She's leaving home...
August 27, 2009 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Sending my oldest off to college for the first time. What can we do to make this transition easy/special?

My oldest daughter is about to leave the nest next week- she's off to college. We've made the lists, packed, set up the bank account, etc.

I'd really like to make this transition easy and positive for her - she's anxious and nervous about making the break. Does anyone have a suggestion for making move-in day easier? How about things to leave her with - a photo album? a letter? Some pizza gift certificates? :-)

What did you/your parents do to make this milestone positive and memorable? Anything that you wish you or your parents/child had thought of when you crossed this bridge?
posted by Flakypastry to Education (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
my parents helped me move in to my dorm room, went with me to pick up some stuff for the mini fridge, took me out for lunch, and then went home. while i was unpacking, i found a card my mom had slipped into a tote full of books. it said they were proud of me, i could call home for any reason at all any time i liked, and they hoped i had fun. it was really nice to find something in my room once they had left.
posted by gursky at 7:13 AM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just curious, have you asked her if there's anything specific she'd like you do? Everyone is different, so there may be something that will really work specifically for her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on August 27, 2009

I did a pre-orientation session before moving into my dorm, which meant that I had to lug two huge trunks from one end of campus to another and then up two flights of stairs all by my tiny self. Helping her move would be a very nice thing to do.

Arranging for a care package with snack food, a card, photographs, etc. to arrive the day after you drop her off would be really nice.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:21 AM on August 27, 2009

My Aunt sent me off to Uni for the first term clutching an enormous iced chocolate cake. Instant friends :-)

Try and send her off with some nice shareable foods, makes it easy to offer to her neighbours and start getting to know them.
posted by Tapioca at 7:25 AM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

My son was more than ready to get on with the college thing, but I hid a little treasure box in one of his drawers so he wouldn't find it until we were gone. He said it really meant a lot to him. We also sent regular care packages throughout his college career filled with practical things like cheez-its and 5 dollar bills, and also little weird things from his childhood.
posted by nax at 7:36 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hide a nice "I love you, good luck, you're smart, we're proud, be adventurous, enjoy yourself" letter in a box she'll unpack. That'll be nice to find.

And Yeah, I agree with Tapioca in regards to giant cake/treats/bags of candy that she can share. Food is something people can connect with.
posted by gwenlister at 7:38 AM on August 27, 2009

I like the pizza gift certificates idea - great way to kick-start making friends. Tuck them inside a card or letter in one of her boxes, like gursky suggests. And along the food lines, if she's going to have a mini-fridge, how about some small servings of favorite homemade foods?

A photo album is a nice idea, too, or a few favorite photos in frames. Maybe this is something you could do together before you go - pick out the photos she'd like to take?

I think my parents gave me a pre-paid calling card when I went to college - and made it clear that I was to feel free to use it to call other family members or friends from home, not just to call them. (I know, I'm dating myself badly here.) But if cell phone minutes are tight, a calling card might not be a bad thing to have in reserve.

If she's taking a computer, can you set the screen saver to run a personal message for her without her knowing? One of my friend's dads did this, and she really enjoyed it.

Probably the best thing you can do on moving day itself is plan ahead to try to keep it stress free. Get there in plenty of time to move in and make a run to Target or wherever to pick up anything you missed/didn't want to pack. Then you might even have time to help your daughter with unpacking before you go. If she's anxious already, it'll probably be easier on her if things don't feel rushed. And make it clear that you're going to miss her, too, but you know she'll be fine once she's had some time to adjust.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:39 AM on August 27, 2009

You're asking the right questions so you're going to be fine (as will she)!

When I went off, my mom helped me unpack and do closets, but for some reason, I remember that her helping me make my bed that one last time felt very symbolic. It's an emotionally overcharged day, I just wanted to get on with independence, she didn't want to leave.

After unpacking, she insisted on taking me for one last lunch and we went (her pointing out all interesting things along the way), but I remember thinking I just wanted her to leave already.

