The Women in Housing series is a project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Julie Weber.
I thought I was going to be ready. I mean, of course I was…I’ve worked in higher education since my work study job in the housing office as an undergrad in 1980 and have been a housing director for over 20 years so what on earth could be the big deal about our oldest son beginning his college experience? I’d be the cool parent: hands off, let him take care of things on his own, know all about FERPA, and certainly not use my position to help with anything. Right?
Wrong. Wrong. And wrong again! Everything I thought I knew about being the parent of a college student started going out the window from the moment he started his applications. To be fair, I threw a wrench into the whole process by leaving New Mexico State University during his senior year of high school to take a job at the University of Louisville, but I still thought it would be simple and he’d go to school wherever I worked. Right?
And wrong again. Sort of. He had already been accepted at New Mexico State but applied to U of L as well. That was our first adventure as I had to work with the Director of Admissions to manage his application as an in-state student with an out-of-state address but no problem. He got accepted and I thought we were all set. Until he said maybe he’d stay in New Mexico for college. Time to be cool mom and not put any pressure on him, right? Well, sort of. I took a deep breath, referred him to some former colleagues to sort out financial aid, etc. and then tried to be patient. This one paid off as patience worked and he ultimately accepted his offer of admission from U of L. One item checked off the list.
So now I could take a step back and let him handle the rest. Right? Uh, no. The long-distance issue made it a challenge through his senior semester so I needed to help with the local arrangements. Right? Or so I justified it to myself as I read all of his orientation, registration, and other materials. It was a little easier for me than some of the other parents because he was going to live at home. (Don’t even go there…I KNOW I’m the housing director and I believe in the value of living on campus but it was going to be easier for him to live at home than on-campus sharing a last name with the director. Right?)
Fast forward: he graduates from high school and moves to Louisville right afterward. Then it comes time for his overnight orientation program. I decline to attend the parent program because I already know everything about being the parent of a college student. LOL. He’s totally cool about orientation although he does call me from his overnight accommodation to tell me it’s in one of our oldest buildings and I should really do something to bring it up to date. Appreciate the feedback! All’s good and I’m doing great until I get a panicked text from him asking if I could come over during lunch because he’s so confused. Do I do what I have advised parents for years and encourage him to talk to his orientation leader to sort things out? NO! I rush over at lunch to help him out! At least I manage not to insert myself into registration session and let him sign up for classes himself.
Then he needs some immunizations and his shot record for enrollment. I get to experience, for the first time, the doctor “asking” me to leave the room because my son is over 18 and gets to make some decisions himself. So not ready for that one but I survive.
Fast forward again to the first week of school. All has been going well and I’ve been pretty hands off. OK, except for helping him figure out how to buy his books, making sure he sets his alarm before he goes to bed, checking on his fraternity rush experience, and asking him every night if he’s doing his homework. Then he announces he is missing all the fun stuff and he wants to move on campus. Biggest. Challenge. Ever. Now our higher education worlds will totally collide! But being the mature, independent young man that he is, he gets a job on campus, signs up for housing, and onto campus he goes which has continued to this day. He’s having a good experience, has joined a fraternity, is doing well in school, and is having the experience we hope for when our kids go off to college.
And how am I doing with it? Funny you should ask. I need to apologize to every parent I have ever met during my career. I get it now. Going cold turkey from the constant engagement in their high school experience to the FERPA-required hands off approach is way harder than I ever understood. My experience has helped me develop some new strategies with parents because I understand what they are going through. I am definitely a different type of compassionate with them. The one thing I was right about: when you have a good relationship with you child, it doesn’t disappear when they go to college. It might change but it’s still there.
Oh, and all those judgmental things I said or thought about kids bringing their laundry home from school? Well, forget that, too because I do my son’s laundry almost every weekend. But it’s (really) because it’s one of the few things I still do for him and it’s a connection to believing he still needs me for some of the basics. It honestly made me a little sad yesterday when he said he was going to borrow some of his roommate’s detergent and try his laundry on his own.
Is it bad if I hope at least a little that he ends up with pink socks and brings his dirty clothes home next weekend?
Julie Weber is the Director of Campus Housing at the University of Louisville after having served in similar positions at New Mexico State University and American University. Julie's been in the housing field since her sophomore year at Northeastern University where she had her first work study position in the housing office. Julie and her husband have two sons, 19 and 16.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.