After move-in day, you head home and hopefully get 2-3 weeks of separation from your student before he or she comes home or you go back to visit. These weeks are crucial for students to make connections and establish habits that will sustain them in the months that follow. A premature visit can disrupt that process, but a well-timed visit to campus a few weeks into the semester can help both parents and students reconnect as a family, catch up on each other’s lives, and evaluate how the college experience is affecting all involved. So if you haven’t seen your student for a few weeks and you’re planning a visit for Parents Weekend, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Talk to your student briefly before the visit to discuss in advance what time you’ll spend together, what functions you’ll attend together or separately, where you’ll sit for the football game, where you might go to church on Sunday, and other such plans. Communication in advance will help you all manage your expectations for the weekend. Except in dire circumstances, never pop in for a visit unannounced.
  2. Don’t expect to spend every waking hour with your student when you visit campus. Your son or daughter now has a life that doesn’t often include you. Friends, studies, rituals, habits, organizations, and responsibilities now occupy his or her time. Those things don’t cease just because you’re visiting. On our first visit to campus to see my son, he dropped by our tailgate for a few minutes, crammed his stomach full of food, and then returned to game-day festivities with his friends after about 30 minutes. We saw him later in the day, and some the next, but he went right on with his life, which showed me that he’d adjusted well to college.
  3. Avoid the temptation to read too much into your student’s response to seeing you. Some students may be tearful and others rather placid. Their emotional reaction to your visit may be more a factor of how much sleep they’ve gotten than their excitement or aversion to seeing you. And here’s a hint: your student is probably ALWAYS sleep deprived, so take their reactions with a grain of salt.
  4. Look around at your student’s life. Take a mental snap-shot of what you see. What are your student’s friends like? Is the car running well and in decent shape? Is his/her room functionally organized? Of course it is reasonable to begin to form some preliminary evaluations, but keep your observations to yourself for now. Parent’s Weekend should probably be a time for celebration more than correction.
  5. Pick your battles. As you see your student’s life on campus, you will inevitably find some things you are pleased with and some things that bother you. Don’t micromanage, but you should express concern where it is warranted. When my wife first visited our son’s dorm room, she was appalled by the smell. I was more concerned with my son’s sleep habits. Although different things felt important to each of us, we had to be careful that we didn’t nit-pick. As you talk with your student about college life, try to focus on the things that really matter.
  6. Ask the right questions. We parents tend to ask our students general questions like, “How’s the semester going?” or “Are you doing well in your math class?” Such questions tend to elicit monosyllabic responses. Instead, ask specific questions that are easier to answer and yield more information, such as “What is your favorite thing about campus?” or “Who is your favorite professor and why?” or “What is the most difficult part of being a college student?” I have a talkative child and two quiet children and these questions have tended to work better for them all at any age.
  7. Relax and have fun. Go into the weekend with a light-hearted attitude expecting to have fun. You may be worried or anxious about how your student is adjusting and that is normal. Express confidence in how they are doing, be encouraging, take them to eat at their favorite restaurant, and maybe give them a little extra spending money. This is a weekend for things that lighten the mood and lift the spirits. A bit of preparation and forethought can help it be so.

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