So I guess I'm saying, ask if she wants to settle in or if she wants to go out and follow her lead.
posted by dzaz at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2009

My dad helped me move in and then took me and a dorm-mate out for ice cream. Since I was feeling shy, this was a very nice thing to do.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The letters thing is a good idea, but the best thing my dad did for me was leaving right after we had unpacked my room. I'm an introspective guy, but I really wanted to navigate the social scene myself. I think one of the worst things you can do if your daughter has a hard time making friends is to stick really close to them all through orientation and keep them from having a non-parent life.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:48 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

All of the above: pizza gift certs (great idea, btw), bag of treats to share, note packed in her stuff, take her and roommates out to lunch/dinner before you leave. And when it's time to leave, pull the band-aid off fast.
posted by willpie at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2009

Second dzaz on making her bed up for her. My parents did that for me on move-in and set up my favorite stuffed animal on the pillow, and it instantly made it feel like home.

As far as things to leave her with, stocking up on microwave popcorn is very helpful. Also, a large jar of peanut butter. Late at night, nothing keeps you going better than a spoon full of gooey protein and fat.

Care packages in general are amazing, especially when full of things to share with friends (food, bouncy balls, bubbles [get her colored bubbles!], Starbucks gift cards, etc).

But in general, reminders that you're thinking of her are a huge help. I am fiercely independent and couldn't wait to move halfway across the country for college, but I still got a little homesick occasionally (I still do!) and a funny card or small care package from home is always a welcome surprise.
posted by olinerd at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2009

I was pretty anxious about leaving home too. My parents helped me move in and set up my dorm room. Then we went for a long walk and explored the campus. We went around and located the nearest bank, pharmacy, grocery store, the post office, etc. so I was more oriented and knew where the important places were. It was really nice to have them around for a little bit after I was moved in, instead of dumping off the last load of boxes and driving out of the parking lot. It was my roommate's birthday the next day so my mom also bought a small cake for me to give to her. They also called me several times in the next few days, just to check up on me and see how I was doing, and if I needed anything. But I do agree you should follow her lead and if she's giving off "OMG just leave already guys" vibes, gracefully make a quick exit.
posted by castlebravo at 7:57 AM on August 27, 2009

Take her up there and help get stuff into her room. But let her set up the room herself. Nothing made me laugh more than a freshman mommy telling her son where the put the furniture in a room she wouldn't be seeing at all (I know that was boys and so am I, but I'll bet the same type of hilarity ensued in the girl's dorm).

Take her out to eat. She might not think it's a big deal when you do it, but she'll understand after a week or so of cafeteria food. If you have any leftovers of your meal send them home with her. Bonus points for making sure you have left overs.

Don't act like it's the end of the world. You'll see each other again.
posted by theichibun at 7:59 AM on August 27, 2009

Webcams for video chat with you (when she wants, not when you want).
Give her a cellphone with unlimited minutes to call you (My5 or something like that), or a calling card.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2009

Anything that comes across as a vote of confidence is going to mean a lot to her.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't act like it's the end of the world. You'll see each other again.

Yeah, this is good advice. My mother wept and wept when she left me at college (granted it was across the country) but it broke my heart and made the whole thing harder.

Walk with her around the campus, go out to eat before you leave, fill up her gas tank if she has a car. Leave her useful things as opposed to sentimental, would be my advice - she'll need them and it won't make her miss home.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2009

Encourage her to dress nicely on move-in day. I wore scruffy clothes and it didn't make a great first impression on my new roommates; they still tease me for those overalls.
Bring a treat to share with other students. My roommate greeted us all with home-made cookies.
Bring cleaning supplies for dust on move-in day. Baby wipes would be good.
Leave her a little extra wad of cash to spend during the first week- a lot of socializing and early friend-making goes on and it can be a pricey week, but it's worth it to meet people.

I wish someone had told me this next one.

Remind her that there are two parts of school: the people and the grades. Both should be attended to about equally. It's networking and social-skill building time as much as it's fact-learning time.

And finally, call her the first Sunday night- I remember after the week's excitement died down, I felt lonely that night.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:18 AM on August 27, 2009

The worst thing you can do is maintain any sort of flux, confusion or sense of being not-quite-here-or-there. Either she is connected at the hip or she has a life at school. Don't be super buddy-buddy with her one day and "Grow up!" the next. I know the balance is hard, but let her take the lead and be firm about having her do as much as she can. And then do more passive things in areas where she can't cover for herself, like the letters and care packages mentioned above. I think those tangible things are more fun than e-mails anyway.

