I don’t know about you, but when I went to college, we tied all sorts of stuff to the roof of our car and my parents helped me move in to the dorms. My Facebook feed has been filled with friends doing the same over the past week or so. This is not really the custom in Europe though. As most readers know, our son, Sam, is attending Leiden University in The Hague, The Netherlands, studying International Relations. Here’s a link to a podcast where Sam talks about his visit to Leiden for Experience Day.
I dropped Sam off at the airport on Wednesday. As we checked his bags, I felt compelled to tell the ticketing agent that he had an additional bag to check and that TSA Pre was missing from his boarding pass. Sam was standing right there and perfectly capable of handling this himself, but I just couldn’t help myself. I knew he could take care of it, but I just wanted to help, while I still had the opportunity. That said, I do know that these little things send a certain message and can hinder independence.
There are some really crucial tasks that need to be completed during the first couple of weeks. Sam needs to open a bank account (something that is more complicated than it sounds), register at city hall, find out how rent is paid in the coming months, and a host of other logistics. Knowing myself, it would be really difficult for me not to take over the organization of these tasks if I were there. This is one reason I decided to not head to the Netherlands with him now, and am instead waiting until October to visit.
I’m often guilty of managing things myself just because it’s easier, or because I want to help or protect my kids. I’ve had to fight these instincts the past few years in an effort to prepare Sam for attending college abroad. Though he has only been gone a few days, this has already paid off. When Sam returned from Morocco last summer, one of his bags didn’t make it. With oversight, he handled that on his own from filling out the forms, to following up with the airline, to arranging the delivery of the bags. Guess what? When one of his bags didn’t make it last week he knew exactly what to do which eliminated a lot of stress (other than the fact that he was dying for a shower and the missing bag had his towels…). When we traveled to the Hague his junior year, I had him navigate his way to meet me after one of my meetings with a university. Since he had a way to contact me if needed, it was a lesson in guided independence. Guess what? When he unexpectedly had to find his way from the train station to the housing office on his own, he was able to do so without worry.
Correspondence from the universities goes straight to the students, parents are not included on these exchanges. So Sam has been in charge of gathering, scanning, and submitting necessary documents, arranging for the welcome service, calling about student residence permit issues, and keeping track of all the various orientation dates. I’ve kept a list of the tasks that need to be completed, so that I could follow up as needed (aka-nag). Sam has surprisingly stayed on top of it. I think he appreciates that the school treats him as the adult in the situation and he responds accordingly. I will admit that I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from grabbing the phone a few times. Though he didn’t communicate information the exactly as I would have, it was taken care of.
All of these experiences make him (and me!) confident that he will be able to handle the tasks at hand in the coming weeks-and years. I have a list going again with the crucial things that I will follow up about and have had to consciously make myself not ask (nag) about things that don’t matter in the long run. If he wants to procrastinate buying the items for his kitchen, it really shouldn’t matter to me (yes, I’ve had to repeat that to myself many times). I think all this is just to say that, as parents, we sometimes take charge of things for our own needs- whether it’s the need to nurture or help, the need to get things done correctly the first time, or the need to protect. We forget that we have raised these great kids who are capable, who can learn from mistakes, and who can utilize many resources for assistance. I’m often asked what parents can do to help prepare their kids for college in Europe. Without a doubt, providing opportunities for guided independence is my number one suggestion!
Side note-only a few days in and Sam has had some incredible experiences. It’s prevented me from being sad that he’s gone and more focused on how excited I am for him. I’ll share more about his experiences and pictures of his dorm room (hopefully this will compel him to clean up…) next week.