to having the house be a little bit quieter after school, children must learn how to “adult” and start handling real world issues without their parents. Thus, through the chaos and new beginnings unveils the key to navigating these new territories: communication. As family dynamics change and daily routines start to settle in, it is important for students and parents to communicate often and stay close regardless of distance.

I have created a list of points to help parents better understand the way that our generation is thinking and that summarize how best to cope with your child going off to college and how to establish a good base of communication that will keep the chaos and sadness at bay.

  • Despite common misconceptions, WE MISS YOU, TOO:
  • To cure homesickness, we like to call you—at all hours:
  • Another popular form of communication for us might be asking for money:
  • We use social media OFTEN, and expect you to stay updated:
  • Holiday breaks are truly a gift from above:
  • We like when you randomly check in:
  • We are not expecting everything to be handed to us:
  • We DON’T know everything:
  • You raised us well:
  • We love you a whole lot:

Yes, it’s true. Even though we look like we are having the time of our lives exploring our new found freedom, we get home sick often and miss our family a lot. While it is extremely exciting to be able to be out on our own and exploring new places, it is equally as difficult to be away from our home and our parents. We miss seeing our best friends every day, eating home-cooked meals, spending time with the family… we even miss getting yelled at for not doing our chores, as shocking as that may sound. And on that note, living with a roommate has made us understand why it is so important to clean up after ourselves (amidst the messy dorm we might even find ourselves turning into you and establishing a “Chore Chart” because we just cannot live in the filth anymore). Therefore, when you receive a random text or call, it is because we miss you and we still need you, even if we don’t always admit it.

It’s not the most convenient method of communication, but we try to do our best to call you before the late hours of the night. Sometimes things are just way too exciting to wait until the next morning to make a phone call! The sleep schedule of a college student is wild: we stay up all night (studying, of course!), we wake up in the middle of the afternoon, we nap between classes, sometimes we accidentally sleep through classes, and you would think that for as much napping and sleeping as we do, we still wouldn’t feel exhausted every single day. But we do, and that is the mystery of it all. I tend to call my parents when I am walking to class during the day, but I have to admit that I am guilty of making the late-night phone calls when I am stressed out, going out, or perhaps when I am out and celebrating any occasion (like we millennials love to do!), and my parents might not be too pleased to have to wake up to my calls at all hours of the night. But parents, at least you’re our go-to conversation! It’s a good sign that we miss you ;).

I promise we do not run out of money so fast on purpose… we just are not as financially savvy as we would like to claim. And groceries are expensive. When I used to come home from high school and stare at the fridge saying, “there’s nothing to eat”, I was wrong. In college, we often reach a new level of “there’s nothing to eat” while finishing our last cup of Top Ramen and washing it down with the half-empty water bottle that we found in the bottom of our backpacks. Who new “adulting” was going to be so expensive?! However, even though we may not budget accordingly, we definitely learn the lessons behind the importance of saving our money and not spending it on unnecessary things.

When we call you to talk to you about how So-And-So is starting drama or how Such-And-Such broke up today, we expect you to know the full background of these situations based on our social media accounts. We constantly post status updates, Snapchat stories, and Instagram pictures with all of our new friends, so make sure you pay attention. Social media is one of our favorite forms of communication as a generation and we like to keep you updated about our lives. We want you to see that we are doing well and surviving our daily struggle of “adulting”, so we make sure to post all of our favorite moments. Our posts might give you FOMO or make you nostalgic about your own “good ole college days”, but this is another way for us to stay connected.

Not only for us, but for you too. The holidays are a time for college students to return home and finally be reunited with their family again. Plus, it takes us away from campus right after the peak of our stress during #FinalsSeason, so we are grateful to have the chance to travel home and unwind for a couple weeks. We look forward to these breaks because we can fill you in on our new routines and adventures while also getting a taste of home again before we have to head back to school. So call us and plan travel arrangements or activities to do together over the break, we truly are looking forward to every minute of it, even having a curfew again and being responsible for chores.

Sometimes, we are not always good at staying on top of the whole communication thing. We may forget to tell you something, miss a call, or forget to facetime you for a couple weeks, but we really do like being checked on. We like having you ask about what we have been up to and what’s new. This also gives us a chance to take a break from the chaos and learn about what’s new at home and with the family. Hearing news from home is always a great way for us to feel included and closer to the action. Being out of state and not being able to be home for spontaneous events can be tough, but it is rewarding to receive pictures or a phone call or little messages from everyone so that we do not experience FOMO.

Even though this generation has a reputation of desiring everything to be handed to them, I promise we are working very hard in college to secure our futures… well, most of us. Being able to take courses about topics we are actually interested in and can apply to our careers and to the real world is extremely rewarding, so we are working hard to prepare ourselves for the paths we decide to take. We might even ask you for networking connections, internship opportunities, or potential career fields, because we want your advice and approval on our desired careers and future. It is fun to be able to tell you about what we are studying and what we want to do with our lives. College is hard and we are working to earn degrees that will be beneficial to us for the rest of our lives. Despite the stigmas around millennials, most of us truly do want to pursue successful careers and make it big for ourselves. We want to make you proud and we are working hard to do so.

SHOCKING, right?! Our new found freedom and intellectual capacity can make us argumentative and intent on proving our point, but we are not always right. We don’t know everything and we still need guidance. It can just be hard to admit we are wrong. But have patience with us and keep us on our toes. We like having conversations with you where we can share our perspectives and ideas and also understand your opinions on the matter. It helps us grow as individuals and form well-informed opinions. Even though the tuition cost is high enough, they don’t teach us EVERYTHING in college and we still look up to you as our role models in that aspect.

We have learned from the very best and do take your lessons to heart. Even though we are exploring new places, we are not running wild and doing things that would disappoint you. You raised us well. And it is our time to shine and prove to you that we are able to handle it. We are proud to take all of your lessons and incorporate them into our own adult lives.

Coping with the college separations is difficult for all of us. With that being said, we know it is not easy for your nest to get a little emptier once we move into the real world and onto our adult lives, so we want to try and make it easier on you, too. We still need you and want you to be a part of our lives. We are excited for our futures and want to make you proud. We love you so much and are so thankful for the sacrifices you have made in order for us to be here, even if we don’t always tell you that.

College can be full of unexpected surprises but coping with the changes is entirely possible with the help of patience, understanding, and communication. While our communication strategies might not be ideal, we want to stay connected and close through the distance and learn how to navigate adulthood. And don’t worry, we are working on improving our communication habits. I mean, after all, isn’t that why Communication is such a popular major?! It will be okay and I promise—we will make you proud.

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