Waiting for Email From a College Student

I’m getting together tonight with some girlfriends. We’re going to drink a lot and get choked up about our kids being in college now. I think it’s going to be just the ticket.

Rob is sending occasional indicators that he is still alive: a short video of a fire drill; an email about a detail of financial aid he needed to take care of. But he is not telling us about his classes or his teachers or his friends, or about what the weekends are like, or about what he’s eating, or about what it’s like to suddenly be sharing a room with a stranger, or if the work is more or less than what he expected, or if he’s homesick or if he feels happy and free or WHAT. I sent him an email with some questions, and he answered to say that he’d answer it later. It’s one of my least-favorite answers to get, in part because experience has taught me that people who answer an email that way generally DON’T follow up with a real answer later.

When I was in college I was allowed to call my parents once a week, on Sundays when the calling rates were lower, and they had to cut me off at an hour; I wrote letters/emails in between calls. I told Paul this and he shook his head pityingly. I asked, did he communicate with HIS parents in college? He thought he might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I asked, did they communicate with HIM? He thought they might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I shook my head pityingly. We both checked our phones to see if there was anything new from Rob.

I’m not going to nag him about it. This is a busy transition. He is SUPPOSED to be working on breaking free from us now.

It helps that I have the other kids, though right now it’s making me more sensitive about any of them being away. William was at work this weekend and I found it made me fretful: I wanted him to come back home, and was counting the hours. Why would it matter, when he just sits at his computer or does homework at the table when he IS home? It’s like I’ve hit my Maximum Child Absence Limit with Rob gone, and so now everyone else has to be home. (I don’t feel that way about the school day: I still enjoy seeing the backs of them in the morning.)

34 thoughts on “Waiting for Email From a College Student

  1. Susan

    When my daughter was in college (2010-2014), we heard VERY little from her. We were expected to not call, and even texts were not welcomed. She was in school 20 minutes away from our house and did not visit until Thanksgiving. She let us know that we were not welcome at parents’ weekend. She did call, in tears, the first day of school because her schedule was screwed up (I gave her advice but did NOT offer to help).
    Otherwise, she did not want to share her life with us.

    We exchanged some emails, when it suited her, but mostly I was reduced to looking for “sightings” of her on Facebook (we were not Facebook “friends”). It was very stressful for ME, but that’s how it was. Now, 3 years out of college, she is much more interested in sharing selected parts of her life with us, and is a delight to travel with, but still very private. It’s just who she is.

    It’s so difficult to see them grow away from us, but it’s what we raise them to do…so they say.

  2. Tracy

    That part about you and Paul shaking your heads pityingly towards each other had me literally laughing out loud at work. I don’t know how we’ll handle all this (as a couple) when our kids go away. I lived at college, but it was an hour away so I was home a lot (too much in hindsight). I don’t actually recall telling my parents a whole lot about my day, but then again I was pretty boring. I was there on a sports scholarship, so I pretty much did class/study, meals and practice. I was not very social. I do regret that. But I notice the same qualities in my kids, and there’s only so much pushing-them-to-do-stuff that one can do. My husband commuted to college, then dropped out mid-Junior year, and then was told to find somewhere else to live (so he did have experience living on his own). My biggest pre-concern is that my kids will do what I did. I let a lot of life pass me by. And there’s just no way to get that time back. But there’s also no way to have the wisdom of the future, in the present…

    Aside – I’ve generally thought of us as about the same age, Swistle. I’m not asking your age, but your mention of having email in college, makes me think you’re younger. My college did get email in the last semester I was there (but dorm rooms were not equipped with internet access…). Perhaps they were late to the game, or your college was on it with that stuff. Just checking in from the stone age here :-)

    1. Swistle Post author

      Yes, we had email, though we had to go to a computer lab to use it: no internet in the dorms.

    2. Shawna

      I thought the same thing as you about my age relative to Swistle. The odd thing to me wasn’t that she had email in college, it was that her parents had email to correspond with her. I had email at the computer lab, but my parents didn’t know the internet existed yet. I started university in 1991, to give some perspective.

      1. Tracy

        I think my parents had an email address through netzero before I had email in college (accessed via dial-up of course!). I started university in Aug 1992 and graduated in Dec 1995. Email addresses were given out in Sep/Oct 1995. I’m thinking my school was just behind when it came to technology.