Anything she can share with her friends and neighbors is always a plus :)

I can't tell you how many moms I saw at Target the other day buying all sorts of crap for their kids without anyone of that age in sight. It's a good independence thing for her, and a good quality-time thing for you both, if you shop together once you've seen the dorm room. But be clear about it and say that this is her one opportunity to do most of that stuff. She can do more later, but on her own. Don't do it for her!

On that same topic, don't let her keep calling you for stuff she's forgotten or needs from home. It's peeling off the Band-Aid.

Help her explore the area around the school. One of the worst things to happen, regardless of the size or location, is that students get insulated in a bubble, particularly if they don't have cars. Do a little research to find out some good restaurants or stores close by but off campus, and then give her a gift certificate that she can use with some friends. Get some tickets for some events or concerts or games.

The university where I work does some interesting things, especially in food service. You can add money to their account (on their university ID card) so they can buy things at the delis, delivery services, etc. that operate outside of the regular dining halls. I believe you can also call up Housing to have them deliver cakes and make favorite recipes in small batches on special occasions. You might check into that.

Set up a visit time a few months away when she can show you around her favorite parts of the town and campus. She'll have a set date to aim for, whether she's doing well or feeling overwhelmed. Once she's settled, she'll probably feel very grown-up as she shows you what her life is like, but you can still be close.

My parents were a great example of things NOT to do. For reference, I went to our "family college," which was an hour down the road and frequently visited by my parents for various functions.

--See above for the "flux" thing. We had sort of agreed that my room wouldn't be kept as a shrine (nor did I want it to be), so in my head I sort of thought that I'd come home on fall break, we'd paint it and put a futon in there, but I'd get to pick the decor, etc. Imagine my horror when I had my classmates over (we'd come to an event in town and my parents hosted us for a chili dinner -- their idea). When they wanted to see my room, I opened it to find half of my posters gone and my waterbed switched out with an old twin. It had been three weeks. The worst part, by far, was that it wasn't a complete switch. The lingering reminders of my former room, and the fact that they hadn't consulted me at all on what I wanted to keep, kept me from being comfortable ever again.
--Don't tell your kids that they "can't come home" for any specified period of time.
--Don't let your other kids be jerks to your college kid, even if your other kids are only doing it out of jealousy. I came home for fall break and got incredibly sick from a flu shot, and nothing made my delirious convalescence more fun than having my brother continually remind me that I didn't live there anymore and should just go back.

(rant over :P)
posted by Madamina at 9:24 AM on August 27, 2009

Lurker saying "Thanks!" to Madamina for the great post. My son's going off soon, too, and I'll take your advice to heart.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2009

One other thing: a small tool kit can be really useful and may actually help her meet people. A lot of students purchase furniture for their rooms in the first few weeks that require assembly (especially the IKEA stuff) and I recall struggling to put together a bookcase with a pocket knife. Give her a couple screwdrivers, a box of screws/nails, and a small hammer and she'll likely meet half the people on her floor by loaning them out.
posted by castlebravo at 9:41 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Find a great restaurant in her college town, get her a big-enough gift certificate ($100?) for her to take out a few friends, and send it to her at a completely unexpected time, like January or something, when she's broke from her last visit home to see the family and her old high school buddies.
posted by mdonley at 9:43 AM on August 27, 2009

Encourage her to dress nicely on move-in day. I wore scruffy clothes and it didn't make a great first impression on my new roommates; they still tease me for those overalls.

I think it's better to wear clothes you'd be comfortable lugging lots of stuff around for a few hours in, and helping others lug their stuff around. Because that's what she'll be doing.

you shop together once you've seen the dorm room

I'm gonna have to disagree with that. You can probably get a more or less accurate floor plan of the room before you get there, and you want to do as much shopping as humanly possible before you go. Shopping on drop-off day will be a horrendous headache.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 AM on August 27, 2009

Find out what she is concerned about - if it is specific stuff you can work out how to get comfortable with this together.

Nice food or treats are always good - especially if suitable for sharing.

Seconding the small toolkit idea and indeed a pocket knife.

