Tips for when your kid's at college far away
December 14, 2020 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I went to college 2 hours from home, in an easily accessible big city. Now KidBlahLaLa will be going to college in the fall at a school that is far away + in a remote area that's hard to get to. Parents who've dealt this, how did you manage the practical and psychological ramifications of having your kid so far away?

For the practical issues: This college is a literal all-day journey from our home. If I left our city at dawn, I'd fly all the way across the country, then rent a car and have a 3.5-hour drive to the school. If we need to use bus or train on that end it makes it take even longer. What practical effects does this have on the school year? I'm already thinking that "coming home for Thanksgiving" is pretty impractical.

For the psychological issues: You kid and I are actually very close, despite me being Mom and him being a teenage boy. He's raring to go to school, and this school in particular, so he's excited about it. But I can see that even since he got his acceptance a few days ago he's kind of weighing the feelings associated with being so far away from me. I'm *definitely* having a lot of feelings about it, but I'm holding it together for now. I'd love to hear from parents who had this kind of close relationship and what it was like when your kid went far away.

(Covid disclaimer: This whole conversation is predicated on the idea that by the fall it'll be possible for my kid to actually go to college.)
posted by BlahLaLa to Education (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went to school about equally far away from home, and now work even farther away from home (I’m close with my family and visit a lot).

I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. It would’ve been nice, but it’s so close to Christmas that it wasn’t too painful to stay at school and watch movies/recharge for the end of the quarter. I was usually quite mentally exhausted by then.

One thing I would caution, because I saw it occasionally among my college peers, is that while it’s extremely likely that he will miss you (especially once the move is real) he may also be reacting to whatever unconscious energy you’re putting out there and be dealing with the complex “the thing I’m super excited about is making my mom sad,” which is where intense guilt feelings can kick in. I’m sure he will be sad to be away from you but if he’s used to empathizing with you a lot he’s probably feeling confused/conflicted right now.

I dated a guy in college who was “super close” with his mom and she called him every day, twice a day, and it was a huge burden on him and (according to him) interfered with him making friends or following his interests. Not accusing you of doing this to your kid but I’d say whatever rituals you establish to stay in touch should be flexible and up to him so he doesn’t have to choose between adult individuation and you.

Only mentioning these two cases because it sounds like there’s no risk of you being underinvolved; that can be a problem as well, of course.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:23 PM on December 14, 2020 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Are you asking about feelings for just you or kid as well?

I went to college a 12hours drive from my parents and an airport connection made it about a 6hours journey if everything went perfectly with layovers and all that. As a student the big part was what other students were doing. When many other students could and would go home every time they had to do laundry it was difficult but finding a group of friends who stayed on campus or nearby made it much easier. By senior year I would come home for about 1 week of the 4 weeks break (we had a different calendar system than most schools).

It also meant that I would use spring break to go somewhere new or stay on campus so that I didn’t have the hassle of such a short trip.

Honestly, it was a very big part of feeling like I was becoming an adult and “on my own” even if for any real difficulty my parents were only a phone call away.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:24 PM on December 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Specifically on the impracticality: if you're able and willing, sometimes the impracticality is precisely what makes visits supremely meaningful.

I really struggled with the transition to living incredibly far from home when I moved thousands of miles away for graduate school. That surprised me, because I'd been very independent and self-sufficient during college and work years after getting out of high school. Without a doubt, I took my family for granted. I think it was about six months after my move that my parents, sister, and baby niece drove my belongings across the country because I'd finally found a place to live. There have been very few times in my life when I've experienced the relief I felt when they arrived and we got to spend some time together. Many years later, I'd mention this to my mom who would ask me, "honey, why didn't you just ask us to come visit you or help you pay for a flight home for a long weekend?" And I had no idea.