        It is really funny to think of ALL the things we didn’t have access to right at our fingertips before smartphones!

  3. Suzanne

    I had to read the last line twice because it sounded so tender at first — you love even their backs! — and then I got it and giggled and liked it more than the tenderness. The tenderness comes through elsewhere, so no need to overdo it.

    The lack of communication would have me pacing and fretting and wringing my hands and other useful things. I was away from my husband and child for A WEEK earlier this summer and his casual, “Everything’s good here” emails and texts DROVE ME OUT OF MY MIND. I want details! Did you sleep okay? Did our child sleep okay? How was our daughter’s mood in the morning? What did she eat for dinner? What did you eat for dinner? Did she go to bed easily? What did you watch on TV? GIVE ME ALL THE DETAILS.


  4. Suzanne

    OH! And because you are going to share College Feelings with friends tonight: my hair stylist this weekend told me that she and some friends get together a few times a year and do JOINT care packages for their college students! I thought that sounded so fun! A party where you put together care packages! Plus, you have to think of only one or two things to pack for your student, and leave the remaining brilliant ideas to your friends! Plus, wine!

    1. Swistle Post author

      Yes, this is me: I want to know what he is eating at EACH MEAL! Also, OMG, the joint care package idea is leaving me a little stunned. I have a group of friends this would be PERFECT for.

  5. Kara

    I don’t think guys talk to their parents, a lot, if my husband is being used as an example. During our college years, he went home two or three times when it wasn’t break weeks- and he only lived 45 minutes away and had a car. He never called them or emailed (then again, he didn’t have internet in his dorms). Now as an adult, he’s talked to his Dad twice this year, and hasn’t talked to his mother since 2014? Christmas 2015? Something like that. I talk to my parents at least twice a week.

    1. Christa

      My husband is the same way. He can go weeks without talking to his parents. He just doesn’t talk a lot or willingly share information about anything. I have to work to get answers from him about most things. I definitely talked to mine at least once or twice a week while in college.

      I now work as an Academic Counselor at a college and just today I had a mother of a student with whom I work email me and mention that she assumes her son is busy because he isn’t answering any of her texts. I felt bad for her. I have two sons and can’t imagine what it would be like. I’d also be dying for information about EVERYTHING.

  6. Britni

    Well, I think it’s a very good sign that he isn’t communicating a lot because that (to me) means he’s gaining friends and a good support network there and figuring it out on his own. It would drive me crazy as the parent though, constantly wondering.

  7. Kirsty

    I was never close to my mother, and my dad is not an emotional person at all (I don’t think he’s ever said he loves me, though I know he does). And none of us are/were great at phone calls. E-mail didn’t exist back in my day.
    I went to university in Scotland, around 900 miles from where my parents lived. In my first year, I went home at Christmas, then again at Easter because my hall of residence was going to be used for a conference (I probably wouldn’t have otherwise) and then for some of the summer. After that, I always went for Christmas (but had left again before New Year, because it’s much more fun in Scotland) and some of the summer.
    In between, I got occasional letters from my mother, and I responded equally occasionally, and I think I phoned once a week at first, then considerably less as we had little to say to each other (again: we weren’t close, I never confided in my mother). I did write to my aunt more often, and she sent the occasional care package, but she died in my third year, so that was the end of that.
    Even now, living in a different country to my dad (he’s now in Scotland, I’m in the south of France), our communication is rare – an e-mail once every 3 weeks or so, a phone call maybe once a month. And I haven’t physically seen him since April 2016, though my daughters and will be going at Christmas.
    I would love to have had a close relationship with my parents, but that’s just how things were. I think my mother fretted, but not in a “caring about me” kind of way, more in a “I’m losing my control over her” kind of way. I remember arriving home by train for my first Christmas, and my mother was horrified that I was wearing a short skirt (just above the knee, nothing outrageous) and bright colours, when she’d always made me dress like one of the Amish more or less, even in high school.

    1. Kirsty

      I might have been slightly more forthcoming had there been e-mails and texts back in my day… I’ve always loathed the phone (even with close friends), and still do, and writing actual letters is time-consuming… I always feel that a letter needs to be a decent length, whereas I have no problem at all sending a short e-mail or text.

