A painful parenting scene in the Tom Perrotta novel Mrs. Fletcher rings true for BU’s Christy Loring. Eve Fletcher, a 46-year-old divorced single mother, is in tears after dropping off her hungover son, Brendan, at a New England college for the start of his freshman year. She had wanted to take Brendan and his roommate out for pizza. Brendan had just wanted her gone.
“. . . Eve cried most of the way home because the big day hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped—not that big days ever did.”
When Loring, associate director of BU’s Parents Program, read the book Mrs. Fletcher last summer, the story didn’t read as fiction. It’s merely one version of how move-in day—and the rest of the first year—may unfold for some of this year’s freshmen and their parents. The scene in Perrotta’s novel captures the chasm between parental expectations for the first year of college and the reality of a son’s or daughter’s actual experience.
Now in her 11th year on the job, Loring has helped guide hundreds of parents through their child’s freshman year—and beyond. She gets it, even if her own son is only eight years old and starting third grade. She tells parents that she was so anxious about her son’s first day of kindergarten that she took the day off from work. “I wasn’t in charge,” she says. “I worried about whether he was going to be okay. Was he going to cry? Was he going to make any friends? I dropped him off and then I went home and thought: now what?”
She ended up taking a yoga class. Forced to relinquish her cell phone, she stopped obsessing about everything that could be going wrong in kindergarten, at least for the duration of class (her son’s day went fine). The lesson Loring offers parents of freshmen: accept that you’re not in charge anymore, and that this year will be a huge transition for you and your freshman.
After consulting with Loring on the importance of managing expectations, we came up with some other things to keep in mind.
Stop thinking of yourself as the 24/7 go-to problem solver
If your son or daughter keeps calling and texting with problems, listen to them. Then ask if they know how to solve the problem. Encourage them to be proactive and to advocate for themselves. Let them know they can talk to a resident assistant or director or a friend or attend one of the Dean of Students Wednesday afternoon pep talks. But do not solve every issue for them that comes your way.
Trust your son or daughter to make good decisions
Allow them the freedom to learn to be independent. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with your child standing on the street in front of Warren Towers in their pajamas in the middle of the night calling you in California: “Mom! The fire alarm just went off! What should I do?” Yes, Loring says, that really happened.
Maybe your child won’t get in touch with you for—five whole days. Don’t panic
In all likelihood, there is no emergency. If you haven’t heard from them in a while, says Loring, it’s probably a good thing, a sign they’re having fun, making friends, settling in at BU.
Prepare yourself for bumps in the road—because they’re coming
You might wonder: what happened to the violin-playing, soccer team captain, 4.0 grade-earning community-service-minded, well-rounded student you dropped off only two months ago? College-level homework, juggling school with extracurriculars and a social life, adjusting to a new place and a new city, and adapting to a lifestyle where no one is telling them to go to bed, get off the phone, turn off the video game, and have a good breakfast: these can make for a tough transition. Be patient.
Encourage your son or daughter to be okay with something less than they are used to
A grade of B isn’t the end of the world. Understand that their priorities will change, repeatedly, that a new girlfriend or boyfriend might consume a lot of their time. Remind them that everyone is going through the same transition. They are no longer the biggest fish in the pond.
You can call the Parents Program (617-358-1187)
Loring will give you a list of the resources available to your son or daughter. But they will have to take the initiative to make use of those resources. Here’s where you have to step back: do not, for example, call the Educational Resource Center to find a tutor. Your freshman must do that on their own.
Let’s talk about laundry
BU tries to avoid gender stereotypes, but if your student is a young man, chances are he’s not going to do his laundry regularly. He might not wash his sheets the whole semester. He’ll live. Bonus: he’ll bring his laundry home in a garbage bag on holidays and you’ll get to do it for him, just like in the old days.
Loring’s advice on your adjustment to university life, circa 2019, is this: don’t graft your own college experience from decades ago onto your son or daughter’s experience at BU. Schools today are more diverse—and it’s about time. Your child might have a roommate whose first language isn’t English. They might be from Dubai—and, says Loring, what an amazing opportunity that would be for your own son or daughter. Isn’t that why they wanted to come to a big, urban, diverse school like BU—to learn about different people, different cultures?
You may not have gotten that good-bye dinner you’d hoped for. Try not to dwell on it. And book a reservation now for Family and Friends Weekend. It’s October 18 to 20, the same weekend as Boston’s world-famous Head of the Charles regatta.
By then, says Loring, most freshmen are eager to see their parents. They want to show off what they’ve learned and how well they’re adjusting to BU and Boston. They’ve probably found one or two restaurants they want you to take them to—just be OK if they ask a friend to join you.
September 10, 2019
September 10, 2019
September 10, 2019