I've tried to translate this into my own stepkids' experiences. Can you occasionally offer an impromptu, not-holiday-related, semi-surprise visit, in either direction? Sometimes I'll Venmo my youngest the amount of $ it takes for him to fuel up and eat for the round trip drive between here and his current town. I think he likes the gesture, and it always elicits a cute text acknowledgment along the lines of , "haha, thanks, I'll see you soon, is next weekend good?"
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:47 PM on December 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's possible your kid will get "adopted" by the parents of friends who either live closer or are more financially able to travel for frequent visits. When I was in college, friends' parents took me out to dinner, to museums, gave me (small) gifts, showed genuine interest in me, and made me feel welcomed and cared for by a parent figure, just because I was their child's friend. It was kind and generous. If your kid gets adopted (or mentions that so and so's parents took him out, etc), remember it and make a note of it so you can reciprocate or at least meet those friends if and when you do visit.
posted by phunniemee at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2020 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Most of my friends and I went to school on the other coast. Almost none went 'home' for Thanksgiving, and most didn't even go 'home' for the summer. None seemed to miss their families in the slightest, even if they had good relationships with their parents. The few people whose parents tried to stay in touch excessively, or expected too much of a relationship during college, ended up derailing my friends' lives and the choices they made (subtely but unmistakably), especially the academic/professional/artistic/social opportunities they passed up during their summers and breaks out of guilt.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:24 PM on December 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I went to college a 36+ hour journey from home (and that required a $1000+ plane ride). I am incredibly close to my mom and so that was really tough. This was also pre i-phone and we communicated mostly via skype credits and calling cards. But I will say that I made some amazing friends either because folks were in a similar situation to me (and we spent breaks and long weekends together), and because I was "adopted" like phunniemee said by someone who is to this day, my best friend. So while its really hard, I do think that technology has made it more possible to stay connected, and you just have to think about all the amazing opportunities that your son is getting at this school that he wouldnt have otherwise.
posted by something_witty at 2:39 PM on December 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In case it helps: it's far easier for him to be so distant now than after college or later. If he wants to be closer after he graduates, you can both make that happen -- and he'll have the experience of very real independence and exactly the education he wanted.
posted by amtho at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I went to college 800 miles from home back when a long distance call was an investment. I talked to my parents once a month. You'll have Facetime or whatever. My youngest just finished up college in May, and we talked to her just about every week. I frequently wonder if being more isolated like I was isn't better for the kids and parents. It forces both to learn to move on from daily contact.
posted by COD at 3:39 PM on December 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have close friends or family who live closer to where KidBlahLaLa will be going to college? It's extremely helpful to have an emergency person who can be called upon to help with no reservations in case something truly urgent/bad happens. If you're a day's travel away under the most ideal circumstances, having someone who can be called upon for a much faster response is great. Hopefully you won't need to call on them, but if you do, having that relationship and agreement to be an emergency person in place before you need it is a great thing.
posted by quince at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My undergrad was ~11 hours driving distance from home. I really didn't want to give up the semi-independent living and got a summer job on campus after freshman year. Came home the summer after sophomore year, hated it, found a way to stay on campus for a different job the next. I had and have good relationships with my parents in many respects, but readjusting to life in the family home on breaks and summers was hard every time, and my social life was 11+ hours away. I imagine this sucked even more from the parent side of things, and I have some regrets myself, so I'll share a few things that might've helped ease the transition:

- More/better independent transportation at home.
- Explicit, parent initiated conversations about me being free to participate in whatever the family was doing (from meals to vacation to whatever), but not obligated to. (Outlining and agreeing on specific obligations would also have been fine; undefined expectations were the hardest.)
- Also explicitly welcoming me living more independently as a college student back home.
- No peanut gallery comments about routine college student life choices (e.g., sleeping until X hour). These were never particularly unkind, but going from a semester of zero comments on my life choices to multiple a day led me to distance further.

Finally, if your kid is flying home, you may be paying for or helping him figure out his travel. Even if both you & he are looking forward to his return, I strongly advise to book a flight several days after the end of finals. (Unless he's renting an apartment where he can leave his stuff until he comes back.) Packing at the end of the semester is stressful for everyone, but if you're trying to fit all your stuff in suitcases and catch a plane as a sleep deprived 19 year old it's... extra stressful. I think I would've started a lot of college breaks on a better foot if I'd had an extra night to catch up on sleep in the dorms before traveling back home.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:07 PM on December 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It's possible your kid will get "adopted" by the parents of friends who either live closer or are more financially able to travel for frequent visits.

Do you have close friends or family who live closer to where KidBlahLaLa will be going to college? It's extremely helpful to have an emergency person who can be called upon to help with no reservations in case something truly urgent/bad happens.

