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We're Here for You, If You Need Us...

As their children ventured off to start the next chapter of their lives in college, Shorewood parents adjust to communication and life after.

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.”

Sue Borkon September 20, 2012 at 05:33 PM
After I delivered my oldest to De Paul, I came home and cried for days. At times, it was tough just getting through the day until my youngest daughter (two year difference) asked me why I was crying. When I told her, she responded as follows: "Mom--look at it this way. You had two years at the beginning with just (the oldest) sister. Now, we have two years together before I graduate (from Shorewood.) That's cool!" That was almost twenty years ago--not only do I still remember her words, but more importantly, I remember the impact they had. Whether it's a first, middle or last child, our time with each of them has been about balance and focus on what's most important at the time. Sometimes, the kids have a better sense of that balance than we do. Enjoy the next phase. A veteran parent, teacher and friend to/of my daughters.
Jenny Heyden September 20, 2012 at 08:49 PM
That is beautiful, Sue. Thank you for sharing those words of wisdom!
The Donny Show September 21, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I think separation is easier if Mom and Dad don't worship junior. I can see the problem. They are dropping off their entire life. They are leaving behind their everything. Kids have gone to college for decades. The separation issues have only been bad for a short time. What's changed?
Jenny Heyden September 21, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Hi Donny! I think the separation issue has always been there, just new for parents when they experience it. I don't think the issues are "bad," just something to be aware of and consciously approach. The perspective of the parents is one that hasn't made the same conversation but should not be left out - the fragility of that relationship is real, and I think in the past we've just seen a lot of freshmen in the counselor's office due to freshmen year breakups of parents. Communication has changed in that texting and short shout outs are possible, and work well. Skyping and facetime are pretty new, too. Thanks for your comment.
Cricket September 21, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Personally I think Donny is on to something. I have friends with kids 30 years old to 1 year old and the one's with teenagers on down are definitely more attached to their kids. Don't get me wrong, all parents are attached to their kids but there should be a healthy amount of separation also. I have a friend that is constantly texting her high school daughter throughout the day, while she is in school. I really feel kids to day are over chaperoned in everything they do, and while this era of cell phones is a good thing in a way, do parents and children really need to be in so much contact throughout the day? What ever happened to just catching up over the dinner table. I know the answer will be that kids and family's are too busy for the dinner table but that in itself is a problem. Parents worked, kids had homework, activities and jobs 30, 40 and even 50 years ago. If they made it work, this generation can too. When they go off to college they are either going to be hopeless lost or so glad for the freedom they will never look behind. I use to think it was the kids that were too dependent but I think it is the parents now.

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