Think back to when you taught your child how to ride a bike. That summer was probably a mixed bag of emotions—deep happiness at one moment, then extreme panic at the next. One minute, they could be perfectly upright and pedaling to their heart’s content. But in an instant, they could come toppling down onto the pavement or crashing into a mailbox.
Sending your child off to college is a lot like those first few days of learning how to ride a bike. While you know that your child needs space, in the back of your mind, you know that they could also make a huge mistake and get hurt in an instant.
These fears are what lead many moms to become “helicopter parents” when their kids go off to college. Simply put, a helicopter parent is anyone who hovers too close to their kids’ life and doesn’t give them the independence that they need to succeed. If you want to stay out of this helicopter parent territory, here are four things that you should never do when your kid is in college.
#1: Don’t drop in unexpectedly
At some point, you’ve probably told your child “My roof, my rules.” This universal parenting slogan reminds kids to respect their parents and remember their place in the family. When your child goes off to college and lives on their own, they now have a space where they are the boss. It’s their turn to have a roof, and just as they respected your roof and your rules, they expect you to reciprocate by giving them the same honor.
Sure, you may be paying the room and board. But that’s no reason to feel entitled to unexpected visits, especially when there is a roommate involved. When you’re thinking about going to visit your college student, just call or text them beforehand and let them know. That simple gesture makes all the difference.
#2: Don’t write your child’s essays
To most parents, this one is obvious. So if you find yourself doing your child’s work for them, you’re definitely in helicopter parent territory. It may be tempting to step in and “help your child out” when they are swamped with work, sports, or other college activities. After all, a great paper may help raise their GPA, and a five-minutes-to-read admission essay will definitely increase their chances of getting into a top-notch school. But doing the work for them is actually hurting more than helping—you aren’t allowing them to grow, learn and become independent.
If you really feel the need to step in, try sending your child a helpful research article or giving them advice on the best way to format their essay. But as the parent of a college student, you need to be willing to let them have their space, even if that sometimes means failure.
#3: Don’t buy your kid pizza
“What’s wrong with pizza?” you ask. Putting the poor nutritional content aside, nothing is wrong with pizza in and of itself—it’s just an example of something that your child wants but doesn’t need.
Plenty of other things fall into this category, like brand name clothes and top-of-the-line electronics. When you get in the habit of buying your child the things that they want, it makes it harder and harder for them to distinguish their wants from their needs.
Of course, every once and a while, it’s OK to splurge and get your child something superfluous—doing so every other month is a good rule of thumb. But if they come to rely on you as their entire food and shopping budget, it will cause problems in the future when they have to manage their finances on their own.
#4: Don’t call every day
When your child goes off to college, your home will feel different. It might even seem a bit emptier or lonelier than before. And soon enough, you will miss your child and want to hear their beautiful voice.
In the age of technology, it’s easy to reach your child at all hours of the day. But that doesn’t mean that you should. After the first few weeks of college life, the reality is that your child will be ready to break some ties with home, and daily calls will become a nuisance rather than a special time for you two to share together.
To avoid this burnout, try to stick to calling less than once a week. In the meantime, you can text or check up on social media, but save the calls for later. When you are ready to make that weekly or biweekly call, make sure you let your child know ahead of time so they can be fully present and engaged in the conversation.
By giving your child space, letting them do their own work, keeping them on a budget, and sticking with quality communication, you’ll help your student—and yourself—adapt to the college lifestyle.
In fact, these small actions will pay off both now and later. In the short term, your child will learn the ropes of personal finance and succeed in college through their own learning. And in the long term, they will have the skills to avoid dangerous mistakes and pitfalls.
But most importantly, giving your child space in college will lead to a healthy lifelong relationship of mutual respect and friendship—a mother’s dream come true.