First Year Lessons Through the Rearview Mirror (Part 1)

All stacked and ready to load.
All stacked and ready to load. I’m mighty  thankful her school offers large storage cubbies for the returning students!

At this time last year, I had a staging area for all the things C would be schlepping to college. Boxes and bags gradually filled the corner of our kitchen nook as I calculated the square footage of my van–sans the 3rd row seat.  Her school is two states away, making quick trips home to grab this or that or fast load of laundry impossible. Planning was essential and, because I stayed at home during my college years, educating myself for this transition was critical.  I gleaned many tips about dorm life after reading a plethora of blog posts, books, and magazine articles. That, however, was just the beginning of my education during C’s first year away.

With two years of college under her belt (the first spent at a school near home) and as we prepare for  her impending return to school, I took look in life’s rearview mirror recently and pondered what I’ve learned in the last couple of years. Here is Part 1 of 3 of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my daughter’s first year away at college:

 Your DON’T BUY list should be longer than your BUY list.

  • The ads that fill your mailbox, TV screens, and newspapers portray dorm rooms larger than my first apartment. Dorms really are TINY and are usually shared with another student, making them smaller. Plus, fitting out that new dorm with every matchy-matchy item often screams “Freshman”, which may add to any  possible feelings of insecurity.
  • Additionally, you can nix half of the dorm “shopping list” the school sends out; they won’t need it in the beginning, if at all, which can save you money. If needed, you can always ship from home or directly from Amazon.
  • If it’s your child’s first year, they’ll likely arrive on campus a few days before the returning students and in advance of the start of classes, which means you’ll have plenty of time to hit up Walmart, Target, or even place an additional online order through for those last-minute things to make their new home, home.
  • Prioritize your needs before you go shopping and make the trip a fun, memory-making experience. Itemize what you already have, then shop.I treasure the memory of an afternoon spent at Target of my daughter and I laughing and bonding with other parents that were clearly on the same mission we were.

 NOW, before your car leaves the driveway, is the time for the “tough talks” about sex, drugs, and drinking. 

  • I once read that we, as parents, have a limited window of time before our voice is drowned out by our children’s friends. As soon as that car door closes, your voice becomes even fainter. While you still have an audience, use the time to talk about sex, drugs and drinking and to set your expectations clearly. And, be equally clear about your commitment to your child should they stumble.
  • Think about what you want to say before your chat so you don’t meander off the path, but do make it a dialog. Ponder your feelings about potential drinking, drug use, and sex before your chat.  How would you feel if: Your child gets drunk or high? Drives drunk or high? Takes a ride with a drunk or high driver? Has sex that results in a STD or pregnancy? Gets expelled or arrested for anything unlawful?  What are willing to do or not do to help them out of trouble? Where are YOUR boundaries?
  • Be realistic in your approach. They are not going to want to look you straight in the eye when discussing STDs, drunken vomiting, or bongs. Consider initiating your conversation in the car or on a walk, where you can make casual eye contact, but your child is not left feeling like they’ve been lectured or interrogated. If you don’t feel comfortable chatting directly with your child, consider this approach by Kathy Radigan of My Dishwasher’s Possessed.
  • Even after classes have started, keep the dialog going. Chat casually about their weekends and latest ventures, without drilling them over the phone. Let them talk more than you; things have a way of slipping out when parents keeps their mouths shut.

Have that other tough talk before they leave.

  • Have an honest conversation about money before you shop for a single dorm furnishing or you say good bye after move-in day. How much are you able and willing to put in and what, if any, money do you expect of your student to contribute? Do they have scholarships that have ongoing requirements and what should happen if they lose those? Will you be taking out loans? Will they? Do you expect or want them to work during the school year? Winter break? Summer break?
  • What, if any, additional financial support will you offer? A credit card linked to your account? A prepaid debit card? A lump deposit into their account? Discuss what expenses these resources are intended for and if you have any limitations. Is it OK to use your card for their weekend fun, a shopping spree with the friends, or is it for school expenses and emergencies only.
  • Do you expect repayment for your financial support? If so, consider setting out a contract so there are no misunderstandings later.
  • Regretfully, many students ruin their credit ratings before graduation by getting into debt with easy credit. Though regulations have tightened a bit, do talk with your student about all those tempting credit offers and the importance of a good credit record.

Please join me tomorrow for Part 2 of 3 in my series of “First Year Lessons in the Rearview Mirror.” And, please share the lessons you have learned from looking in the review mirror.


17 thoughts on “First Year Lessons Through the Rearview Mirror (Part 1)”

  1. Love every word of advice here and I just marked my calendar to read the post on this day next year to read your recap of the year and how you will approach this day next year! We had the financial talk with our son partly because no one ever had that talk with me and I went off to college thinking that as long as I had checks, I had money!!! I think that is a tougher conversation than peer pressure and sex!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I paid my own tuition and books while I was at home, and no one had it with me either, Ruth, which is exactly why we had it with C, too! And, yes, much tougher than sex! Thanks for reading, commenting, and most of all, your support! (It means the world to me!)


  2. And the list of things NOT to buy for boys is even longer. They don’t care if anything matches, or if the fridge is stocked with healthy snacks. But next year, I will INSIST that they not leave on the same day, or on little brother’s first day. I’m not sure I can survive the double whammy again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisha, that was a real double whammy! How are you holding up?
      I kind of figured boys would be different. If you notice the models portrayed in the ads, the majority are young women. Shocking! (Not!)


  3. Such great, thoughtful advice, Mary. The money conversation is almost harder to have than the talk about drugs because you want your kids to always feel like they have a safety net but you don’t want to enable them or have them think you’re a never-ending supply. Whoever said it’s hard when they’re babies was so wrong — little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re right about all of that. My daughter is leaving tomorrow for her Junior year…in Amsterdam. So we’ve had those earlier talks, and the one we had (also in the car) that I thought was really important was about depression. How deep does hers go? What are her strategies for getting out of it? And yes, I did ask her if she ever had suicidal thoughts (thankfully, the answer was no). But I realized how important it was for her to be aware of levels of depression as she enters a year in a new city, where she knows no one, and the winter can be harsh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so exciting and huge on so many levels, Kim! Congratulations to both of you!

      I think the sadness and depression talks are really important. I talk about those coming up because I think our kids face emotions they may not have had to deal with independently and that can be really tough. Thanks for your insight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s