My “College Girls” came home last weekend. Daughter #1 is a sophomore coming off a gap semester and a transfer to our state flagship school. I saw her for exactly as long as it took for her to lug in a huge blue Ikea bag full of laundry and to grab the keys to the car. The rest of her weekend was spent with her boyfriend, and she seemed so happy that I can’t even be upset.
After a rocky start to college, I am relieved to see her so carefree. All I can do is stalk her Instagram and VSCO accounts for evidence of where she is. Daughter #2 is a freshman. It was her first trip home since we dropped her off at the beginning of September. She spent the majority of her weekend on the couch watching Gilmore Girls and crying.
my youngest daughter is miserable right now during her freshman year
Number 2 loves her new city and her classes, but she hasn’t found her people. She has met kids and has people she can hang out with on Saturday night, but she hasn’t met that life changing friend group. The ones you want to be in your wedding and might name your kids after.
I have reminded her that she’s only been there for 35 days and that she’s been sick basically the entire time. That she wasn’t BFFs with her crazy-great high school friends immediately. I tried to make her smile by offering trips to Target, a manicure, apple pie for breakfast.
Even though I am confident that she is on her way and WILL find her people, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t kill me to see her upset. I can only be as happy as my least happy child, and she’s winning that race. By a mile.
Having back-to-back freshmen has taught me a few things that I’m not sure the parenting websites and Facebook forums told me. Or maybe they did tell me and I assumed those things didn’t apply to me, because we all want to believe that our kids will make an easy, seamless transition to college.
Five things I’ve learned (the hard way) about freshman year of college
1. If your child was a fall athlete (or a fall thespian, or a fall member of the marching band) in high school, expect a big gaping hole
Both of my daughters played a fall sport in middle school and high school, and the beginning of college was the first time in seven years that they were not immediately part of a team. The pasta parties and the buses to away games and the early Saturday morning captain’s practices vanished. The camaraderie of having an entire team of people to spend time with? Gone.
Can college club sports and intramurals help fill the hole? Sure, but it’s not the same. High school athletics were like a second job my girls spent upwards of 20 hours a week doing. That’s a lot of time to fill. Despite what they might tell you, many students have an abundance of time, and time can be heavy. It tricks you into thinking you have nothing to do and nobody to do it with.
2. College is not the way you remember it
I remember parties and bars and all-nighters and those things definitely still exist. But I also remember nights I stayed in and read Cosmo or watched reruns of Family Ties on the tiny TV in my dorm room. I had no idea what other people were doing. Nowadays, when our kids stay in for the night – by choice or not – they have a window into ALL the fun the rest of the world is having without them.
Plus they can watch all their high school friends having fun at their colleges. Everyone is having more fun than they are.When I was in college I called my parents maybe… twice a week? It was a long distance call and I paid my own phone bill. My parents only knew exactly what I told them about school. They couldn’t see me on Instagram or Snapchat.
Texting hadn’t been invented. There was no Facebook group for Fordham parents that they could follow. I am pretty sure they spent minimal time worrying about my happiness, not because they didn’t care, but because what they were only privy to was an edited version of my life.
Parents today are getting a play by play. Even if you have a kid who doesn’t share much, you can see what’s happening on campus in real time. You can see all the kids posing with the campus dogs and attending sporting events and doing yoga at sunrise. And you will comb through those photos looking for your kids.
3. You will be the repository for all their unhappiness
If they slept poorly, they’ll tell you. If they don’t feel good, they’ll tell you. Annoying roommate? That call’s for you. Raining? They’re letting you know. Basically anything that could merit a complaint will be reported directly to you. This will lead you to believe that everything is awful, always. You will lay awake at night trying to figure out which Mucinex is the right one (Spoiler: none of them are. You will spend $67 to learn this lesson).
You will check the weather in their college town to decide if they need a better raincoat and if $20 for express shipping is reasonable. While you worry about these things they will be blissfully eating ice cream and watching Tik Toks, because they’ve handed all their unhappiness off to you.
4. You can send them Starbucks gift cards via text
Did you know this? Because I didn’t until last week. So when they tell you it’s going to rain, send them a $5 gift card. BAM. Instant hero. Turned in that paper? Make it $10.
5. No matter how well adjusted your kid is, their world will be rocked
And so will yours. Both of my daughters had really positive high school experiences with solid grades and good friends. Everyone told me they’d be fine no matter where they landed because they are so resilient and smart and personable. But even the most well adjusted kids are starting from square one when they arrive on campus.
New classes, new bed, new friends, new expectations. We need to normalize it not being easy. We need to let our students know that good things take time. That it’s actually normal to feel like this is hard, because it IS.
And we, as parents, need to take this advice, too.
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