College Homesickness (Episode 243)

Are your kids mentally and emotionally prepared for a life on their own? Dr. Leman talks about how to help your kids leave the nest on today’s episode. Learn more about Dr. Leman at BirthOrderGuy.com.

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Transcript

Doug:                       Well hello, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea:                  And I’m Andrea.

Doug:                       And we are so glad that you are with us today. If this happens to be your first time, just want to let you know that this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. And I want to say how happy we are that you’re here. I just can’t encourage you to just listen to a whole bunch of these, and you’ll be like, “Wow, this one is really great for me,” even if the title doesn’t appear to apply. It’s amazing how much you’ll go, “Oh yeah, that really helps me out.” I encourage you to listen to them and pass them on.

We get to talk today about homesick college students. Andrea, do you have a story?

Andrea:                  Yeah. That reminds me when I went off to college. Two weeks in and I was like, “I just have to go home for the weekend.” I didn’t even want to drive myself alone, so I brought a friend and dropped her off at her house. And now I’m talking to parents dropping off their kids, and the colleges are giving seminars to the parents about leave your kid alone for X number of weeks. Don’t worry if they don’t text you back, they’re busy. You need to let them go. So, I’m excited to see what Dr. Leman has to say.

Dr. Leman:           Well, let me put on my old dean of students’ hat. For 10 years, those of you who don’t know, I was an assistant dean of students at the University of Arizona in Tucson. At the time, we had about 35000 students. I was in charge of all the dorms. We had about 5500 kids living on campus at that time. I was in charge of the code of conduct. I was the heavy. I was the one that threw you out of school for smoking a green leafy substance in the residence hall. Let me be clear about that. So, I wore a few hats, but I had a lot of interaction with parents. In fact, I was usually the keynote speaker at parent orientation. I would tell things to the parents like, “I know some of you have heard rumors about the cockroaches in the residence hall, and I want to assure you the cockroaches are no longer there. The rats ate them years ago.”

So, my job was to loosen up these parents. And you’d see them. You could see the tears in the parents’ eyes, letting go of little Buford, although he was 18 years old and now got a heavy beard, was difficult for many a parent. So, I’ve been in those shoes. I’ve taken five kids to college. I told a very poignant story that always gets audiences in their tears about taking our firstborn to college. We didn’t do a very good job of it, but let me just tell you that most college students who go away do get homesick. If school starts after Labor Day, as many of them do, some start earlier, I realize, the month of October is usually an interesting one because all the newness of freshman orientation and finding out where your classes are and getting in the routines of things and figuring out where there’s a dry cleaner and where’s the nearest Starbucks, and all those mundane things that a college student faces, getting their mail, all that. That keeps them busy.

The routine settles in in September, and before long it’s October, and now midterms are coming, and the pace of college is picking up, and the intensity is there. It’s a perfect time for a kid to get homesick. So, the question is, what do you do when your child says to you, “I want to quit school. This isn’t for me. I want to come home”? That’s one form of it. What do you do with a kid who is just homesick and he’s calling a lot? How much information do you give him about home? What do you share with him? Let’s talk about those things.

Number one, the kid that wants to quit school. “Honey listen, we’ve all been in situations where we just want to hang it up, and listen, this is your choice, but we’ve plunked down a lot of money and you’ve got a student loan to choke a horse, so could go to this school that you wanted to go to. So, just like the violin lessons or the piano lessons that you wanted to quit years ago when you were seven, we told you you were gonna stick it out for the year. We haven’t changed our position. You’re gonna stick it out. If you want to consider hanging it up after the semester, that’s your choice, but as for bailing out mid-semester, that ain’t gonna happen. So, what can I do to help?” Now I’ve asked the kid what can I do to help. He’s gonna say something. Whatever he says. I might offer an idea, but he’s gonna have to figure that out. What I’m saying is, I’m gonna draw the hard line on, no you’re not bailing out. You’re gonna hang in there.

For the kid that’s just flat out just homesick, I’m gonna keep the news from home positive. If there’s worries in the home, I’m not gonna share them with him. He or she has enough on their plate. I’m gonna text as I get a text basically. The temptation is when you know your kid’s hurting, is to keep hammering them with stuff. I wouldn’t do that. I’d wait until something generates from him. Then I would respond in kind in a very kind way to the child. It’s something where you nurse him along as gently as you can, realizing that this is part … I think the parent who sent his kid off as a freshman, hey get ready for that phone call. It might be November, by the way. It might not be October. Just get ready for it because it’s very, very common among college students.

Doug:                       Dr. Leman, number one, the kid that says, “I want to leave college,” I’m surprised that you said to him, “Hey after one semester you can come home.” Why? That seems like he might take that out.

