One of the best parts of my job comes each year on Parent and Family Weekend. Balloons are tied to poles, brightly colored leaves cover the ground, and I get to work the registration table in the Frost Lounge. I love the energy at check-in: families of all shapes and sizes come from all over the globe to peek into the on-campus lives of their loved ones. They excitedly approach the table to gather their materials while texting their student to let them know they’ve arrived.
“I think she’s still in bed”, many of them tell me. Some of them are carrying plastic containers filled with cookies and Halloween candy. I recognize many of their faces from the Orientation session they attended over the summer. As their students respond to their calls and confidently stride into Ell, they bear little resemblance to the apprehensive, shy orientees I met in June. In fact, the whole family is different.
“Oh you have homework all weekend? That’s ok. We don’t need to see you at all while we’re here.” “So you’re my son’s girlfriend, huh? Or is he just hoping you will be?”
“Your hair got so long! And are you eating?? Are you sure??”
“The Curry Student Center? I know where that is!”
That last one is usually from the younger sibling, just excited to be on a college campus and desperate to look as though they belong.
The transition into college is filled with many important changes. One of the biggest can happen within a student’s family. While students master the art of time management and newfound independence, their families are also going through a significant transformation. This can be an incredibly exciting time, but it can also be a bit tricky to navigate. How often should we talk? Is just a text ok? Skype? Should I tell my mom I didn’t do well on that exam? How do I make sure my daughter is studying? Every family handles this transition differently and there’s no right answer. What is most important is having patience and empathy. Whether they are across the hall or across the country, your family is still your biggest cheerleader. Let them get excited about your successes and support you through your challenges. Recognize that while it can be rocky, change is ultimately how we learn and grow. You’re probably not the same family you were when you came to Orientation. You’re probably not even the same person. And that’s great! Respecting your family as people who just want you to be happy is the first step. Accepting a ridiculous Halloween-themed care package filled with candy is the second.
Alicia LaPolla is an Associate Director in the Office of New Student Orientation and Parent Programs. She works with Orientation Leaders to welcome new students and their families to the Northeastern community. Follow her and Orientation on Twitter and Facebook!