Today I had a conversation with a very sad mom of a college freshman. She's excited about her daughter's fantastic school, but concerned about the changing family dynamics and they're all having a hard time adjusting to this beloved daughter's absence. Since I've been in that same phase of life for the past 10 years or so, I thought I'd jot down a few things that have worked for us along the way.
The post office is your new best friend! I don't care if you email, text and call every single day; there's nothing quite so wonderful for your daughter as finding something in her campus mail box!
It's obvious, but make sure you always have stamps and envelopes on hand and let everyone in the family know that they are encouraged to write as often as they'd like. (And it doesn't have to be a multi-page, formal letter - it's just as much fun to get a picture drawn by your 6-year-old brother as it is to get a 8 page letter from your mom.)
Pre-print mailing labels with her address so it's very easy for everyone in your family to send a quick note any time.
Make sure relatives also have her address and remind them every now and then that mail is still really, really welcome.
Let someone else pay your postage. It's fun to order things online and simply have them shipped to your student. If you have amazon prime it'll be there in 2 days with no shipping charge. (I'm looking at you, 12 pack of Clif Bars for only $10.49.)
You remember how small that dorm room is, right? Keep that in mind if you send any gifts. I was just looking at care package companies that are advertising the great advantage of their reusable containers. Sure, you could find a use for that cute punched-tin tub in your house, but would you still want it if you were living in a space that's about the same size as a walk-in closet?
The one kind of space she may have in her dorm is wall space. Send things to brighten it up!
All of my kids have gone to schools that have a national chain coffee shop on campus. Gift cards were easy, practical, small, and appreciated gifts.
Is her birthday during the school year? Enlist the aide of every friend and relative you know to bombard her with cards and emails during birthday week.
Blogging is easy and free. Start a family blog with newsy tidbits and pictures of the ordinary things you're doing from day to day to help keep everyone in touch.
Is she on facebook? If so, you might want to be also. It can be a fantastic introduction to her new friends and a window into the everyday bits of her life. I can't tell you how blessed I've been by becoming FB friends with my daughters' school friends!
Think carefully about food gifts. It seems kind of pointless to send candy and chips for several reasons, but homemade Special K bars - yes, please!
Anyone who is living on campus has a food plan, but it's still nice to have some snacky things for late night and for grab-and-go breakfasts, just in case she's running late to that 8 a.m. class.
One year I got together with some other moms to send a group version of final's-week care packages. The eight of us each provided 8 of the same item, divided them up, and paid to mail to our own kid. So one mom brought 8 packs of granola bars, another brought 8 ziplocs of mail-able cookies, another brought 8 packs of roasted nuts, etc. (Basically like a Christmas cookies exchange with a different focus.) Not only was it a little more cost effective, but it was fun for the moms, the packages were more creative, and all our students were reminded of all their "adopted moms" who were at home, still thinking about them.
Is there some favorite food that's not available in the dining hall? One year my parents vacuum sealed some dill pickles and mailed them to my college girl. Why on earth would the school not have pickles every now and then? I have no idea, but they didn't and she mentioned missing them. And seriously, she was NOT expecting to get pickles in the mail. I have also been known to mail a box of favorite breakfast cereal to Indiana. Possibly more than once.
See if you can set up some kind of scheduled phone date. One year it was convenient for my daughter to call on Sunday nights, so we were both able to schedule around it. Some of those calls lasted for hours and hours, late into the night (more accurately, early into the morning). I may have been tired some Monday mornings, but it was a great arrangement for us both.
Our church's youth group has a branch that sends care packages to parish college students and those in the military. All I have to do is provide a current address and a couple times a year (Advent and Lent) they send some snacks, faith-based items, and simple things to keep my daughter connected to the parish.
Can you think of small things to make her dorm room a little more homey? I know of parents who have sent a very small Christmas tree (12 inches or so) and a string of lights to hang around the window. Does your family have favorite Christmas music? (Send a CD.) She's probably only on campus for a couple weeks in December, but it's final's week and she's probably looking forward to Christmas break. Little things like these are just a nice reminder that she'll be home soon!
Speaking of Christmas, be sure to keep up family traditions! If you like to put small gifts in your children's shoes for St. Nicholas day, be sure to mail college girl a few things before December 6 as well. If you're really lucky, you may have access to a cooperative roommate who can engineer a putting-them-in-shoes surprise component. The same concept applies for Valentine's Day, etc.
When you go out to visit and (inevitably) eat at restaurants, resist the temptation to take only your family. Have your daughter round up a few friends and/or her roommate to bring with as well. It's a great chance to get to know them and you'll probably learn more about campus life than you would if it were only her there.
If you have more ideas, I'd love to see them in the comments box!