Your phone buzzes. You’re thrilled when you see it’s a text from your child—the one you dropped off at college four weeks ago. But, when you open the message, your heart sinks.
I hate it here. I have no friends. I want to come home.
The collegiate honeymoon is over. Your child is homesick. And this text seems to come just as you’re missing him most. Your heart says, “Go! Get him! Bring that baby home!” But your rational side knows this is all part of the learning curve of college.
Unfortunately, this painful scenario is not uncommon among families of first year students. How should parents respond to the heart-wrenching tears of a distressed freshman? One expert suggests you “move like your feet are stuck in molasses.” No matter how much you want to rush in (and I promise you will), do not leap into action. Instead, help your student process what he or she is feeling and work toward a solution.
Here are a few tips to help your student overcome homesickness, collected from current college students:
*Design cred goes to Gabrielle, our AWESOME Radi to Write Intern.
This is not how it’s supposed to be, I thought as my husband and I packed up our daughter’s belongings from her dorm room.
I choked back tears as I boxed up her barely used Keurig and like-new text books, her fluffy white comforter and coordinating desk lamp. These same items—so full of promise and possibility when we helped her unpack them three short weeks ago—were painful reminders now of how the best laid plans can change in the blink of an eye.
Two weeks into the school year, our daughter, in a fluke accident, sustained her third concussion. Her third traumatic brain injury. And at that moment, her collegiate path was altered.
Instead of living in the dorm and going to classes, she’ll spend the upcoming months living at home to allow her brain the time and the environment it needs to heal. Instead of taking quizzes and attending football games, she’ll be juggling a full calendar of occupational therapy, vision therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, pain management, and most importantly rest.
We had to make the difficult decision to medically withdraw her for her first semester of college. To full-grown adults, it’s only a few months, but to a kid who was eager to begin college life—her next chapter—a few months feels like an eternity. She’s missing the first semester of her freshman year, a season of making friends and football games, of midnight pizzas and communal bathrooms. A season of discovery and wonder.
I keep telling her that the path from point A to point B is not always a straight line, that her path from high school through college will have plenty of curves. But it’s in the curves where we grow the most. That is the place we learn who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s also where we find our strengths and the people who matter. But I don’t think it helps, at least not right now. Right now she needs to mourn. Then she needs to heal. And hopefully, one day she can look back on this experience and see a silver lining in the curves.
My reason for writing about this is twofold. One, I hope to let other parents know they are not alone if their children are not following “traditional” paths or if they are struggling in this season of adjustment. Second, I hope I can offer a small glimpse into the impact (pun intended) concussions can have on young brains so that people will be more understanding and more compassionate of people suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
There are many misconceptions out there. Trust me, I’ve heard them all over the past two years since our daughter received her first concussion. If I had a dollar every time I heard someone say concussions are “no big deal” or that “everybody gets their bell rung once in awhile,” I’d use that pile of money to pay our pile of medical bills!
Her first concussion happened on the tennis court and took several months to heal. Her second, the result of a fall on wet, slippery tile, took several weeks. And here we are again today with no Magic 8 Ball to tell us what to expect for recovery time. That’s the thing about concussions. They affect each person differently. Some people recover quickly, in a matter of a few days. Others, like our daughter are not so fortunate. She’s one of the unlucky people who are more prone to receiving them and require a much longer recovery time.
As a mom, I feel protective and helpless. This is a problem I cannot fix.
I get a little prickly when people make well-meaning comments like, “she looks fine.” Of course she does. Her injury is on the inside. They don’t understand that she starts every day with an excruciating headache, that her super-cute glasses are actually special prism lenses designed to help her eyes as they struggle to focus, or that she misses her social life. A lot. They don’t know how isolated she feels, what it’s like to not be able to read a book or look at a television or computer or iPhone for weeks. She’s eighteen and just wants to feel “normal” and do regular things like SnapChat, drive a car, stay up late, or go to a concert with friends. But she can’t. Not yet, anyway.
After we loaded up the last of her dorm room things yesterday, I spent the three hour drive home working through my own stages of grief. I cried and prayed and dealt with my own fear and frustration, my sadness for her and her delayed dreams.
About half way home, I heard a loud crack of thunder and the sky opened up with rain drops pelting my windshield so hard the wipers struggled to keep up. But moments later, the rain stopped and the sun broke through with radiant beams of light bouncing off the dash. The sunshine after the storm, for me, symbolized hope and reminded me to be grateful. Grateful she’s alive and that she will recover over time. Grateful we get a “bonus” few months with her at home. Grateful for her committed, caring team of docs, nurses and therapists. And oh so grateful for our village—the friends and family who have reached out to her and to us, sending cards, offering much-welcomed hugs and asking what they can do to help.
As I continue to to work through the emotions of this situation, I know I must let go of the words “supposed to” and focus on the present, on “what is.” I must remember to be grateful and keep my priorities in check.
After all, a wise woman once told her daughter that the path from point A to point B is not always a straight line. But it is in the curves where we often grow the most. That is the place we learn who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s also where we find our strengths and the people who matter.
I need to lean into the curves.
I cannot believe it has been a whole year since we launched Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage.