I went to school a hemisphere away from my immediate family (back when phone calls were expensive, and return flights were out of my budget). I remain grateful to the parents of friends who were gracious when their kids brought me along on visits. I'm sure I looked like a pathetic charity case but no one made me feel that way, and it was nice to be welcomed for a dinner or a weekend. So, if your kid can find welcoming friends or family in the area that may help them feel welcome and you feel reassured that they are being cared for.

(Until just now I hadn't realized how angry I still am at the college for kicking me out of the dorms for winter break with nowhere to go; my understanding is that their policies are more humane now but at the time there were always several of us sleeping in corners of campus buildings on breaks when the dorms were shut.)
posted by Dip Flash at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you haven't already done this, I strongly recommend looking into the materials and advice that the college provides. If they're a typical U.S. college, they'll have a full-time staff - many of them, in fact - specifically dedicated to helping students and parents make this transition. This is especially true if the college is in a remote location where they'll have decades or more experience helping everyone make the transition. They almost certainly have recommendations and advice on their website e.g., what to bring (and what to not bring) when moving to campus for the first time, orientation sessions and materials for students and parents, contact information for people who can help.
posted by ElKevbo at 8:15 PM on December 14, 2020

Best answer: A really great thing about going to a more geographically isolated college/ university is that it knows all students are "stuck" in its bubble and plans accordingly. Unlike a more urban school, a more isolated (yet residential) school can't rely on the big city to provide activities for its students. Depending on the wealth of his friend group, your son may visit a friend at his home, travel, or hang out on campus during those short breaks.

It's not worth going home for Thanksgiving. It may not be worth going home for spring break either. Do note that many schools close their dining services over spring break, so he may be fending for himself foodwise that week. However, if you can swing it, it might be meaningful to your son if you could make it to parents' weekend / major sporting event weekend at least once.

Many schools run shuttles to the airport or larger city at the beginning and end of terms.
Summer storage can be an adventure, but I'm sure he will figure things out.

If you are in the position to do so, you might want to break the drop off trip across multiple days.
posted by oceano at 1:24 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So I wasn't going to answer this question at first because I am not a parent, but I see lots of responses from people answering from the child's perspective so I'll dive in. Hope this is helpful.

I went to university in a different country before iphones and easy long distance communications and it was challenging and a commitment to keep in touch with my family. It was a 13 hour flight and super expensive.

My mom wrote me letters YES ACTUAL LETTERS. While my father would email me regularly. I didn't find the regular communications to be any kind of impingement on my life at university. I checked my email once a day and replied to my father then. We spoke on the phone very infrequently because it was expensive and with the time difference it was hard to find a time that worked for both parties. I only got phone calls for big news announcements, so learned to dread them: when my granddad died my dad called to tell me. That was terrible.

I went home just once in my first year, and I hated being away for such a long time (especially since everyone went home over the longer breaks so campus felt like a ghost town) so I asked my family for funding to let me come home more frequently in subsequent years, so like twice a year; because they missed me, they agreed easily. Yes, I know, I was very privileged! :\ I had many international friends and none of them went home for the shorter holidays (e.g. Easter, Reading Week etc) so we kept each other company on campus then, developing an ersatz family life, getting together and cooking etc. All of our parents lived abroad so there was no question of being adopted by friends' parents. I think I only met my close friends' families once or twice. I missed my family, but felt at home at university as long as there were other people there. It was psychologically tough when no one you knew was around, though.

My relationship with my family is so different now that we can do FaceTime and we have a group text etc. It just feels like a completely different life from university and honestly I feel sad that I didn't have access to that kind of frequent, low stakes communication while I was at university. I'm glad things are different now.
posted by unicorn chaser at 5:22 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another note from a kid who moved far away. Though I couldn't have articulated it at the time, in retrospect, I needed the space to figure out that I was trans. So, be prepared more generally for your kid to really change while they are away, and maybe you could even figure out how to support that. Like, "I'm so excited that you get to go to a new place and I'm curious how you'll change."

