Leaving the Nest

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As parents everywhere gear up to send their children off to college this fall, there are inevitable to-do lists swirling around their brains: figuring out travel logistics, choosing housing, shopping for the new living space, and so much more.

But two lists take top priority: One will help students cope with the reality of being on their own for the first time. The other will help parents prepare for this momentous milestone.

Here are a few tried and true tips to make the transition into this major life event as smooth as possible for both students and parents.

  • Prepare your child for living on their own.

This will be the first time your kid will be living on their own, without Mom or Dad to help them or remind them to do day-to-day tasks. Make sure they have experience doing necessary things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, managing money, writing checks, sending mail, scheduling their own appointments, going grocery shopping, knowing basic car maintenance, and other grown-up realities.

Margaret Marshall, an educator and mom of three daughters in college, said she created a checklist of life skills she covered with her girls before they left for school. “I wanted to be sure they knew how to do laundry, manage finances, clean, eat well, manage time, cook, etc.”

Monica Ditto, a teacher and mom of a college freshman, added that she tells both her kids they “will need people.”

“No matter how self-reliant you are, making connections and soliciting help is essential to your success,” Ditto said. “I made sure both my kids could introduce themselves confidently in a social setting and could easily ask for assistance when they needed it.”

  • Start loosening the reins before they go.

Giving gradual liberties before your child leaves for college will help ease them into living independently. They’ll already be accustomed to self-regulating, taking responsibility for themselves, and not having to rely on a parent to make decisions for them by the time they go.

“By their senior year, you need to start ‘cutting the cord.’ Let them start making decisions on their own,” said DeeDee Lopez, an educator and mom of a college freshman. “Maybe take a little trip somewhere with friends, start driving a car and going to parties. It’s better to make mistakes while they are here to help walk them through it and offer advice.”

Ditto agrees.

“As hard as it may be to accept, the best thing you can do for your college student is let them go so they can find their own place in this world,” Ditto said. “They need to know they can be independent, make good choices, and succeed as adults. You have to trust that they can do it!”

  • Don’t hesitate to ask someone who has been through it for advice.

There is no one better to ask than someone who has recently gone through a similar experience. They will have valuable information to share and may be able to help you avoid any oversights or unnecessary problems.

“Talk to parents who have been through the process,” Marshall said. “They will have good advice to offer!”

  • Set up regular cyber dates.

Depending on your norm for communication with your child, it may be slightly more or less. The important thing is that they feel confident enough to not have to reach out to you for every little thing and that you don’t feel anxiety if you don’t hear from them for a little while.

“I started with phone calls every other night the first week, then started to taper off the second week,” Lopez said. “I am proud to say that I am down to one phone call or text a week minimum.”

For some families, group chats may be a more convenient means of communication for everyone.

“It has been great to have a family group chat,” Marshall said. “We stay connected daily.”

In the meantime, try to have something to look forward to, such as a holiday or break when they will be visiting home.

“It has helped me to calendar the next time I will see my child. If I know that they have a plane ticket purchased for three months in the future, it helps me to look forward,” Marshall said.

  • Soak up your time together.

You have one last summer before your child is college bound — enjoy every moment! It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s fun and memorable. Take a little road trip, head to the beach, enjoy a nice meal together, or just catch a movie you’ve been wanting to see — whatever suits your family. The memories you make will last a lifetime.