Parent & Family Programs

Student Affairs

Freshman Year in the Rear – View Mirror (Almost)—a Parent’s Perspective

Written by Paisley Clowe, AUPA Board of Directors Representative for the Aubie (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, MT, NE, NV, ND, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY) Region

As I write, finals week is officially underway.  In one week’s time, my son, an Auburn freshman, will be checking out of his dorm room in the Quad, loading his truck by himself, and preparing to make the twelve hour drive back home. Because of scheduling reasons, neither my husband nor I am able to come help him, which is an interesting problem, considering I would normally move heaven and earth to be there.  But he has assured us he’d prefer to do this himself anyway, and I know he is right about that.

It was a different story when we drove out with him in August, each inch of the car carefully packed with items that had been perfectly designed to fit the room specifications for Broun Hall.  My husband and son waited patiently as I unpacked the latest 3M products, hangers and shower accessories.  Everything was perfect in my estimation, and our son was gleeful as we said goodbye to him on the Haley Concourse, he ready to begin college life, and we hold back sobs until we got to the car.

Letting Go

So much happens in one year’s time, both in the lives of our students and in our own lives as well.  Much as we thought we were prepared for the sadness we would face when our son left for college, the fullness of that reality cannot be known until you “walk through that door.”  A lifelong friend, whose son is finishing his sophomore year at Auburn, told me the year before, “the family is changed forever when they leave for college.” 100% true.  A running movie loop of the past eighteen years seems to continually play while we parents and families come to terms with the change that has just occurred.  And it is a permanent change.  We just didn’t know it would be quite like that B.C. (before college).

This year, in addition to seeing our son leave home (and maybe because of it?), I experienced an odd attachment to two calves in our very small cattle operation. Perhaps it was really because they were the first calves born in the same year I had officially started “helping out.”  When it came time for the calves to be weaned and sold, their moms and I were beside ourselves. (If you have never seen calves being weaned, click here for a quick look.)  But once I got through the trauma of that event, I knew the next time would be much easier. And then, this spring, quite unexpectedly, our 12-year old family dog died.  This dog has seen our children through their childhood and adolescent periods, and as my husband said when we buried her, it was like we were burying our children’s childhoods as well.  In case there were any leftover “holdouts”, the process of letting go now seemed complete.

Accepting and Encouraging

When our son made a fraternity visit to Auburn in the summer before his freshman year, he got to know an impressive young man, a junior with an ambitious major and full life of campus involvement and leadership. Returning home a few days later, it was clear in a few comments he made that some of the advice the young man had given him (to consider this option or that) would ultimately influence some of his future college decisions.  As parents, we, some of us at least, imagine a perfect plan, all but laid out before the first day of classes, which will follow its course…perfectly.  While this may be the case for many students, I believe that most students eventually follow a college path that unfolds uniquely and especially for them.  This may mean that majors change, or that a program to which they had been admitted is no longer the program they want to follow.  And yet, the students seem to move on enthusiastically as they talk to peers, advisors, and professors and figure out the way they think they should go.

We parents and families, who may have at one time been involved in these types of discussions, learn to adjust to, and be encouraged by, the idea that the campus experience – social, mental, and physical – is a living, breathing organism of which our students are fully apart.  We discover a new role where, when possible, we can check in, offer encouragement and sometimes guidance, and experience a changing relationship with the young adults to whom we said goodbye in August.

Final Thoughts/Advice to Pass Along (that was shared by others)

  • Auburn won us over at Camp War Eagle with its loud and clear message to parents: “We want you to be involved. Stay involved.”  Auburn faculty, staff, and administrators are dedicated to our students’ success. Resources abound.  Auburn wants us to remind and encourage our students about these things often.
  • Worry less. Trust more.
  • Transition from a “manager” to a “consultant”…quickly!
  • Attempt to visit your AU student face-to-face, if even for a quick meal, at least once a “quarter” (or twice a semester).
  • Watch AUPA Board President Dr. Michael Ramsey’s presentation on adolescent brain development (link here). Just when you think you fully understand your college-aged son or daughter, this presentation will leave you with several thought-provoking and research-based insights.

I feel privileged and humbled to be able to share these thoughts with you.  One year ago, our family sat dutifully in our living room, watching the pre-Camp War Eagle webinar.  What a difference one year makes!  War Eagle!

Last modified: January 28, 2019