  8. Nicole MacPherson

    My 13 year old is going to Quebec for a week at the end of the month for a school trip. The kids are not allowed to bring their phones with them – no texting allowed. The only communication would be if one of them uses the teacher’s phone to CALL US. I am somewhat distraught, although I remember similar trips at similar ages where we wouldn’t have any way to communicate at all with our parents, and frankly, that was fine by me. BUT IT IS NOT FINE NOW, NO. *deep breaths* *he’s going across the country and he’s only 13 deep breaths*

    I went to Europe on a school trip when I was 16, for two weeks, and I did not communicate with my parents ONCE. How did they make it through?

  9. Lawyerish

    If memory serves from when my brother went off to college (and was similarly uncommunicative), Rob will come home at Thanksgiving or Christmas and be so utterly insufferable that you will be THRILLED for him to go back to school and you’ll HOPE for him not to call too often.

    (I recall a tremendous serving of Attitude and a terrible Tone of Condescension from that first Christmas when my brother came home. We all suffered terribly, but for my parents it sure eased the transition when he went back.) (Also he turned out to be a lovely person, so it was temporary, the result of being high on independence and higher learning.)

    1. Swistle Post author

      Oh, YES: the first time I came home, I was SO READY to show off all my new debate/philosophy skillz! In the car on the way home from the airport, I told my parents all about how they were not thinking intellectually enough about their religious beliefs. *MIGHTY CRINGE*

  10. Ruby

    During my first semester of college, I was SO, SO homesick and called home as often as humanly possible. I lived a ten-hour drive from my parents, but would have gone home every weekend if I could have. I was having a much better time by the second semester, and didn’t call home nearly as often. So I’m sure this is a “no news is good news” situation! (But I imagine it’s hard not hearing from him regardless. Sending hugs.)

  11. Lydia

    I went off to college 17 years ago, but still well remember the arguments my father and I had over my frequency of contact. He couldn’t stand it when I didn’t answer every one of his (many) emailed questions within 24 hours, which I in turn could not stand.

    It’s an unfair setup, where the parents are naturally WILD for updates and the students (at least, the ones like me/Rob) are just as naturally disinclined to provide them while experiencing their first real taste of freedom.

    My son is at this very moment attending his first day of kindergarten and I already know all the details I’ll get out of him are “it was good! We ate Cheez-its!” or something.

  12. Heather

    In my experience with my now-in-his-5th-year-in-university-in-Scotland son (we live in NYC) — ask one question at a time. When I would text with four questions, only the last one got answered.

    Also, and this is hard, try to occasionally let him have the last “text”. If you respond to every single text, it feels more stifling than if you say “how many books did you buy?” and he replies “7”. Leave it there. If you then follow up with something to which he does NOT NEED to respond (like “oh, thought it would be more” or “7 is a good number”), it ingrains the idea of “Mommy’s texts don’t need responses”.

  13. Alice

    I went to school before cell phones (and while there was internet, my parents were not reliably on board yet) so we had a standing “i’ll call you once each weekend” rule. At first my parents tried calling me once a week, but I was so rarely in my room when they called that it stressed them out too much wondering Where I Was and What I Could Possibly Be Doing At That Hour… so we agreed that I had to call once a week, when I could make the time, and let them know I was alive that way.

  14. Shawna

    I was so proud of the fact that I made time in my busy life to phone my parents once a week, even though I really didn’t want to. I felt I was really being considerate of them. I went home at Canadian Thanksgiving, even though, again, I didn’t really want to, and ALSO at Christmas, though I escaped as soon as I could to celebrate New Years with my friends back in the dorms. In my defense though, my mom probably couldn’t have cared less what I was up to, as long as I was safe, healthy, and passing my classes.

    I can only imagine what it’ll be like when my kids go to school now that I’m used to the ease of texting though, plus I’m a much more involved parent than my parents were.

  15. Kalendi

    Dark ages at college here, collect calls and letters only. I got married just before I went off to college, 2,000 miles away, so I wasn’t really too interested in updating my parents about my “life”. I would get letters and phone calls from my Dad about how upset my Mom was that I wasn’t doing a good job of keeping in touch. Found out after he died that he was the one that was going crazy with my lack of communication (my Mom figured that I was busy being a student and a new wife).

  16. Gigi

    It’s been my experience, boys just aren’t as communicative as girls. Considering I don’t have a girl, you might wonder how I know this – my friends with girls tell me.