Dr. Leman:           Well, he might, but I want to give him a short term goal. I don’t want to say, “You’re gonna stick out the whole year.” The kid wants to come home now. A kid’s view is a little different than an adult parent. If I can get him to buy into the semester, chances are at the semester, he won’t leave. So many times, when I was a dean of students, I’d get a call from a parent. This is back in the days where the university acted in loco parentis, in place of the parent. I’d get a call from a frantic mom. I remember one from Highland Park, Illinois. Oh my goodness, the parents were just so upset. They had met me at orientation. We gave the parents our telephone numbers. We said, “Hey, we know what it’s like to send a kid away. If you’ve got a problem, you call us. Here’s our number.” Well, this lady calls me up at home. I gave them my home number. We talked and she was frantic about her kid. He was so unhappy, and all that. I said, “Well I’ll get ahold of him. I’ll call him in.”

I call over to his dorm, talked to the head resident. Said, “I want to see this kid.” The kid comes over. I said, “Hey how are things?” “Oh great.” “What’s your major? What are you doing?” “Everything’s fine.” “Like your classes?” “Love them. Got two professors, I just can’t wait to get to class.” “Are you meeting people?” “Yeah, in fact I’m dating a young lady from Iowa right now.” I said, “Well it’s curious because I got a call from your mom and your dad, and they’re very concerned about you.” “Oh that. Oh yeah, well I talked with them last night. Dean, I probably just … I wasn’t in a good mood. I thought I was going out with my girlfriend and she had something to do. I was just sort of ticked off.” In other words, he dumped all of his crap, so to speak, on his mom and dad. He was doing fine. Sometimes kids will do that to you. They’ll pull your chain, and they work you.

Those parents who have trouble letting go of their kids, you have to look back and understand that one of the reasons why they have such a hard time letting go is you had your hand way, way, way too much in their childhood. And now they’re out there by themselves. It’s uncomfortable for them. We’ve said on this podcast many times, remember you’re not rearing a kid, you’re rearing an adult. The idea is when the kid’s 18, 19 years of age, they can go out and be self-sufficient and do much on their own without your help. Anyway-

Doug:                       So, here’s a personal Terpening question. We have an oldest, 19 year old, James, in Costa Rica. You tell me. I’m supposed to wait for him to text me? I don’t initiate conversations with him. Did I hear that right?

Dr. Leman:           Yeah.

Doug:                       I don’t like that.

Dr. Leman:           You got a problem with that?

Andrea:                  Yeah.

Doug:                       I’ve got a big problem with that. Why can’t I?

Dr. Leman:           Then give it to him.

Doug:                       How do I know … I want him to know that I love him and I’m thinking about him, and that’s why I want to send him a text.

Dr. Leman:           He doesn’t know you love him?

Andrea:                  We just want to reaffirm it.

Doug:                       There we go. We want to reaffirm it.

Dr. Leman:           He doesn’t know his mother is a worrier?

Andrea:                  No.

Dr. Leman:           See, all I’m pointing out by being a little sarcastic is, these are our parental needs. We need to know that he’s okay. Now what could happen to you when you’re a few thousand miles away from home? Nothing. Right, Andrea?

Andrea:                  No. I’m glaring into the microphone.

Dr. Leman:           I’m gonna make her really mad here in a minute.

Doug:                       You already have.

Andrea:                  You hear the stories.

Doug:                       You should see her looking at you right now, Dr. Leman.

Andrea:                  Did you ever send your 19 or 18 year old to a foreign country by themself?

Dr. Leman:           Yes, to Thailand, to Japan, and to Africa. One of them got in a cage where they drop you in the ocean and a great white comes slamming up against the iron crate, to answer your question. That scares the jezeebies out of me.

Doug:                       So, you’re telling me that by me texting James right now in Costa Rica, that’s my need, that’s not his need.

Dr. Leman:           It is. But if you want to text, “Mom and I are just hanging out at Starbucks,” or let’s see. Let me make it better for the Terpenings. Mom and dad are in the barn, milking Daisy.

Doug:                       Not quite.

Dr. Leman:           Whatever. No, but you can give a little newsy something or thinking about you and put a little heart next to it. If you want to do that, do that. I’m just saying in general, be responsive to what the child sends to you. Don’t be reactive, be responsive.

Doug:                       I’m laughing so much, Dr. Leman, because Andrea sends James hearts all the time now via text.

Andrea:                  Oh.

Doug:                       She loves sending him that.

Dr. Leman:           Listen, when I text my kids, usually at the end of it, I’ll put, “Dad.” They know who it’s from, but I always say, “Dad,” and I always put a heart. They have that little double heart thing. I like that one.

