I’m in college, finishing up my freshman year. It’s my first time living away from home. My parents are three hours away, but my mom calls every day and wants to come up all the time. She’s always questioning me about classes, friends, everything. When they do come up to see me, they want to be with me every second. When I go home, they don’t even want me to spend time with friends. They were pretty reasonable when I was in high school, but this is ridiculous! I’m a good student, a responsible person and maybe I should say that I’m the first in my family to go away to a university.
Sounds like you’ve got some helicopter parents… hovering, ready to ‘drop in’ at any moment. While this phenomenon is much more common than you probably realize, e.g., parents contacting professors, residential staff, registrars, that doesn’t make it any more manageable for you.
Keep in mind that while you are fully engaged in school, social activities and life in general as you should be, you are inhabiting a world that is totally new to your parents. They are no doubt thrilled for you and very proud, but there is also the fear that you will leave them behind. This occurs even when parents are college grads themselves, because the experience is so expansive for a student away from home.
College is a time to expand your horizons, which is what you are doing, but that means that you are becoming someone whom they don’t fully know anymore. Your desire to immerse yourself in school activities and academic pursuits is totally appropriate, but feels to your parents as though they are disappearing over the horizon, growing smaller and more distant by the day.
The solution to this is counter-intuitive; you must give them more information, move toward them emotionally and their need to invade will subside. There may be some adjustment, some empty nest syndrome happening here as well that is complicating your situation. Your being away from home, even if you have younger siblings still with them, reminds your parents (usually moms are hardest hit) that a major life transition is looming for them. They are accomplishing a wonderful thing by sending you out into the world, but that creates a void that they must fill by stepping into the next phase of their life. That is not your problem, but you may be experiencing some of the fallout from it.
Here’s what you do: Tell them you will call say, every Tuesday night, and when you call, have a chat prepared. Tell them something specific about each of your classes, tell a story about one of your social activities or an amusing anecdote about a friend. On another day, send them a digital photo of you in the dining hall or out for coffee with a friend. Ask how their life is going, maybe a specific question about what’s going on at home. (This could be an email contact).
Briefly outline your schedule and let them know when you will be available to chat. Think about what frequency of contact will really work for you. You are essentially establishing a more mature, responsible basis for communication with your parents.
This will have many benefits long-term, but two that will be immediately helpful will be that you will be proactive in providing information to them, which will reduce their anxiety, and you will be setting up useful, working boundaries for your life which is always a positive thing to do. Your parents will be comforted by your taking initiative to contact them, that they won’t be abandoned, and they will see that you are making an effort to keep them in the loop.
Communication (on your terms) is your friend here. Figure out what works for you and with the love and respect due them, offer your parents a window into your world.
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