Once your teen has departed for college, how are you going to stay in touch? I suggest setting up a pattern of frequent communications. For my wife and myself, it was constant cards and letters. For other parents, it may be weekly cell phone calls or regular skype sessions. For some lucky parents, whose kids are attending a local college, it might be frequent visits. In all of these communications, I encourage you to share how much the individual is missed and how much you appreciate any efforts toward increased communication – while giving your teenager encouragement and support on the road to independence. Here is one of the earlier letters to my older daughter, Skyler, trying to convey those points, as she started her freshman year.

 

Dear Skyler,

It’s Wednesday night and I am heading upstairs to climb into bed.  As I dragged myself up the stairs, I swung by Austen’s bedroom to see if her door was open. She might be only 17 months younger than you, and just a junior in high school, but you have trained her well. Your habits are now her habits. Privacy is sacrosanct. Her bedroom door was closed so I found myself edging toward your doorway and your bedroom. I am certain you can visualize every detail of your bedroom without much difficulty. Picture this image. Everything was neat with your bed made; your childhood toys were arranged across the bedspread and along the decorative wall shelf; and the desk and your stack of last year’s high school books were clean and dusted. Even your favorite, well-padded, green reading chair was clean, not cluttered with books. But the reality? The room felt empty. Much too empty for my taste.

When I am busy with my evening work, I can push aside our geographic distance. I can pretend you are home, working upstairs. After all, how many high school nights did you work for hours, only to have me swing in for a quick goodnight after mom and Austen had already retired? But tonight that image faded as I paused at your bedroom door. For several minutes, I stood in the darkness, overwhelmed with sadness. I did not cry, as I only cry in movies, but I sure could have shed a tear. You are dearly missed. Really missed. Even your smells were missed. Standing between your bedroom and the bathroom, there was no smell of body gel, or nail polish, or perfume. In every ‘sense’, you have been a vital part of this family. You have been the motor of this family. The one who gives all of us a lift in spirit and a lift in energy.

Now, why I am sharing this moment of sadness? Not to make you sad. I hope you pass through any initial homesickness and slip into your usual upbeat and positive mode. I am sharing my feelings because I want to emphasis how special you are, and how much you are going to offer to your new friends. You are as good as gold and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. If they do not see your special qualities and special spirit, that is their mistake, not yours. As they say, you cannot force anyone to love you; you can only allow yourself to be loved. If you ever are inclined to ask yourself: am I loved? There is an easy answer: If you are loving, you are loved. You are going to make a great woman who will bring energy, excitement, and joy to her future family and friends. Keep all of these positive attributes close to your heart as you march towards your new college career. And don’t rush toward your future. It is there and waiting.

As for us, do not worry. Geographic distance is easier than emotional distance.  Right now, the tide feels “in”! I am sure we can keep it that way. Your calls, emails, and text messages really help. If we can feel part of your experience, it will make us feel closer, regardless of the distance. Please share the good and the bad of all of your daily activities. I noticed how mom moaned when you told her of how you missed one of your first classes by not finding the right building. That reminded me of your pre-college orientation trip. When they had that three-hour lecture on how to get around Manhattan, you skipped the lecture and spent three hours exploring Manhattan, taking as many subways as possible. Okay. So you missed the part of the lecture on finding NYU’s buildings. Regardless, college may prove to be an excellent training ground for life, as it will force you to find your own way to the next destination. There is the belief: the more mistakes you make, the more you learn. Be accepting of your mistakes. No judgment from me. I am just glad to hear any news, good or bad. When you want to connect with us, call or write. We will do the same.

In closing, there is one other thing to keep in mind. This is only a transition stage.  You will be home for four months a year, although I can’t promise it will be the highlight of your year. At least we can spend time together with maybe a summer vacation and more shared experiences. To repeat, shared experiences do not mean you have to be living with us. By writing, texting, and calling, we can keep those shared experiences ongoing through the entire year, not just during the summer months. For my part, I will keep writing my emails on a regular basis, possibly too frequent for your taste. For this email, I just want to repeat you are loved and missed. All three of us (mom, Austen, and myself) realize how lucky we are to have you in our family. No wonder why I was so happy when you were born. It was a sign of things to come. I just never thought this far ahead, nor do most parents. I never imagined this transition to college, and the intensity of our feelings of loss. We love and miss you. Now, have some fun with your new friends!

 

Share your feelings and your sense of loss …

 

But balance that with love and support for their new life …

 

And turn geographic distance into emotional closeness …

 

Make your family stronger and tighter …

 

By regular communications … it is well worth the effort … A_Fathers_Letters