Doug:                       Oh, hilarious. Well, it is true. I do text James now for my benefit, not for his.

Andrea:                  I think you text him more than I do. You just don’t put hearts on it.

Doug:                       Hey, I just don’t put hearts in it.

Dr. Leman:           I’m just telling you, parents who have kids at school, be aware that homesickness can be a part of it. Nothing beats chocolate chip cookies sent in a shoebox, and send plenty of them because chances are your son or daughter has a roommate or two. Food is always a good conduit with an adolescent.

Doug:                       Here’s the last question that’s genuine, and Andrea you can tell me. I fear that if I don’t tell him I love him, he’ll think somehow that I’m ignoring him.

Dr. Leman:           Oh really. You need to watch Dr. Phil.

Doug:                       I’m being honest. I’m just being honest. You’re telling me I’m crazy? Yeah, okay.

Dr. Leman:           Yeah. I am. I’ve never said you’re crazy on a podcast, but your kids … You guys are great parents and you have great kids for a reason. And kids know you love them. Telling your kid you love them, I tell me kids I love them all the time. I’m not knocking ya. I’m just saying you don’t have to be the initiator of everything. It’s nice to be missed. It’s nice for kids who are a few thousand miles away to miss their family. Do you want to be missed? I do. I tell my kids, “Hey, if I die, if I kicked the bucket first, do not let your mother forget about me.” Her propensity is to just bury things. I’m serious. I say, “I want you guys to keep me alive. Tell stories. I’ve given you guys enough stories. You can relive all those wonderful stories of your dad making a fool of himself. I really don’t care. Just keep me alive.”

Doug:                       So, going back to the homesick thing. You’re telling me take a chill pill, don’t overreact. If he calls-

Dr. Leman:           Send cookies.

Doug:                       Send cookies. Don’t initiate. When he does-

Dr. Leman:           Any good home news. Yep.

Andrea:                  Do they usually get over the homesickness by November, December? Is there a time when you notice that dropping off?

Dr. Leman:           You’ll be lucky to see them after they become a sophomore.

Andrea:                  So, it’s the first year mainly. It’s getting through the first year.

Dr. Leman:           Yeah, and the first semester is the tough one. Once they get over that hump, they’re gonna be fine. But notice that kids … I mean, I’ve got a dear friend in Chicago. Her daughter goes to UCLA. She was home this summer two weeks, and next summer she’ll be lucky to see her one week because she’s studying the Korean language, and she’s gonna go and be in Korea almost all next summer. So kids, once they get on their career path, especially if they’re hustlers, this kid I’m talking about is a hustler, meaning she can graduate probably in three years as opposed to four. She’s full speed ahead. Those times you have with your kids are precious and few the older the kids get.

Doug:                       Amen. James couldn’t wait to leave and go back. He was super happy to be here, but he was really, really happy to leave. You’re right.

Dr. Leman:           By the way, I’ve got to tell you guys a personal story. Somebody might find it amusing. I’m trying to put it up on my Facebook, so you can all see it. I was at the Ellen show this past week. I had to do home and family on the Hallmark channel and then I did Good Day LA, which is a local Fox affiliate. We went to see the Ellen show, and tWitch … You know who tWitch is?

Doug:                       Mm-mm (negative).

Dr. Leman:           Okay. You’re getting older than I thought. tWitch is the DJ on the Ellen show. This guy can dance like you cannot believe. He reminds me of the gymnasts that come out and do the floor exercise, these little young women who can flip and flop. I mean, the guy’s got springs in his feet. He comes out and warms up the crowd. Well, he’s dancing in the aisle at the Ellen show, looks down and sees me, and says, “Dr. Leman,” and comes in and grabs my hand and walks me out to the aisle. And I’m dancing with tWitch. Film at 11:00, you have to see this. I’ll try to put it up on my Facebook, and you guys can give it a gander, but it was really funny.

Andrea:                  I can’t wait.

Dr. Leman:           He’s a nice young man. In fact, he’s read my books, which puts me on his good list.

Doug:                       Well Dr. Leman, thanks for sharing that about homesick college kids, and to help all our parents. It’s really relevant to Andrea and I right now. We identify with those feelings a lot.

Andrea:                  Yep, yep.

Doug:                       So, thank you. Thank you, thank you.

Andrea:                  Thank you for your encouragement.

Doug:                       And thank you to Revel and Baker Books for, again, sponsoring this podcast and making it possible. We appreciate you guys so much over there. Those guys are amazing individuals. We look forward to the next time we get to hang out with you and add to your parenting toolbox.

Andrea:                  Have a great week.

Doug:                       Bye, bye.