This month is when colleges around the country invite parents to visit for Parents’ Weekend. The new students have had enough time to settle in and get comfortable with their surroundings and are ready to see Mom and Dad without being tempted to hide in their luggage on the return trip. On that day back in August or early September you said goodbye to your child. The college probably told you to stay away, to not respond to pleas to come pick up your child, to not contact them every day. Perhaps you were encouraged to not contact them at all but to let your child initiate the contact. This, they said was necessary to help them adjust to their new lives as college students.
As part of the Great College Search of the prior couple years, you have probably visited the school before and maybe gone on a tour (or two or three). You have sat through information sessions and listened to faculty and staff talk about the school’s programs. You may have talked to your child fairly regularly and know a bit about what life is like at school. But there is always more to discover and you want to know more about what your child has been doing all this time. Parents’ Weekend is designed to help you do just that.
Colleges vary in their planning, but most have a schedule of activities, usually including a sporting event and programming that highlights the school’s programs. There may be the opportunity to meet with faculty and staff and to see and hear what some of the upperclassmen have accomplished. Some schools plan a day of events, others an entire weekend. Schools with a larger population of out-of-state students seem to plan more activities and parents at these schools may fill up local hotels, providing more opportunities to socialize with other parents.
Unlike prior college visits, Parents’ Weekend events tend to be a la carte. There are often multiple things going on at once and you may not be sure which to choose. Your child may be waiting for you to take the lead and tell them what you want to do. If you want them to plan the day, let them know this in advance. Remember that expectations can’t be met if you don’t express them. You may be excited to spend time on campus, learning more about your son or daughter’s day-to-day while they are looking forward to having the opportunity to get out of town altogether. One thing you can almost certainly expect is that he or she will be excited to go off campus for a meal.
Another given is a shopping trip for those essential things they have run out of or put off buying until you arrived (and likely a few extras, you don’t have the opportunity to spoil them a little anymore). In fact, it is common to run into other students and their parents at the local stores. We once ended up chatting in the middle of Walmart with other parents for more than a half hour.
Parents’ Weekend can be a good time to meet and get to know your child’s friends. Not all parents attend these events; some of these kids are happy to be “adopted” for the weekend, but let your child be the one to do the inviting. He or she may not want to share you. Or the opposite may be true. Your child may enjoy his or her friends so much that they want to have them tag along with everything you do.
You may be surprised by how much your child has changed. Remember when they first started kindergarten and you were surprised to discover they had learned new skills without you? Multiply this and you may get an idea of what to expect. Though you will likely see that they have matured a bit, be prepared for some reminders that your child is still in that adult body, especially when they get tired and realize that having you around is great, but you have disrupted their routine.
Though they may be counting the days until you arrive and will be excited to see you, entertaining can be exhausting and this is likely the first time they have been put in this situation. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your child may not want to spend every waking hour with you for an entire weekend (or maybe even an entire day) and may act like he or she is ready to get rid of you. Especially when visiting for a weekend, giving them the freedom to spend some time without you (perhaps add some extra time when you all change clothes or shower between activities) can alleviate tension and you may have the opportunity to explore on your own or socialize with other parents. Also keep in mind that they may have homework to complete and that at most schools, midterms are coming up.
Spending time on a college campus can bring you back to your own college years. Try not to project your own feelings onto your child. He or she is likely having a very different experience that you did. If you are an alumnus as well as a parent, this can be tricky to navigate; at this point, the focus should be on your child. (You can go back and relive your own years at Homecoming.) Heading home can be sad. It probably won’t be as difficult as it was the last time and before you know it, your kid will be home for Thanksgiving.