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I’m overwhelmed by your positive feedback and cannot thank you enough for taking the time to share your stories with me. I’m so grateful for your support and help in spreading the word that Out to Sea is a valuable resource for parents of high school and college students.
Just this week, I received this wonderful message from a stranger—a mom who purchased the book.
I just finished reading your book and I wanted to say thank you for writing such a helpful book for first time parents sending their kids to college! Our son just moved in this past Monday to the U of MN Twin Cities and although he is not far from home, the letting go process was hard.
With all of your helpful advice and encouragement I made it through ‘ The Day.’ Of course, there were tears involved. 🙂
So again, thank you so much, I will refer back to this book often for more advice and encouragement during this college journey and I will be happy to let my friends know what a great book it is also.
It’s letters like these that make the years of researching and writing and marketing all worth it!
I wrote this book, this survival guide, as we were launching our firstborn because I wanted practical and emotional guidance through the process. And now I get to help others as they go through this high school-to-college transition.
What an honor! It is one I don’t take for granted. I’ve enjoyed and sincerely appreciate every book signing, presentation, workshop, Facebook message, re-tweet, blog post and email. Here are just a few photos from this year to remember.
I treasure the face-to-face (and virtual) contact I get with fellow parents. Please continue to stay in touch—even as your students move through the college years. We are in this together!
Join me on Facebook @KellyRadi and on my website raditowrite.com where I’ll continue to post blogs and articles on parenting our young adults. I’m excited to see where this second year will take Out to Sea. I’d love to see some pics if you spot the book in a new city, college bookstore, or shop. Or better yet, in the hands of a reader! Please share them on Facebook and tag me.
Lastly, please share my name and Out to Sea with your students’ guidance counselors, admissions counselors and university parent groups. I’d love to add their schools to my speaking calendar!
Thank you for making this year a remarkable one.
Parents, YOU are the WHY in what I do. May you empower your students as they navigate into and beyond the college years. I wish you all smooth sailing!
With heartfelt gratitude,
P.S. Additional thanks to all the fine retailers who carry and promote Out to Sea!
A gentle reminder for parents who are struggling to let go…
‘Tis the season! You know…the one where parents of first time college students are both excited and terrified at the same time. Where we are thrilled they have the opportunity to grow their minds and attend institutions of higher learning, yet worry that they won’t know how to do their own laundry. Where we fuss about coordinating comforters and twin extra-long sheets so we don’t have to think about how much we’ll miss them when they’re off to school.
Well, we are facing that reality here at the Radi house as our youngest child prepares to launch. I recently wrote a poem for parents (like me) who are experiencing anxiety on the night before move-in day. It was published last week on Grown & Flown, a website and blog about parenting older kids, and has received tremendous feedback.
If you’re interested, you can find the poem by clicking on the link below.
In addition, please follow me @outtoseaparents on Facebook where I share information on how to prepare for and survive the high school-to-college transition.
Lastly, please spread the word that Out to Sea is a great resource for parents as they face the Freshman Voyage! Thanks so much for your support.
College life means living in spaces that can be a bit of a tight squeeze. But with a little creativity, a dorm room can become your student’s home sweet home in no time!
Here are a seven ways to personalize the space and help make cozy quarters that are inspiring and inviting:
Organization doesn’t have to be boring. Think outside the box and repurpose old crates, pails and stackable baskets or hang over-the-door caddies to maximize every square foot. Don’t forget to take advantage of under bed storage. Use a favorite mug to wrangle stray pens or make a vintage-looking tiered jewelry tray out of thrift store items.
Multifunctional furniture is the key to a versatile space. Shop for affordable dual-purpose futons and clever storage ottomans. Use crates for a coffee table and have instant book storage underneath. A sturdy book shelf holds more than books—it also serves as a creative, functional kitchenette. Just add coffee maker, microwave and an eclectic set of coordinating dishes.
Personalize the space with handmade wall art. Use inexpensive canvas to design custom pieces that reflect his or her personality! Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things from abstract art to pet paintings. Creating is therapeutic and these one-of-a-kind pieces make great conversation starters.
Rugs, pillows and textured blankets provide warmth to an otherwise institutional space. Use an array of pillows to add color and comfort on the bed and seating areas. A large area rug anchors the room, giving feet a soft place to land, while layering smaller rugs brings texture to the space. Throw blankets keep a drafty room feeling cozy and provide a cuddly “hug” when homesickness strikes.
Turn on the lights
Add decorative ambiance to the room with battery-powered candles, holiday lights (if they’re allowed) and lamps. Just a couple of lamps bring a stylish, homey touch to a dorm room at a minimal expense. Try a fun salt crystal lamp or vintage-looking lava lamp for an extra dose of fun!
Leave a message
A mirror can serve more than one purpose. It makes a great message center when you add a colorful selection of whiteboard makers. Use it to jot down the weekly grocery list or a day-brightening message to a roommate.
Surround yourself with those you love
Print off favorite photos for a personalized display wall. Use twine and clothespins to artfully display pictures of family and friends, or add some pizzaz with wall-friendly washi tape frames.
Kelly Radi is an author, speaker and mom of two college students. She shares secrets to a successful college launch in her book Out To Sea: A Parents’ Guide to the Freshman Voyage, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Cost Plus World Market and several independent retailers.