Q&A: For parents, move-in day means moving away

Q&A: For parents, move-in day means moving away

Move-in day: It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times. While many students think they have it rough, parents may also struggle to adapt.

Above, my mother, Sandra Wilusz, stands in front of Morrison Residence Hall. The dorm, which we both stayed in during our time at UNC, is one of the many places she has helped me move into.

Move-in day: It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times. (It’s also usually the sweatiest of times.)

Being a senior, I have a lengthy list of move-in stories.

I dodged a near-monsoon my freshman year while moving into a cramped dorm with my 7-foot-tall roommate. For my junior year, I moved just a floor above my mom’s old room in Morrison that she lived in (let’s just say a few) years ago.

Throughout all of the craziness and the change, my mom has always been there to help ease the transition. And while we think that us students have it rough, parents go through much more when sending their baby boys and girls off to school.

I spoke with my mom, Sandra Wilusz, to see what it feels like to send a child to college. Check out the Q&A below to see what she had to say. 

Q: Obviously, a freshman’s move-in day is a huge moment for parents and children alike. But was saying “goodbye” something you thought about and planned for in advance?

A: No, actually. I was very excited for you starting college. I was very proud and happy about the decision. But no, I didn’t really think about saying goodbye in advance. It is always exciting when a new chapter begins in life, so I wasn’t really very emotional in a sad way. It was more in an excited way.

I wasn’t really very emotional in a sad way. It was more in an excited way.

Q: When you first arrived at my dorm freshman year, what was going through your head?

A: It was actually raining that day — very hard. I was just worried about trying to get everything in the dorm really quickly. I was worried about some other things, too. I was worried you and your roommate may not like each other because it was someone you did not know and had not grown up with. That was a concern. I wanted to make sure you had everything you needed. I made a list, from staplers and pencils and notebooks to silverware and dishes and sheets. I had spent a lot of time preparing for the physical move you were making.

Q: Now move-in day is also very hectic, and there are not many opportunities to spend quality time. You mentioned that you made a list. As a parent, what were the things you wanted to accomplish on that day?

A: Just to make sure you had everything you needed and that everything was kind of organized and unpacked. It’s important to concentrate on classes starting and not getting things together — to be as comfortable as possible.

Q: You hear about the parents who stay too long the first day. Then there are the parents who just drop their kids off. How did you know when it was time to leave?

A: I kind of was just thinking about the first time I had went away to school — stories my mother told me about my sister crying all the way home. I got a little emotional because it was going to be different at home. I would now be by myself more. I was used to all the teenagers in my house. So it was a little sad, but I was excited. I didn’t hang around too long. After I saw everyone getting settled in, I figured it was time to leave. When the bed was made and everything was put away, I knew there was nothing left for me to do. I guess I was okay. Now, with cellphones, kids are just a phone call away.

Q: You are a single parent of an only child. Could you talk specifically about how your situation may be different from what other families experience?

A: As a single parent, I didn’t have someone to help me lift boxes and things like that. I was fortunate you had friends that could help. The physical move was more difficult. But being a single mom, I knew the house would be empty when I got home. I think if someone had other children at home or a spouse at home, it would be different. People talk about an empty nest — sometimes people don’t get the empty nest all at once. One kid leaves, but you still have other activities going on. But for me, I was kind of lost. When kids are very active with sports or with music or with drama and things of that nature, suddenly those weekly activities you attended are now gone. So you have to develop a whole new social life that is different than you had before.

Being a single mom, I knew the house would be empty when I got home.

Q: How soon after you pulled out of the parking lot that first year did you begin to worry?

A: I really didn’t worry, actually. We had visited the school, and I felt like campus was a safe place. Going through college myself, I knew kind of what to expect my kid to go through.

Q: So you’re saying there was nothing you worried about? I find that hard to believe.

A: I mean, I didn’t worry about getting in trouble because you have to be a good kid to get into college in the first place. I felt it was just a transition to the next level. But I was a little concerned because doing well in high school doesn’t mean you’re going to get good grades in college. Even though your child may not need to study in high school, college is different. Sometimes you don’t learn the best study habits, and I knew that from personal experience.

Q: How much communication do you feel is appropriate between parents and children during a school year?

A: With cellphones, like I said, it’s easy to communicate. But definitely checking in on a weekly basis just to say “hi” is nice. It doesn’t always have to be a phone call; it could be a text message. But keeping that line of communication is important. Just because they are away at school, they are not away from your heart. You’re always just a phone call away. Some parents probably do constantly ask about grades; I think the term now is helicopter parents. And if that’s what you believe in, that’s fine. I personally did not try to be that person because I believe children need to figure things out on their own to grow into the person they need to be. It is a lot of pressure for a kid. Being 17 or 18, it is very hard to figure out what you want to do in life. But I don’t feel you need to shelter and direct. College is about figuring things out on your own. But basic communication is always important.

Just because they are away at school, they are not away from your heart. You’re always just a phone call away.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who may be having some separation anxiety from their children?

A: Take cues from your child. If they seem happy in their new adventures of being away at school, celebrate that.

Q: Does it get any easier as the years go on, or did you feel the same dropping me off as you did my freshman year?

A: It did get easier. The first three years, you were staying in a dorm. It was kind of just books and clothes and school supplies and things like that. I knew all that stuff was coming back to the house at the end of the school year. But this year was a little more difficult for me because you decided to live off-campus and in an apartment. Now you were moving couches and a bed. For some reason that bothered me. You’re growing up. And when you come back home for those breaks, it will be different. Your room will be different. It will all be different.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about your experiences sending a child off to school?

A: No, but I just want to reiterate that it can be stressful. But I think the most important thing is taking cues. As long as they seem happy, be happy and supportive. Just let them know that no matter what, they always have somewhere to come home to. Stay active in your kid’s life but from afar.

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Ryan Wilusz
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