I joke a lot about my son who’s away at college and how he never calls home. It’s a theme that resonates with a lot of parents.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’m actually pretty happy about it.
When we first dropped him off for his freshman year, I will admit I was nervous. There were a couple issues that gave me pause.
First of all, he’s a boy. And while I hate to generalize, it’s not a big parental secret that most males do not mature at the same rate that females do. I can only speak to my own experiences in raising both a daughter and a son, but many of my friends and family members agree. Boys at the ages of 17 or 18 are usually not as equipped with the same array of life and decision-making skills that girls of similar ages are. Yes, of course there are exceptions.
I walked away from my own son in his new dorm room thinking that he wasn’t quite as prepared for daily life on his own as my daughter had been, two years before him.
She just seemed more competent and pragmatic at that milestone. I envisioned my son having all kinds of challenges those first few months, like frequently losing his ID card, forgetting his backpack in a Starbucks, and missing a lot of early morning classes.
Secondly, as my second and last child, our son is the baby of the family. And if parents are being honest, we do tend to treat our babies a little differently. They often are, for a number of reasons, let off the hook more often for transgressions and are allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, to not act their age. As the youngest of five children, I acknowledge I’ve received special treatment at times throughout my life, and I’ve relished the advantage of slacking off on some responsibilities because of my “baby” status. I’m sure my older siblings would agree with this self-assessment. My son had been repeatedly allowed to slack off on certain tasks during his high school years as well, something that I looked back on with more than a little regret.
So, I pondered whether he would step up and begin to take more responsibility for himself and shed some of his lazy habits during his first year at college. Would he drive his roommate crazy, falter in any significant ways, or would those so-called “adulting” skills start being utilized?
And no matter your child’s gender or birth order, every parent of a college freshman harbors those silent fears and doubts about their kid adapting to campus life.
We worry about them studying enough to pass their classes. We worry about them feeling lonely and whether they’ll have an easy time making new friends. But then we worry about them partying too much, walking home alone late at night, and staying healthy. There never seems to be an end to new issues to worry about.
But as my son adapted to his life away from us, he began to slowly surprise me and show me that he was indeed up to the task of living on his own and figuring things out. We didn’t hear from him as often as we did from our daughter during her first year away, but what we did hear was generally positive and indicative of a child who was maturing and learning from his mistakes.
I kept plugging along and repeating to myself “No news is good news” when I would realize that well over a week had passed without a phone call home. But I quickly developed a deep appreciation for Snapchat, and its magical powers to elicit a returned photo from my son—particularly when he received a snap of our dog. Proof of life was all I truly needed, even when I often hoped for more.
By our son’s second year away at school, I had come around to a realization that I didn’t want to admit to him.
Rather than being disappointed about not getting many phone calls, I felt a sense of acceptance and gratitude.
And I realized how horrible it would be if he were calling every other day to complain about something or ask for assistance with a problem that he could work out for himself. I was able to fully understand and recognize that the limited amount of verbal communication was a true gift. The sometimes-deafening silence was symbolic of competency and fortitude. And it meant he was living and learning and struggling all on his own, the way he should be.
Now that I’ve gotten completely used to our new-found pattern of spoken interactions, I no longer feel dissatisfaction with the changes. I’ve never felt the need to try to set up a weekly call time, because I think that would just result in annoyance on both sides. He calls when he has significant news, and I’m pleased with our frequent text exchanges of funny memes and direct messages via Twitter.
He’s living his life and we’re all enjoying his independence. Neither side of the child-parent divide questions our bond or love for one another. This is simply the natural progression of our relationship, and we always look forward to the next time when we’ll all physically be together.
I do get the unexpected “How many cups are in a liter?” type of calls when he’s cooking something new, so I take those calls with a smile and a sense of self-satisfaction that Mama is still better than Google sometimes!