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Staying Connected to Your College Kids

How do you keep up a relationship with a child who is in college? Is it possible to nourish, and even deepen, your bond, despite being many miles apart? What's the appropriate number of times that you should write, phone, and visit her? Should you just cut the cord, acknowledging and reinforcing her independence, and let her determine how much contact she wishes to maintain with you? You'll ponder and debate these questions more with your first college student, and you may discover that there will be different answers to these questions with each of your college kids.

How do you balance your communication with your college girl so that she feels cared for and remembered, but not monitored and suffocated? First, accept the fact that there is no successful set formula for this communications balancing act. It could consist of a brief email every other day, one phone call every Sunday at noon, two long letters per month, and a care package during exam periods. You'll discover that a natural rhythm of connecting with each other will evolve over time. She'll give you many subtle and direct cues regarding how she needs to stay connected to you — how often she initiates contact, the content and tone of her emails and letters, how she sounds during phone calls, and how she behaves when you visit her.

Here's one concrete communications rule that you need to follow after you've dropped off your college student to begin her freshman year: Don't wait for her to be the first to initiate contact. She may feel that a call home during her first week of college signals her lack of independence and her inability to handle her new environment. So call your "grown-up," bewildered, overwhelmed, excited, and possibly homesick freshman during that first week. Your loving and supportive voice will anchor her. Your timely phone call will reassure her that although she has left home, you are always there for her.

Computer Contact

Emails can be short or long. Because they are so quick and easy to send, you may find yourself unintentionally overdoing it. But unless your child indicates that you are sending her too many emails (several per day may fit that category), I wouldn't worry too much about "burdening" her with too much computer contact. The beauty of email is the ease, frequency, and immediacy with which you can say, "I'm thinking of you. I love you." Be realistic and don't expect an immediate response — or any response to every one of your emails. Don't take it personally that the communication is one-sided at times, or that her replies are 2 four-word sentences. Keep sending emails. Trust me, the connection is being made.

Letters...the "Other Mail"

Based upon the testimonies of many college kids I've known (including my own children), there's nothing quite like opening your college mailbox and finding a letter from home — a long, juicy letter from home (unless it's finding a long, juicy letter from your boyfriend or girlfriend). There's just something almost magical about opening up a formerly empty box and finding that something has appeared there for you. It felt great when you were 8 and it still feels great at 19. All letters don't have to be long or juicy. One of my college roommate's letters from his dad consisted of newspaper and magazine articles with "FYI. Love, Dad," written on them. The content of all these articles was always of particular interest to my roommate and I could tell by his smiles when he opened the envelopes that he and his dad had a special connection going. Be they a 10-page epic written on both sides of the paper, or a single comic strip that your child would find amusing, keep those letters coming!

Care Packages

The sight of a care package from home in the dorm's mail delivery room has left many a college student weak-kneed and salivating (especially if the smells wafting from the wrapped package are strong enough to be recognizable). Colleges caught on long ago to making money with the care package concept. The college care packages that you may purchase are usually geared toward delivery on birthdays, holidays, and exam periods. While I'm sure that she would be delighted to receive one of these college offerings, nothing can compare to eating her favorite homemade treats. (C'mon, how can a Milky Way compare to your legendary lemon squares!) Cost, breakage, and spoilage are what limit the contents and the frequency of care packages from home. I've received care packages. I've seen others get them. I've sent them to my kids. They're a guaranteed hit and loving connection. So start baking those lemon squares!


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