Also, I recommend doing as much as you can do to make your communication with the kid purely optional but always available. One of my parents would say, "I wish you would call more often" every time I called. The other said "It's great to talk to you, thanks for calling" I called the second one more.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:36 AM on December 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: one thing to be sure of is that your kid will have somewhere to stay during fall break, thanksgiving, etc., if they stay on campus. i went to a super small, isolated college and it literally shut down during breaks. everyone HAD to leave. i was only 3 hours away from home so not super problematic, but for the international students or people 8+ hours away from home, it was an ordeal, especially for what were essentially "long weekend" breaks. i don't know if this is even a thing anymore or a thing at your specific college, but wanted to mention it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:59 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came from a culture where most of the kids I knew went to summer camp for 8 weeks in the summer starting when they were young. Me at 6 (had an older brother there), most at 8 or 9. I had a very good relationship with both of my parents who were divorced. I purposely went to school that was not an easy ride home for the weekend. Mine was anywhere from 7 to 8 hours depending on the time of day and the traffic.

By the time I got to college, it was time to start my own life. As my mother did with me and my brothers, she raised us to be independent. She knew we were moving out of the house when we got into or out of college. She taught us to do the laundry, to cook, to at least know how to clean if we were so inclined. I never came home from college except during winter break. I think I came home 2 out of 4 for Thanksgiving and to be honest, that was mostly to see my HS friends. I stayed in C'ville for the summer 2x (out of 3). The other summer I was working in NYC, commuting. Did not see my mother (or father) much. I would get home late and would chug a glass of V-8 in the morning and say hello.

I think that made my relationship with my parents last my whole life. I would talk to them on the phone often and loved to go visit them when they moved after retirement. My mother and I could spend hours in the kitchen talking about pretty much anything and pretty much nothing.

My kids are now just out of college. They come home for a few days around Thanksgiving if they can (1 out of 3 this year) and a few days at Christmas. (My son in the military, is usually deployed somewhere.) With modern technology (you kids nowadays!) we zoom call or actually Duo call. I would consider my 3 kids close with each other and close with me and close with my ex wife.

In general, I went to a State school so there were always kids nearby for the holidays. My college gf was from 15 minutes from the school. I spent many a holiday with her and her family. I am still in touch with her and her father to this day some **ahem** 35+ years later.

As a family, I always welcomed my kids friends into the holiday fold. Maybe a parent was traveling or their family went on vacation but they did not want to miss basketball practice so they would stay with me. To this day 2 of one of my sons call me "Pops".

The psychological ramifications for me as a parent were hard at times. I admit I missed my kids and the noise around the house. However, I also knew that this is what we raised them to do and to be, independent functioning adults. They know I am still there for them when times get tough, but they also know I support their growing up and them having a life of their own. For them, I am not sure, I would have to ask them, but they also went away for the summers and they were good to go when they went to college. They, of course, missed home, but I would not call it homesick.

Being a HS kid can be the best of times or the worst of times. Going off to college is a fresh start. Your child will make new friends, find new support, struggle at times and realize they can do things they never thought they were capable of at times. Be there to support them via phone, video, email, the occasional care package.
posted by AugustWest at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2020

Best answer: He's going to have so many new things happening that he won't feel especially homesick. But you're going to be lonely. Maybe try to consider in advance some things you can do to fill the void... a new hobby, stuff that having a kid around limited you from doing, more regular get-togethers with friends, etc.
posted by metasarah at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2020

Best answer: We've taken two kids to college so far, and our last one (maybe) heads off this August. Both of our older two went far away for school - from our home in Pennsylvania to Colorado and California respectively.

One thing that worked very well for us was to move the kid into school, and then stay in the general area for a couple days. Our oldest went to school near Denver. We moved him onto campus, then we went to the Family Y camp at Estes Park for a couple days. When we came back down to Denver and stopped in to see him, he rolled up to meet us on campus with a handful of new friends in tow. That made us feel MUCH better about leaving him for reals.

That first day of move-in is just totally overwhelming for all of you. If you can swing it with available time and money, giving the kid a couple days to settle in before you really say goodbye is helpful. You also get a bit of a chance to see where they will be living, if you aren't already familiar with the area. None of us other than our son had been to Colorado before we took him to school.

It took several weeks back home for us to "rebalance" after our oldest left for school. We were all very close with him, and we felt his absence keenly. It was also tough in an unexpected way because he had a great start at college, which meant we heard almost nothing from him until he got a bit homesick in late October.

One last thing - kids who are close to their parents sometimes start acting out in the remaining months at home because they need subconscious justification for separating from you. A friend of ours who teaches high school calls it "soiling the nest" - it can be a little unpleasant here and there. We had good success naming it directly and saying, we accept your independence. You don't have to fight us for it!
posted by sockshaveholes at 4:24 PM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

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