Many parents in the village who dropped off a student at college have been navigating the often quiet, personal reorientation that comes after 18 years of involvement in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment lives of their child.
Anne O'Meara, who with her husband Mike Stillwell dropped off her younger child (the elder went two years ago) at St. Olaf, said, "I guess I'm finding I didn't want this part of my life to be over yet. I was so involved with every day activities, and I liked that involvement. It's so sudden."
"It happens very fast," agreed resident Scott Jonas, who took his only child to school in Boston with his wife Elizabeth.
“I am starting to feel like it's a complete recalibration as a parent. Intense parenting to remote parenting. Suddenly, you’ve completed these pages of tasks that cover everything from registering to vote to having six pairs of socks, and you’re there unloading everything. It was very well orchestrated, they send us off gently, but it’s like having your heart pulled out. Then you’re figuring out how to use what you’ve learned over the last 18 years to communicate and parent in a new way.”
Ninety percent of Shorewood High School's Class of 2012 went on to college, or 122 students. Communication is a hot topic in advice and preparation for parents.
Jonas and his family prepared for the separation by getting smart phones and practicing with Facetime, a video feature on the iPhone. Other parents learned to Skype before their student left, and some upgraded phone plans to allow for unlimited texting.
Shorewood holds a parent forum and many credited their preparedness to advice given to them by local experts Jane Frederick, local higher education professional, and Gwynne Cole, a faculty Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Frederick also speaks from personal experience, as her only child started her sophomore year this Fall.
Shorewood parent Joanne Lipo Zovic and others recommend the books "You're on Your Own, But I'm here if you need me," by Marjorie Savage and "Letting Go - A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years" by Karen Levin Coburn.
Preparations also include a litany of legal items as well as dealing with copious amounts of stuff.
“If it doesn’t fit in the car, it won’t fit in the room,” advises Frederick. “You can stuff a puffy coat in a pretty small box. Same with shoes. Shipping USPS flat rate boxes should be your friend.”
Some other key, often-overlooked pointers for parents:
— Sign the FERPA (Family Education and Privacy Act) form allowing you to receive information about them in time of emergency, as well as the HEPA form (and any other medical power of attorney forms)
— Health insurance coverage continues under the family plan, but also opt in to in-school insurance as it may provide benefits. Make your student aware of those, and keep a copy also on smart phone or electronically for them.
— Debit card is a separate article, but make sure there’s an ATM with free access for your bank.
— Buy the laptop ahead of time. Get the school specs, the student discount, and buy it before school to get used to it.
— Cell phone coverage; be sure to get the phone that works at their school. And get unlimited texting. “We hear from her more than we did in high school, because she just texts us between classes. It’s very reassuring,” said Frederick.
— Communication: Lipo-Zovic says she hears from her college students rarely, but that means they’re happy, or working it out. She credits all the preparation in finding a good fit in schools pays off when you see that your student is happy. Elizabeth Jonas says she gets a little “twitchy” still when she hasn’t heard from her daughter in a while, but is getting used to it. Parent Jill Eder says to prepare for that call when the student is lonely, but not to overreact. “By the next time you talk to them, they’ll likely be fine, even though you’re worried.” Frederick advises first year parents to take calls about roommates and other problems as they come. “Unless something is majorly wrong, advise your student to tackle the problem," Frederick said. "Help them connect with the appropriate person on campus whose job it is to solve that issue.”
— Parents weekend is a must for all first-timers.
— Tissues. "You're going to cry, and that is that," says resident Dawn Anderson, who also says it's helpful to build in a weekend away after dropping off a student.
So then, they're off. Finally, the house is quiet.
The literature suggests that statistically, this is a rather fragile time in a marriage. Frederick suggests planning time together. O’Meara and her husband had a date night this weekend.
“We had fun, but still, it’s so strange. As a parent, wherever I am, I think ‘OK, where are the kids, what time is it, how are they,'" O’Meara said. "It’s hard to realize I have no control over where she is now, what she’s doing, if she’s OK. And I miss them.”