Parenting through a Difficult Season- The College Transition

This is going to be a very vulnerable and personal post. Please know that it’s not meant to complain, but to be honest with other parents about something our family is going through.

Maybe you will have similar struggles or have had them. If so, you will know that not everyone has a hard time with this and not everyone has an easy time with this. If you are struggling like we are, know that you are not alone.

Our oldest son is 18 years old and after graduating from High School last spring, in August he began college at a university over 700 miles from home. We were not ready.

Sadly, I don’t know that we would have been ready without taking a year to prepare. Maybe that is what we should have done? It’s hard to say now. He’s just completed his sixth week of classes.

Our son in his first dorm room

There are bright spots- his grades are mostly good. He’s made a few friends and created some new music with them. He’s in a great location on campus in the middle of everything. He had a great room, but that changed this week. More on that below.

There have been heartaches. He is on the autism spectrum and has adhd. He’s found setting screen time limits for himself and self regulation very challenging. He’s not sleeping well and has missed some classes early on.

He’s at a point in at least one class, where he can’t afford to miss more than one more class or his grade will be impacted. Two more misses and he fails. With 2.5 months left of the semester, this feels like a desperate situation.

He was basically “tricked” into moving out of his dorm room by his now former roommate. He and another student approached my son on Sunday night to have a “serious talk.” They went on to describe how they have become good friends and would like to live together and switch roommates. My son said there was awkward silence and then he agreed. That’s when they told him that he would be the one moving and they would move all of his things to the alternative room.

I didn’t find out there was even a chance of my son moving rooms until later in the afternoon on Monday. The boys were directed that they all had to agree and then wait for the University to approve. They were told via email and verbally to NOT MOVE ANYTHING until given explicit approval from the university. Unfortunately, these boys didn’t follow the rules and began moving my son’s belongings out of his university issued dorm room on Monday afternoon.

We have been through it. I am so mad! Just when he’s finally getting settled and in a little groove, this happens. This new issue basically sent me over the edge. How could this happen to a student with a documented disability? I ended up flying to see him at the end of the third week to help him through some of the transition issues. We set up meetings with the Counseling office and the Office of Accessibility. He had previously signed up for a mentoring program and not attended the orientation. So, we arranged that and met with the counselor first.

When I got to campus, it was immediately clear that I was needed at that very moment. I couldn’t be sad or breakdown by what I encountered. I just had to be in “rescue mode” for my son. We had a very productive and sweet 24+ hours together. At one point during our time together, he turned to me and said, “mom, I feel like I lost a year of my life (Covid hit during his freshman year of high school) and I wasn’t ready for this.”

From that point, things have mostly gotten better. But, every day is a roller coaster of emotions. We wonder if he’s going to make it to class? Will he go to bed early enough so he can wake up for class? Will he finish all of his work and get his assignments turned in without someone there to remind him? Will he make it to class on time? Will he eat? Will he go to bed?

It’s a vicious cycle of worry, sending alarms to his phone to attempt to wake him and waiting for the next shoe to drop. It’s hard!

Technology is a huge barrier for him- specifically a laptop with access to YouTube at all hours of the night. We haven’t figured out how to successfully limit his ability to access YouTube in the middle of the night. We have tried and he has allowed us to install controls on the laptop to help. However, it has such a strong pull on him, that he finds workarounds.

Are there devices out there that are similar to laptops- with some applications- Canvas, for example and Microsoft apps like word, excel, and outlook that can’t get on any other websites- ie, YouTube ? Is this even possible?

We want to help him be successful and this is crippling his ability to stay on task. We’ve tried therapy, parental controls with his permission, him setting goals and limits and trying to follow them. However, we haven’t had a breakthrough yet and the way we are living right now, trying to support him from home, is not sustainable long-term.

One device that has been extremely helpful is the Amazon Echo, which I purchased during my most recent visit with our son. When he and I talk on the phone, he will set alarms for the next day and I can hear this happen. It gives me a little bit of peace, knowing he has an alarm other than a cell phone to wake him in the mornings. We can also add reminders and announcements. This has been a lifesaver by helping him to wake up!

I know that this season, like every other hard season in motherhood (and in life), will pass. It’s just a little heartbreaking moving through this, not knowing how it’s all going to work out. I do find comfort knowing that God has our son and his future in His Hands. I also find comfort in knowing God has us in His Hands through this very challenging season of parenthood.

Parenthood is definitely not for the faint of heart.