    I remember when mine was still tiny and thought he’d grow up to marry me – or at least live next door – I couldn’t drag ANYTHING out of him about his day. It was always “Good.” And honestly, when he got older it was even harder to just get THAT out of him.

  17. suburbancorrespondent

    Email! Kids don’t enjoy using that these days. Text would be easier for him, but yeah, don’t expect much. I remember being in college (way back, before Internet) and wondering why my parents insisted on calling me each week. I mean, I just couldn’t IMAGINE why they would be doing that.

  18. Maureen

    We took my daughter to school, and one week later we had a massive windstorm that brought down trees, we had no electricity for over a week, and no internet or landline for two weeks. We still had flip phones with no data plan, so no texts. I was going CRAZY! I could call her, but we wanted to Skype-she is our only child and we missed her horribly.

    It was very, very hard for me when she left. It was difficult for her because she didn’t know anyone at the school. Luckily her roommate was delightful, and is still a good friend of hers. I cried for most of the 6 hour drive home, got home and started cleaning for some reason. The worst part is I would automatically go to her room to tell her something, and that slam of “wait, she isn’t there” really got me.

    I think the hardest part for me was not being part of her daily life, knowing what was up with her. Knowing that it would never again be like that. I did go through a mourning period for that closeness. One of the problems was I wasn’t working at the time, I think that could have helped focus my thoughts and give me something else to think about. We did end up adopting a kitten that December, and as silly as it might sound, I lavished my maternal energies on that little girl.

    The good part, it does get easier! And I’ll never forget my daughter saying before she left for that first semester “well, it would be sad if we weren’t sad, you know?”.

    1. Natalie

      My daughter started her 2nd year of preschool today and I missed her so much. Even though I work and she goes to daycare every other day. I wanted to know ALL THE THINGS. Did you take a nap? Was Peyton there? What about Joshua? What do you mean Natalie didn’t want to play with you? WHY NOT? At 3 she is pretty good at telling things but I know someday she will roll her eyes at me and not tell me these things I need to know!

  19. Joanne

    When I went away to school, my sister and I came home every weekend and had dinner with my parents. I loved to get mail (the USPS variety, I’m OLD) and the only way to get letters was to write them, so I wrote them. A LOT! Years later when I met my husband, I remember being so shocked that he never went home from college except at the major holidays and in the summer, and after a few semesters, he didn’t even go home in the summer! Sometimes I can’t believe that we are both the same species, such differences.

  20. Sian

    When my Dad and brother were overseas and away from my brother and I many years ago, my father would send an email every day (remember Compuserve?) about what they had been up to. I don’t think we always wrote back, but it was a lovely thing to look forward to every day. My dad continued the tradition when I was at camp and then my mom emailed me most days in university. Just a short email, a little newsy, but the important thing was it required no reply.

    So what if you sent him an email every few days with just a little “update” on life at home. No questions for him to reply to etc. You might find he came to enjoy it and even responded once in a while.

  21. Melanie

    My daughter calls me every morning when she is walking to class. It’s about a 30 minute walk. She also texts mt throughout the day. I am lucky.

    1. rlbelle

      I feel like this would have been me, if we’d had cell/smartphones when I was in school. I don’t honestly remember how much I called my mom, or how much she called me, but I didn’t “go away” to college until two years in – I lived at home and went to community college, then transferred to a four-year an hour away. I moved into an apartment with a friend, but I remember calling my mom the first night because we’d been pulled over on our way back from buying a shower curtain (got out of the ticket, fortunately), and then when we got home we turned on the kitchen lights and the cockroaches fled back under the stove. I’m fairly sure that my mom gave me calling cards with tons of minutes, and I probably called her once or twice a week and talked for an hour or more. This continued no matter where I lived until the second baby arrived to suck all my time away. If I can cultivate anything like that kind of relationship with my two girls, I will be one happy momma.

  22. jill

    I’ve told my son I want to touch base every day. Just a quick hello text, which either one of us can initiate. I’ve found this helps, when I do talk to him, to get more details, because we have kept some sort of connection.

    It hasn’t stopped me from crying every time we hang up though. Sigh. Some day.

    p.s. a friend told me she asked her boys how often they wanted to be in touch, as if that makes her a better mom. Maybe it does, but I like my way better.

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