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Homesick College Freshman
Episode #140 My College Freshman Wants to Move Back Home.
How do I help him?
Question of the Day:
My son is a freshman in college, living in the dorms and struggling as many do. He’s a few states away but has been home twice already to visit. Classes and roommates are fine, it’s just harder than he thought it was going to be to make friends.
He’s an introvert by nature so initiating social interactions is far outside his comfort zone. He feels like a fish out of water. He misses his home, his mom’s cooking, his dogs, and is talking about moving back to go to our local community college.
His Dad is encouraging to join clubs and get more involved which I’m sure would help but it’s just so hard for him. Part of me wants to open my arms and welcome him back home, but the other part of me knows this is a huge learning experience and I don’t want him to miss out on this growth opportunity.
Is it better to encourage him to stick it out, or let him know he can always come back? How do I help my homesick college freshman?
Parent Educator Answer:
You sound like a very loving and caring momma which is exactly what your son needs at this stage of life. The good news is, you don’t really need to choose one or the other. You can encourage him to stick it out, AND let him know he can come back if he chooses to. The best thing you can do is listen and be a sounding board for him as he works through this challenging time.
Going away to college is a HUGE transition in a person’s life. The independence, the lack of structure, the new people, the way one eats, sharing a room with strangers, it’s OVERWHELMING! Teens are usually coming from a very busy, jam packed high school schedule, where they have very little say. Then suddenly their schedule has a lot of down time and no one is going to fill it for them.
We all go through big transitions in our lives but going from a kid to an adult, living on a college campus with all these changes to navigate, is one of the top 5 big ones.
Think back into your child’s past. How have they handled transitions when they were younger? Did they embrace novelty? Did they resist until it happened and then settled in? When they’ve traveled or went to sleepaway camp, did they have a tough time adjusting to a new routine? Or did they come home because they couldn’t adjust?
My daughter was a nightmare when we took her to Australia as a toddler. She hated everything being new and different, complained everyday until we were flying back home when she sweetly commented, “That was fun, when are we going back?”
Your child has a history of how he handled previous transitions. Look for a pattern and share it with him. Maybe he can pull from past experiences to gain wisdom for handling today’s challenge.
Think of your child as a caterpillar. As he goes through school, he grows bigger and bigger, until you’ve got an 18 year old fully grown caterpillar.
Then college comes. Most kids don’t immediately grow wings and become a butterfly in the first week. Usually they go through this weird phase of “Who am I now?” I’m still the same person but I live in a different place with different people. I have more responsibilities and more independence but I don’t feel like I’ve got my act together. It’s this uncomfortable phase of not being a caterpillar, but also not being a butterfly. This liminal phase of life feels really awkward so it’s really common for kids to want to bail and come back home to where they were last comfortable.
The kids who get through the liminal phase the fastest are the ones who are socially outgoing, feel confident joining groups and meeting strangers. But this requires tremendous courage when it’s not in your nature. It’s hard to be brave and socially confident when you feel like a fish out of water.
Most college freshman say something like this:
“I’m pretty sure everyone else is doing it right and I am doing it wrong.”
“Everyone else is going to parties but no one is inviting me.”
“Everyone else is making connections and having fun so there must be something wrong with me.”
It reminds me of a statistic from researcher Dr. Joanne Deak who found that 86% of all middle schoolers feel socially on the outside. If the majority of people are on the out, who’s in? That’s a pretty big group of social misfits. And of course seeing Instagram photos of people having fun makes it easy to believe you are alone in your aloneness.
The key is to let your son know that feeling awkward MEANS he’s doing it right. It’s ok to not know, to feel lost, scared, overwhelmed and confused. He’s not a caterpillar, and he’s not a butterfly yet either. He’s just goo, looking for a chrysalis to help him feel safe.
It is normal to want to go back to the last place he felt grounded and comfortable. But moving home is still going to feel awkward. His high school friends will have moved on. He won’t have the same routine he had. Things have changed. The forming butterfly can’t go back to being a caterpillar.
Part of becoming that butterfly is learning to make big decisions about your life. Parents can listen, encourage, and be supportive to whatever he decides is right for him. There are many paths to success and there is no one right way to maneuver through this stage of life. Some kids need to spend a little longer in the chrysalis before they are ready to break free.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way from being supportive, encouraging and NEUTRAL in our opinions?
We think we know what’s best for our kids….and a lot of the time we are right.
Our kids aren’t supposed to go through life without hiccups, detours and rocky roads! They NEED to make mistakes so they can learn from first hand experience.
When a butterfly is fully formed it starts pushing and struggling to break free from the chrysalis. If a human comes along to try and help the butterfly break free, the butterfly dies. The struggle is key to the butterfly’s success. It’s through the pushing and the effort that the butterfly develops the strength it needs to fly.
When we try to “rescue” our kids from struggle or arrange their lives so they only experience positive emotions, we rob them of developing the strength and grit they need to overcome future challenges.
What gets in our way from supportive listening? Difficulty watching our children struggle.
There are 2 ways we TRY to help that don’t usually work:
- We feel bad for them and with them. This can make them feel better but it makes us feel worse! We hang up the phone agonizing about how miserable our child is, suffering until we talk to them again, only to discover they felt fine the whole time.
- We tell them what to do to feel better. This makes us feel better because we think we have the solution to their problem, but it makes them feel worse because this is THEIR problem to solve and their struggle is serving a purpose. When we tell them what to do, they feel less capable and don’t learn the lesson that the struggle is their to teach.
Watching a child struggle, without the parent struggling alongside, is something I work on a lot with my clients (and myself!) but it is possible. It’s reminding yourself that this is THEIR journey and they are learning things through this experience that you could never teach them.
It’s showing your child that you have faith in THEIR ability to solve their own problems.
You will offer your opinion if it’s asked, but trust them to figure things out in a way that is right for them.
Supermom Kryptonite: High Speed Living
When everyone around us is rushing, it feels like rushing is the thing to do. Our friend talks fast, we talk fast back. We multitask: we schedule appointments at red lights, we shop online while waiting for our kid’s music recital to begin, we eat in the car, we talk while we walk, we are a culture that worships being busy. It feels normal because everyone around us is doing it but it drains our energy.
Sure we get a surge of adrenaline from moving fast and being busy, but it’s like too much caffeine, eventually burn out, hit a wall, and crash.
If you move through your day like a chicken with it’s head cut off, find some other animals whose energy you would like to channel.
Make time to be more like a fish, swimming from thing to thing with graceful ease.
Try being an owl, observing your life from above, making wise choices and being deliberate with your intention.
When can you turn on sloth mode and move slowly? Try talking slower, moving your body slower, breathing slower, you will be amazed at how relaxed you feel.
Supermom Power Boost: Holiday Crazies Challenge
I was talking with a client and she said “I wish moms had a class dojo app like my kids do where we get points just for showing up, being on time, and getting our work done.” and it reminded me, I HAVE THAT! It’s called The Holiday Crazies Supermom Challenge. It’s just for this time of year. You earn points for doing all the extra things that show up every December, but you earn EVEN MORE points when you DON’T do all the things!
If you muster up the energy and creativity to do Elf on The Shelf, you get 20 points. When you bail on the Elf after 2 days, you get 50 points! Give a gift to a teacher, 10 points for you! If you bought a gift for yourself, go ahead and take 50 points!
Don’t wait for your family to show appreciation for your hard work, appreciate yourself now by joining the Holiday Crazies Supermom Challenge inside the Supermom is Getting Tired Facebook Group.
You deserve some credit for all you do to make this time of year special.