Why Your College-Age Grandchildren Still Need You
No matter what age they are, grandchildren need their grandparents.
Though it's not often uttered, it's a question that naturally crops up each year as some 11 million families wave good-bye to a child bound for college. After all, you've spent 18 years babysitting and buying dream birthday gifts for your grandchild. Patiently, you listened to complaints about mom and dad earning yourself the treasured role of confidant. It's no wonder as she zips off to those ivy-covered halls that you're asking yourself if the grandparenting days are over.
"The answer is no," says Katia Callan, who frequently meets with college students as a counselor at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, MD. "Does your adult child ever stop being your child? As a grandparent, you've been there as part of your grandchild's earliest memories. In her eyes, you are a pillar of wisdom and a fixture that will always be there. There is still a role for you to play."
Yes, But What Is Your New Role?
It's an exciting and somewhat conflicting time for a college-age grandchild who's living independently for the first time. Your grandson will confidently tell you he's an adult. His parents, however, will claim he's still a child. They'll cling to the times in recent months when he forgot to fill the gas tank, hand in an English paper... or eat breakfast. As grandparent, it will be easier for you to recognize that your grandchild is both: part burgeoning adult, part naive child. The challenge will be knowing when to level with your college-age grandchild on adult terms, and when to coddle him.
Freshman at Arcadia University in Philadelphia, Jessica Jansson, admits her grandmother, Florence Kuperavage, isn't as active in her life now that Jansson is living away from home. "When I was in high school and had to be there early, she used to drive me. She'd bring me a coffee or breakfast. It was a rare occasion when I wouldn't see her every day," says Jansson.
But just because they don't get to see each other as often, doesn't mean the relationship she has with her grandmother is any less important in her life, says Jansson. "Whenever we connect, we pick up right where we left off the last time we talked. And, in a way, I appreciate my grandma more now than I ever did before," she says. "Whatever I need, whenever I need to talk to her, she's there for me."
Keeping in Touch
The ticket to keeping ties with your grandchild strong is maintaining open lines of communication. Nowadays, there's no shortage of communication methods available for reaching out to your grandchildren. "E-mailing or texting are the best ways to get in touch. These messages are likely to generate the fastest response from a grandchild," says Callan, "but a good old-fashioned landline phone call works well, too."
Keep in mind, though, that the days of parents dictating "Call your grandma, visit your grandpa," are over. When they do make the occasional weekend trip home, college students have to cram in visits with old friends, parents, and extended family. As a grandparent, you may lose out in this equation. Instead of waiting around pining for a visit, reach out to your grandchild just as you would with any other adult friend.
Kuperavage, who has five grandchildren away at college, tried something new this year. "I picked up the phone one evening and called each grandchild at school. Now, they're calling me back. I actually have a message from one of the girls on my machine right now," she says, with excitement in her voice.
She's a ready sounding board. When Jansson recently confided in her grandmother how unhappy she was at her new school, it was Kuperavage who guided her in making the decision to transfer to a different school. Grandparenting doesn’t end when your grandchild moves into the dorm. It just changes — in interesting ways.
My Grown-Up Grandchild
And just as you did when they were teenagers, it's time to learn about your college-age grandchild's new interests.
With her husband, JoAnn Hertz has attended countless of her grandson DJ Holland's sporting events and school programs despite the five-hour drive it takes to get to his Penn State University campus. He's just a freshman now, but as each season rolls around, they want to remain familiar faces in the crowd applauding their grandson and his peers from the stands.
Hertz is thrilled that she's been able to maintain a close relationship with her oldest grandchild. "DJ still confides in me," says the grandmother of four. "I try to encourage him all the time. When he's upset, I try to cheer him up and take his mind off his problems."
You’ll Always Be My Grandbaby
"Students are trying to transition into being adults, getting up on their own, figuring out meals, navigating a new town, making new friends, and dealing with roommates for the first time," says Callan. "But they're also dealing with that huge life question such as, 'Who am I?'"
Callan sees grandparents as "the huge cheerleading section waiting for the next big play so that they can reinforce how proud they are of each step along the way. Support your grandchildren when they achieve their goals, but allow them to make mistakes, too, and reinforce to them that they have to pick up the pieces themselves."
Yes, college students are working hard at being adults but let's face it: Everyone — even adults — enjoys being treated like a kid sometimes. So, while you're learning to relate to your adult grandchild, also continue some of the childhood traditions you established.
"I sent all my grandchildren funny Halloween cards," says Kuperavage.
Her granddaughter looks forward to the handwritten notes. "My freshman year I was home almost every week but this year it’s been difficult to get home," she says. "Nan's mail lets me know that I am loved, cared about, and missed. Mail in college always makes anyone happy!"
That's What Grandparents Are For
Even as they move into adulthood, grandchildren still need the comfort of a grandparent's love. "Where it's true I see my grandmother less, I miss her a whole lot and there won't be one day in my life where I won't think about her — and I think the same goes for her,” says Jansson. “She's my guardian."
Post by Jodi M Webb