You made it through the difficult process of moving your college-aged child into his dorm room. No doubt you cried a good bit of the way home or possibly the whole rest of the day for that matter. Now, several weeks have passed, but there is seldom a moment that you are not thinking about your somewhat grown child and wondering how he’s doing.
The problem is that you have hardly heard a word from him since he left. In fact, the silence just makes everything feel more intense and yes, lonely. Why doesn’t he call? Does he even care about you anymore? How could he just pack up and move out without any thought to you or your feelings. When it comes to your college kids, there are ways to improve communication.
It can be tough to know how to navigate the separation process with our college-aged kids. We want to encourage them to find their own way and become productive, well-adjusted adults. But, there is a fine line between allowing them to explore their new-found freedom and seeking to maintain the parent-child relationship.
I think balance is an essential component for making communication with your college-aged kids actually happen. Yes, they have passed the graduation rite of passage that signifies their entry into adulthood, but this does not mean they suddenly develop full adult maturity when they walk across the stage.
In fact, your child’s brain has only had three extra months of growth since he was lounging around your house and forgetting to inform you of important dates. You, as the parent, have to be proactive if you want to make communication happen with your college kid.
Here are a few things to consider:
Sometimes in our effort to encourage their independence, we give them all the decisions. The ball should not be placed entirely in your kid’s court! We just wave goodbye and expect them to know that they should communicate with us. But, here’s an important point to internalize here…they are not thinking about you.
They are in a new place, with new friends and new adventures. Not only that, but they are experimenting with making their own schedules and decisions. Which often means, they are staying up way too late and jumping out of bed to run to class in the morning.
However, just because they are not giving one thought to you or your grief doesn’t mean that you have no say in how you communicate. You are going to have to speak up and tell your child what you need from them in terms of communication…there’s more than one person on this team.
Most 18 year-old’s are generally quite self absorbed. Now, pile onto this natural inclination a considerably increased level of responsibility and you have the perfect scenario for neglect.
We expect them to know intuitively what we need from them; I mean they have lived in the same house for their whole life. We clothed them, fed them and mourned their leaving for months before it came; so we just assume they know how much we miss them and how much it means to us to hear their voices.
But the hard truth is, they probably have not given your feelings one thought. Your kid can’t read your mind. So, this is the time that you tell them straight out, “I need to hear from you on a regular basis.” Explain to your children that you understand they are busy and that you are excited about their new opportunities. Then, let them know that you just need a set time to connect with them for a bit each week.
At this point it is very important to ask them when a good time would be for you to call. This allows them to consider a time when they will be less distracted by other things. My husband and I talk talk to our son once a week on Saturday or Sunday morning.
When my son first left home, our phone conversations sounded more like interviews. I would ask a question, in which he would answer with a simple yes or no. This was initially quite frustrating because I never felt like we were connecting.
Here’s the thing, kids in this generation have never really learned to talk on the telephone. So, this will require some honest critique on your part. Give your child fair warning, but explain that you need to hear something about his life the next time you call and also be prepared to talk about what is going on at home. It can be tempting to barrage your kids with too many questions.
Establishing workable communication also teaches your child a valuable lesson…part of being an adult is learning it’s not all about you. It’s OK for you to let them know that you need more in terms of communication than they may need at this stage. It’s OK for them to talk to you regularly just because “you” need them to. It’s called taking other people’s feelings into consideration; that’s what well-adjusted adults do.
Now on the flip side, healthy communication requires respect both ways. It’s also important for parents to respect their kids. This means not calling whenever you want to and expecting your child to drop whatever he’s doing to engage in lengthy conversation. In essence, parents who do this are falling into the old script cliche’. You know the lines: “Sir, you have a call on line 2.”…”Who is it?”…”It’s your mother.”…”Tell her I’m not here.”
Ouch, you don’t want this to be you. Let your college-aged child know what to expect. Otherwise, he is likely to resent your calls as interruptions in his life. If once a week seems too long for you, consider using texting or messenger to send small notes during the week, but be prepared to keep the conversation short. Your kid will be more likely to answer if he knows you will not drag the communication on too long if he replies.
I can honestly say that I am immensely satisfied with the communication we have established with our son. It took a little trial and error, but we have ended in a good place. I hope my experiences can make the transition a little smoother for you in establishing satisfying communication with your college-aged kids.
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