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Communicating with your college student is a skill that is acquired through trial and error. For some us, it involves a lot of trials and errors.
After hugging your college student, you got in the car, sent him one last loving text and then drove or flew away. You got home, went to bed and woke up in the morning to your new reality.
Maybe you went out to your favorite breakfast restaurant to enjoy some new-couple time. Over your waffles, you pulled out your phone and looked at the empty text app before guiltily putting it away to concentrate on your husband’s attempts to suggest going home and back to bed.
When the waiter pours your last cup of coffee, you sneak another look.
“Why hasn’t he texted?” you ask your husband. “Do you think he’s ok?”
After laughingly suggesting that maybe your precious baby boy over imbibed at his first college party and is sleeping it off, he comes to his senses when he looks at your face and assures you that your son is fine and probably too busy making new friends to remember to text.
“Give it a couple of days,” he suggests. “You don’t want to be THAT mother.”
OK, you don’t want to be that mother, so you wait.
A couple of days pass and you decide maybe you’re a little bit that mother. You send out a cheery How Are You text.
You even add a smiley emoji.
Crickets … he doesn’t respond.
Then, just before bed a couple of days later – a miracle! A text pops up at last!
“I had to buy a textbook with my debit card. Can you transfer $200 into my account?”
So here it is. Your child has embraced freedom and all its glory, including (and maybe especially) freedom from parents. It seems as if talking, and even texting, is too great a thing to add.
The most important thing you have to understand is that your child is having his very first real experience with independence. If you make yourself remember the first time it happened to you, you will go a long way to feeling more understanding about the lack of communication.
Remember your first time away from home.
I remember my parents leaving me in my first college dorm room and I could not WAIT to be alone. For the first time ever, my parents weren’t supervising my food, my clothes, my bedtime, or my friend choices. The LAST thing I wanted was to call home every night.
Understand why your child may not be returning your calls and texts.
Assuming that your relationship was fine before he left home, don’t discount the simple reasons why your child may not be returning your calls or texts.
Maybe, in all the excitement of real life college dorm meetings, bonding exercises, parties, making new friends and literally every campus organization clamoring for his attention, he hasn’t yet unpacked the box that has all his cords and chargers and his phone battery is dead.
Maybe he has seen your texts as he was flying from one place to the other and had every intention of pinging you back but forgot as his phone blew up with emails from friends in other schools, sharing their own exciting stories.
Maybe he doesn’t want to answer the particular question you asked (“So … is your roommate as weird as he seemed?”) or maybe he knows that answering a text will mean the next 30 minutes of his day will be spent answering more and more questions.
Ideally, communication with your college student is something that you worked out before he left. Having agreed on limits and expectations can prevent hurt feelings on both sides.
But if you didn’t do that in advance, all is not lost.
Write your child an email.
Label the subject line as important. Texting may be the more common and fluid way to communicate, but emails allow you to write at length and time for him to read and absorb what you have to say.
Don’t make him responsible for your loneliness and pain.
Keep it light and cheery. Tell him that you love and miss him but that you’re also excited for him to experience college life and all it has to offer.
Propose a scheduled phone call.
Calmly explain that, to make sure that you both feel connected to each other without any pressure, you need to work out a plan for regular calls or texts – not including the “emergency” texts you’ll get about a book you need to order right away or a medical form that needs to be faxed to the athletic department.
Friday and Saturday nights are not good choices because there will be parties and activities. Sunday probably works best because he will be partied out and ready to stay put and rest before the new week.
And if you have filled your time with parties and activities as well, you’ll reach the same point as your son and no one will feel stressed.
Review the email before hitting “send.”
Read it over to make sure it’s not loaded with guilt or pressure. Save it and come back later to read it again. Send it and then text him to say “I’ve sent you an email. Get back to me on it in the next couple of days, ok? It’s important.” Then go do something for yourself.
If all goes well, you’ll be able to negotiate a way to communicate that will be satisfying for both you and your student. If not, you could always send him your own version of this and threaten to post it on Facebook.
Just kidding … maybe.
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