Author: Julie King (B.A. ’92, Parent ’18 & ’18)

Navigating college as a parent or family member comes with a number of challenges and rewarding experiences. Staying connected with your student oftentimes falls into both categories. In this piece Bruin (and Trojan…) mother and UCLA alumnae, Julie King,  shares her reflections on her own journey as a mother of three college students and some insights into what she has learned along the way.

Sometimes it seems like an eternity, other times just yesterday.  With the last suitcase unpacked and one last glimpse at the picture-perfect dorm, you left your student prepared to embark on the college experience. As you made your way home, you realized that life as you know it had forever been altered.

The house was eerily quiet.  The rooms stayed immaculate, and the only one who was interested in dinner was your dog, hoping you would remember he was still one of your children. Your other children at home soon realized that Mom and Dad’s attention now turned to them. As you started this new journey as a college parent, you were caught wondering how your student would ever manage without you.  True, you reason, they must have had some smarts and common sense to have achieved admittance to one of the premier universities in the nation, but still you couldn’t help but wonder how he was getting along, and if he was surviving, let alone enjoying, his experience.

Today’s generation of college parents has a unique dilemma – we were raised on rotary, analog and hard copy only to be thrown into a quick mastery of digital, smartphones and social media, somehow maintaining a delicate balance between both worlds and trying to act like we’re on top of it all. In our own college experience, communication with our parents meant a phone call (usually collect, with a calling card) now and then, and cards and letters were the norm for those who lived far away.  Conversely, our kids were born in the internet generation, and smartphones became commonplace when they were barely out of elementary school.

As Millennials soon discovered that Mom and even Grandma were on Facebook, they quickly turned to other methods of communication with each other – Instagram, Twitter, and especially Snapchat, which seemed particularly tricky to us “elders”, who needed at least three seconds to find our readers before the image disappeared before us.  We found ourselves becoming quickly adept at these other forms of social media, hoping that our beloved will post a glimpse into their college experience.

As communication etiquette has changed exponentially, just in our children’s lifetimes, the phone call has gradually given way to the text.  As one with two college seniors and now a freshman, I have learned that texting has become the most efficient way to say hello, check availability to call (ironically), or simply to share a funny anecdote or pearl of wisdom with them.  You soon find out, however, that just because you are able to text them does not necessarily mean that they will jump to respond.  Just as your children are vastly different from each other, so are their response times to your maternal texting.  You find yourself with a string of unanswered texts and periods of radio silence, so you alter your communication to only asking questions or even using humor to spur a response.  In their own time, they do respond – and when you finally get to talk to them, you find that they are the same person you left a few months ago, but with a treasure trove of experiences to share.  Some are homesick, some are struggling, but more often than not, most are grateful that the voice of Mom or Dad brings a nice taste of home to their new worlds.

As the holidays approach, they come home for an all-too-brief visit, and you realize that they start to act like a guest instead of a resident.  The reunions with siblings (and the dog) are the best part, but it’s ok to remind them that they can still help with the dishes and take the trash out. As they bring half of what they packed back with them (only not quite as neatly packaged as you left it), you find yourself never so happy to do laundry (yes, really), and the regular noise of a full house once again brings joy to your world.

As my youngest has now entered college, (in his case, at that other school across town), I have found that I have a better sense of what to expect in hearing from him.  I am lucky in that all three of my boys are within an hour of our home, and we have been able to attend all (except one) of the home football games for both teams.  Being that all three are in marching band, we have gotten to see them at post game performances. However, the house is even quieter, and the days seem to tick slowly toward the next time at home (especially for the dog).

In the four short years our students are away, we start to see a new adult emerging, one with newfound independence and maturity. We start to realize that perhaps a little of our efforts in their upbringing actually did sink in, and we marvel at their abilities to make decisions and carry on without us. And, wasn’t that really our ultimate goal in giving them a quality education from the start?