Arrange a time for when you'll come to visit her after a month or so - it'll giver her something to look forward to initially and you can get any additional nice to have in your room stuff at that point - she'll have a much better idea of what she wants/needs in her new environment. Be sure to bring some favourite homemade food at that point.

Send her little care packages, flowers or cards.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:06 AM on August 27, 2009

&bull cellphone - time to load up on minutes since she'll probably be calling not only you but all her friends from HS to catch up.
&bull quarters for laundry - won't seem like much at the time but the first time she has to do a load...
&bull fill up the fridge and take her to lunch
&bull will she have a car? If not make sure she knows places that deliver and maybe include certs for those places in addition to the local pizza joint.

Really just see what she wants. As hard as it was seeing my folks leave I was ready to get MY dorm settled and start that new chapter on MY own.
posted by doorsfan at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2009

damn - bullets showed up on preview
posted by doorsfan at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2009

Like Madamina, my parents switched up my bedroom as soon as I left. They didn't mean any harm, but my little sister moved from the smaller bedroom to my larger bedroom, and her old room quickly got crowded with storage. I came home for my first break, and my room was gone. My parents are normally thoughtful, caring people, but just honestly didn't realize how often I would be home after I "moved out" for college. It made coming home even harder, like I didn't really belong anymore.

Some things they did right:

1) I know now that my mom and dad cried like babies the whole 4 hour drive home after dropping me off, but they didn't show me any of that. They kept the focus on the excitement of me taking this big step. That helped me not worry about how they were feeling and enjoy myself. I didn't know how hard it was on them until later.

2) Even though I'd done all my shopping in advance, and had everything I needed, my dad went out on his own to the local grocery store and bought all kinds of obvious snacks (Easy Mac, Microwave Popcorn, Ramen, Spagehtti-O's) as well as some not-so obvious basics that really came in handy (Salt and Pepper in little plastic shakers, paper plates and bowls, plastic forks and spoons, Tylenol).

3) My dad made a point to keep up with oil changes on my car, including the first time I was home for break. He left a letter in the car the first time I was home, telling me how proud he was of me. It meant a lot to me at the time, and really, still does.
posted by terilou at 12:08 PM on August 27, 2009

If she does not get along with her roommate, let her vent to you and don't offer un-asked for advice on the situation. Understand that it is very stressful because she will feel unable to relax in her own "home" (dorm). There is no escape from a bad roommate situation except changing rooms.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:54 PM on August 27, 2009

Some things that helped me out when I started college:
  • If she doesn't have a cellphone, a calling card attached to a letter saying "you can call us any time you'd like."
  • My mother packed a small tupperware with first aid supplies, things like bandaids, ibuprofen, etc. Granted you can probably get these all at the school's health center, but the health center is most likely not open at all hours, and it's become one of the supplies I don't have to think about because it's always easily packed.
  • Nth-ing the shareable food. I didn't do this, but it's probably the easiest way for her to start the socializing. Pizza, cake, all are appreciated by college students.

posted by Axle at 3:40 PM on August 27, 2009

I've never been away to college, but you can see above that there is a range of "right" answers for your question, depending on the kid.

For me, I prefer to leave than to be left. I'm always so excited about where I'm going and anxious about the logistics, that I just want to be left to explore and deal by myself. If your kid is like me, try not to be offended or hurt if they just want you to go home or don't seem to appreciate your help.
posted by kjs4 at 11:43 PM on August 27, 2009

Thanks so much for all of the helpful suggestions! Madamina, I hear what you're saying about your room - my mother turned my bedroom into a sitting room the moment I left, and I never felt "at home" again! My other daughter has ben asking to move into her sister's room, but it's my oldest daughter's room (as she leaves it) until she graduates.
posted by Flakypastry at 4:14 AM on August 28, 2009

When I moved away to school my mum bought a teapot that I'd admired months before, and secretly stashed it in with my things, and (this was the really lovely bit) also tucked away heart-shaped notes that said things like "You're strong" and "I love your art" and "I'm proud of your generosity." I was finding them months later (there were maybe thirty altogether) and each one made me feel so loved. I still have them all, kept in a little box - I'm always inspired by her creativity and generosity!
posted by Bergamot at 11:08 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

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