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I remember when my older daughter began college and I began my journey as a parent of college kids.  I feared that everything would change and our family would never be the same.

Well, I was right.  College DOES change people and our family IS different.

The good news is that the changes are mostly wonderful, a fact of which I was reminded this weekend when we attended Family Weekend at my younger daughter’s college in Boston.

I was extremely anxious to get to Boston to see daughter #2.  It had been 51 days since we had last seen her sweet face in person….yes, I counted.  Because her older sister attends a college 30 minutes from home, we had never gone much more than a month without a visit with her.  51 days felt like a very long time.  For the record, with daughter #1 studying in London this semester, it will be 97 days when we finally head “across the pond” to see her in December!

As expected, our visit this past weekend was a complete joy.  I loved seeing her in her new home, meeting her new friends, and seeing her growing confidence and excitement about the community of which she is now a member.  I loved that she wanted to show me parts of her Boston, instead of me being the tour director.  I loved hearing her stories as we passed people she knew on the street and seeing the changes she has made to her dorm room since we set it up in August….further evidence of her growing roots in her new home.  Most of all, I loved seeing the ways in which she is growing and changing.

Here are some of the things I love most about being a parent of college kids:

It is their show. The choices they make about attending class, doing homework, preparing for auditions, going to rehearsal, getting enough sleep, when to work and when to play are all up to them now.  For the last few years of high school, especially once they could drive, they were certainly somewhat more autonomous.  However, I was always aware of what they were juggling and how they were balancing their academic, extracurricular and social commitments. I kept a copy of their calendar, and offered reminders, in addition to food, encouragement and the occasional “re-direction.”  While they lived in my home, no matter how independent they were, a part of me was always aware of what they were doing, what they had coming up, where they needed to be, what they needed to do and what potential trouble spots might be.  Now, they are taking care of their business without my day to day involvement and appear to be doing a fabulous job!

I remember about 6 weeks into my older daughter’s first semester when I realized that I was feeling something that could best be described as a sense of relief.  She was successfully managing all the details of her life and it felt like there was a whole section of my brain….the part that wondered whether she had eaten properly, slept enough, worn the appropriate clothing, done her homework, done her laundry, etc….that had been liberated!  While I am occasionally called in for consultation, I don’t hear about most problems until they have solved it themselves and are reporting on their triumph.  They have certainly made some mistakes, but it appears they are learning from them and making forward progress.  Best of all, they have a sense of pride and mastery because they now know that they are capable of managing their busy lives successfully.

Time together is even more fun.  Because the “task oriented” aspect of our relationship has changed, our relationship now is much more about just enjoying each other’s company when we are together.  When we were in Boston, it was all about learning all I could about her new life; who were the people she trusts the most, where are the places she likes to go, what is the hardest part of her classes, which of her roommates get along and which don’t, which cute boy does she have her eye on, what does she think of her new director, what might she choose for a second major.  She wanted to hear the news from home, check on her dad’s new knee, hear what I was doing with my free time. She introduced us to her friends and I saw that she was at home and truly herself with them.  My biggest prayer for her has been answered.  She has found her people.

With each Christmas and summer break with her older sister, we have seen the same thing.  She is excited to share the new aspects of herself and we marvel at her growing maturity.  We learn about things we didn’t know she liked and interests we didn’t know she had. While we often have to fight for time with her, we cherish the moments we get and try to soak her in while she is here.  Since we rarely have to be the “boss” anymore, most areas of potential conflict have been removed.  We marvel at the interesting, intelligent, well spoken, confident young woman she has become and we love getting to know this growing, changing version of the little girl we have always cherished. We can already see the beginnings of this transformation with our younger daughter.  Now, our time together is all quality time, heightened by the awareness of the limited quantity.

They are better roommates.  Living away from home makes them appreciate home.  You may have read my account here of youngest daughter’s epiphany about what it takes to battle mess while living in community, something about which she had no interest when living here.  While she hasn’t been home yet, she is counting the days until she is reunited with her bed, her dog and her bathtub.  We have found that, after months of cafeteria food, we can always bribe her big sister to hang out with us by offering her a steak dinner.  We have found that living elsewhere and hearing about other people’s home lives has given them an awareness that things were pretty good here at home when they were growing up.  Now when our oldest comes home, she more consistently expresses her gratitude for meals served to her and more regularly helps out with household chores without being asked.  She more often takes the initiative and asks how she can help.  We are holding our breath to see if the same transformation happens with #2. 🙂  Making the transition from adults taking care of children to adults living together in community takes some compromise and negotiation at first, but it appears that the benefits outweigh the difficulties so far.  We are very much looking forward to December 16th when we will all be here in this house again!

Fellow parents of college kids, what do YOU like about this stage of parenting?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!