Many a grandparent who sees a grandchild off to college experiences a second empty nest syndrome. Those who also have younger grandchildren may not feel that their nest is empty. Still, they may worry about staying connected with young adult grandchildren, especially if they have always been geographically close to them. There are ways to stay connected, though, as many long-distance grandparents can attest.
It's More Than the Distance
Some grandchildren don't go far away when they go to college. It's about more than location. College students typically are enjoying a a freedom they have never had. They are developing new social circles and honing their independence. Also, they frequently have rigorous academic schedules, and some hold down jobs as well.
Grandparents who want to stay close must be respectful of the pressures their grandchildren are under. They should strive to keep their interactions with their students light-hearted and positive. It's okay to let grandchildren know that they are missed, but never guilt-trip a grandchild who is guilty only of trying to get an education.
Get Involved Early
Get off to the very best start with your college student by getting involved early. Show your interest in your grandchild's college career before it actually starts. Many grandparents enjoy visiting college campuses with a grandchild, with or without parents.
If invited on such a visit, remember to stay in the background during meetings and tours. Listening and taking notes are good roles for grandparents on college visits.
Other fun bonding experiences include shopping for dorm furnishings and for other items that your college student will need. Just be sure not to upstage the parents.
Social Media Pluses and Minuses
Chances are that social media will become your primary method of keeping in touch with your college grandchild, if it isn't already. You know the 10 Facebook no-nos for grandparents, right? Certain of these commandments become even more important when grandchildren are in college and may be developing a new social group. Don't friend their friends or jump into their conversations with peers. When you are the grandparent of a college student, it's not always a bad thing to be a lurker.
Information flows both ways on Facebook and other social media, however, and you may not be happy with some of the information that flows to you. The problem may be the posts that your grandchild makes, or it may be friends whose posts are over the line. Just remember that you are not the parent, nor are you the Facebook police. If you can't keep from being offended or upset, maybe you shouldn't be connected with your grandchild on social media. Before you unfriend anyone, however, try the intermediate step of hiding posts from those whose posts you find offensive.
Your grandchild may be using social networks other than Facebook, especially Instagram, which is used primarily for sharing photos. Some grandparents enjoy Instagram more than Facebook, because it doesn't have the political posts and other "noise" that turns some Facebook users off. On the other hand, Instagram users tend to post less often and to reveal less in their posts, so it is less than satisfactory to judge how well a grandchild is doing.
No matter what social network you are using, don't ignore a post from a grandchild that indicates that he or she is depressed or dealing with serious emotional issues. Some observers think that anxiety disorders and panic disorder are on the rise among college students. If you see any posts that indicate that your grandchild isn't coping well in the college environment, contact your grandchild via text or private message, and share your concerns with the parents when appropriate. Many college students feel overwhelmed or suffer from fear of failure. Support from grandparents, even virtual support, can be invaluable.
Phone, Text or Email?
Technology today offers us many ways to stay in touch. Find out from your grandchild how he or she prefers to be contacted and use that method. Most young people prefer texts with an occasional longer phone call or chat session. (Yes, grandparents should know how to text.) FaceTime, Skype or one of the other video chat apps will let you see your grandchild's sweet face. Email continues to fall in favor, although many colleges still use it as a way to get information to students. In fact, your grandchild may use email more in college than in high school.
It goes without saying that you shouldn't be upset if you don't get a reply to a text or email, or if the reply is a while in coming. College students spend a lot of time in class and a lot of time studying and also have social lives. Responding to a grandparent's message may not be top priority. If you are really worried, contact the parents to see if they have heard from their child. Otherwise, just play it cool and send another message in a few days.
Care Packages and Snail Mail
The traditional college care package of homemade cookies or other goodies will still delight a grandchild, but today there are lots of alternatives. If your grandchild is attending a college far from home, a package of local foods may ease homesickness. Also, many companies are now in the business of selling care packages that can be tailored for the individual. Exam time is a popular time for the sending of care packages, but exam time may be too hectic for fullest enjoyment. Instead, think about sending one when there is going to be a long stretch between home visits.
Many college students, especially those on a strict budget, will appreciate a care package of essential items such as shampoo and laundry detergent. Some college students don't have the transportation for easy access to shopping, and on-campus shops can be pricey. You can let your grandchild know that you are willing to send such items, or you can order them through an online service such as Amazon that will deliver directly to the dorm. Another alternative is an electronic gift card that will allow your grandchild to do his or her own shopping online.
One of the best ways to show your love is by sending your grandchild a letter. Letters have a physical presence, and students are more likely to be read and re-read an actual letter than an electronic communication. Before you send one, though, be sure that you have the right address and find out if your student checks his or her mail on a regular basis. And, of course, don't be disappointed if you don't get a reply. Many college students have not acquired the habit of sending actual letters, and many will never adopt the practice. That doesn't mean that your letters won't be appreciated.
You're a lucky grandparent if your grandchild's college is close enough that you can visit occasionally. Just be sure to time your visit so that it doesn't coincide with a major assignment deadline or with the social event of the semester. Family weekends can be good times to visit, but you'll find crowds everywhere. Sometimes it's better to visit on an off weekend. If you are staying overnight, your grandchild may enjoy staying at your hotel to escape dorm life for a night or two.
A Word About Money
Some grandparents help pay for college for their grandchildren. If you are one of those, be sure that you are acting out of a sincere desire to help. Don't let yourself be maneuvered or guilt-tripped into helping if you really don't want to or can't afford to.
If you do choose to help, don't take that as a license to try to control your grandchild's life. The money should be given with no strings attached. Don't think that your financial support means that you get to monitor your grandchild's grades. Keep your relationship casual but supportive, and you will probably be told all the information you need. In the event that your grandchild decides to move to a different campus or even drops out, try not to over-react. Many successful people experienced bumps in their college careers.
The Big Payoff
Grandchildren need grandparents, and that need doesn't go away when the grandchild goes away to college. Strive to stay connected through the collegiate years, and you will be rewarded with a close relationship when your grandchildren become fully functioning young adults. And isn't that what both grandparents and grandchildren want and need?