Tia Etter – Digital Media Manager
I was a resident assistant (RA) in college for three years – meaning, I’m a three time observer of move-in day. When my resident director (RD) hired me, a 19-year-old sophomore in college, she knew that she was going to need to go the extra mile to ensure I was prepared to lead the women on my floor throughout the following year. I went through several weeks of training, read endless books about leadership, studied college mental health, memorized the directions to all of the local hospitals, repeated fire, tornado, and intruder procedures tirelessly, and the list goes on.
All in all, I felt fairly prepared as I hung up the last decoration on my floor and waited for the freshmen students and families to arrive for the long-awaited “move-in day.”
I knew that some families would have traveled several hours in a tightly packed car to get there that morning and would be exhausted. I knew that I would guide the same grandparent to the same room over and over again until they memorized the path to their grandchild’s room. I knew that I would have to explain to roommate pairs how to stack their furniture for optimal space saving while maintaining the “feng shui” of the room. I knew that within a few hours, there would be no more parents, and I would be left with two types of students: the student who has waited their whole life for this moment and is already asking how they can prank the other floors in your building, and the student who can’t believe that after 17 years of love and affection, their parents abandoned them in an 8×8 ft. cinderblock box with a random person they’ve never met before.
I knew what I was doing. I was trained, prepared and ready. Or so I thought.
There was one major phenomenon I witnessed that day that no one prepared me for. A situation in which I felt complete responsibility, but was utterly unqualified. Up until this point, I’d been taught everything I would ever need to know about how to help first year students transition into college. Unfortunately, no one told me I would watch fathers sink into the lobby chairs, put their head in their hands and weep because they just realized their baby is “all grown up.” I didn’t know that mothers would ask me to promise that I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to their daughter that year. I didn’t know the pain I would sense while I helped a recently separated couple rearrange their daughter’s room.
I knew that I would need to help the students transition and mourn the loss of the people, schedules, and familiarity of their lives at home, but no one prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster my student’s parents were strapped into on that day.
I was an RA two more times after that first year and saw the same parental pain that came from dropping off their students at college. While I’m no expert, and have never personally tried to leave a child at college, I’ve picked up on a few things that might help to know prior to move-in day:
The flow of your family is going to change.
Your child plays an important role in your family. You might not realize how much you depend on them until they’re gone. They might pick up their younger siblings from practice or take out the trash every Thursday night. Or maybe it’s less noticeable. Maybe they’re the one that lightens the mood in tense situations or double-checks the family outing plans. Recognize (before they’re gone) what role your student plays and anticipate how your family is going to continue functioning without them while they’re at school.
Your kid is an adult.
Eighteen years old might not sound like an adult, but I promise, the school is going to treat them like they are, and you should too. While the school offers several academic services, no one will force students to do their homework. While the RAs and RDs care about their health, no one can make students sleep 7-9 hours every night. You are not responsible for making sure they are the best student they can be. Release the burden. It’s their turn to be responsible.
Just because your kid is an adult doesn’t mean you’re not their parent.
Save yourself an identity crisis. You are, and will always be their parent. Their school of choice won’t take that away from you and the fact that they’re living in a dorm room doesn’t mean they took your parenthood title with them. Sure, the way that you parent is going to change, but nothing can ever take away the parenthood piece of your identity. That’s forever.
Mourn and celebrate.
There will be one less body at the dining room table after this experience. Your student’s absence needs to be recognized and addressed. Make time and space to mourn these changes before and after move-in day, but try to celebrate move-in day as much as possible. I know one family who would say their “real” goodbyes before they even left home. That way, when it came to saying goodbye on campus, it didn’t feel so sad. Of course, there will be some sad emotions on that day, but be proud of the accomplishments your student has made and happy that they found a place where they want to continue learning!
Life doesn’t stop for move-in day.
No one plans to have a fight with their spouse the day before they move their child into college for the first time. No one wants to be distracted by outside problems on a day that’s supposed to be joyful. Even so, life happens. Of course, not all unwanted issues are avoidable, but the more you can focus the day around spending time with your child and celebrating their next academic journey instead of all of the negative things happening at that point in time, the more smoothly the day will run. Please don’t misunderstand and try to bottle your emotions unhealthily, but if you can focus on the milestones of your child, you’ll be able to look back on the day fondly instead of with negative feelings.
Be honest about the moment – honest with yourself and honest with your student. There’s no reason to keep any of this information hidden from your family. Life transitions like this are the perfect time to invite open, honest and vulnerable conversations to your family. If they know what you’re going through during this time, they may be able to help better prepare your family for the lifestyle change you’re all about to go through. Communicate with your student about how you’re feeling and invite them to do the same. The learning begins now!
Know that the faculty and staff at Indiana Wesleyan University are praying for peace over you and your family as your students transition to Wildcat Country.
Do you agree with this advice? Or do you have other advice to offer? Share with friends and leave a comment below!