How My Daughter and I Faced the Reality of College Together

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Ahh, college. A complex conundrum for any parent. It’s a confusing jumble of letting go, holding on, holding back, and pushing forward. But for the single mother, this new dimension also brings with it some challenges and emotions that perplex even the most seasoned mom.

It starts with all of the excitement of senior year in high school. These adorable, wide-eyed, baby-adults think they’re ready to take on the world. Often, they forget to take in the here and now of the halls and the faculty that have groomed them for the past four years. Social media, incessant selfies, and communicating with everything outside the present has skewed the reality of our kids.

And so they toss their caps in the air and think they are so much more mature than the student body in the stands.

And then they show up on a daunting campus where they’re at the bottom, once again, and are somehow shocked at their insignificance in this strange new world.

And so it begins. Wandering around a new place, schedule in hand, trying not to look like a freshman yet having no idea where your next class is. Feeling so sure that first week that you’re in the right major, you’re going to excel at everything and change the world. Then the temptations and distractions creep in…football games, fraternities and sororities, parties, drinking…and the potential for lots of dumb decisions. The exhilaration and newfound freedom of finally being in college, and the law telling you you’re an adult because you turned 18– a dangerous prescription for straying off course.

My daughter was always a good student in high school. She attended a highly-ranked school system in a prestigious Cincinnati suburb, studied hard, made good friends, competed in multiple sports and excelled in everything artistic, from painting to photography to marching and concert band. I was excited for her to attend University of Cincinnati, despite her anguish over not being able to attend any school she actually wanted, the only criteria being AWAY FROM HOME. The only problem being a single mom on a sub-par salary, renting in a prestigious neighborhood is that most of the kids’ friends come from wealthy homes, and their college possibilities are vastly different from ours. Her closest friends went to Colorado, Penn, OSU, and NYU. She was appalled at the reality of U.C. or nothing. And to make matters worse, we can’t afford a dorm. OMG. You would think the poor girl is scrubbing floors (oh wait, I do that) and attending vocational school. To her, living in a lovely townhome and having to drive a car given to her that she has never had to pay for and park (in a campus garage, paid for by me) on a highly rated, upscale campus is dismal. How dare we not afford her the luxury of a dorm.

Oh and how I would have loved to set her up in a dorm! It would’ve been a good way for her to get a glimpse of just how much mom actually still does for her that she doesn’t see, but still bring her back home in between semesters. But alas, there’s no money.

So off she goes, in her free car to her free garage, complaining all the way. The first semester was, from what I hear, a typical freshman performance. She dropped classes, partied too much and received poor grades. And of course there was a major change – almost immediately–to Undecided, which they dramatically refer to these days as “Exploratory Studies.” Frankly, I think EVERY freshman should be required to enter first semester in this refreshing non-major, to give them some breathing room in a new world with new rules.

There have already been many weekends of “spending the night in so-and-so’s dorm. I lose touch with her. I panic! But the rule is, if she doesn’t answer my call, she loses her phone. That’s already happened a couple of times, and you would think I cut off her right arm. In today’s world You are NOBODY without a cell phone. And she has a false sense of security with the cell phone in her hand, thinking that if she were accosted, the phone would rescue her. Ummm NO! The accoster would probably take the phone! But like most teenagers, she feels that she is immune from being attacked which is a dangerous assumption. I’ve tried to at least instill a “buddy system” mindset. Don’t go anywhere at night alone. No parties, no walking across campus to your car–NOTHING! But I can no longer control what she is actually going to do. I have to trust that I’ve built the foundation in her of good sense, smart decisions, and safety consciousness.


A few years ago, when a high school classmate was struck and killed while walking home alone, in the dark, on a long stretch of highway after drinking – thus making poor decisions….his father bravely stood before all of his friends and classmates at a community remembrance and told the kids “Make good decisions. Above all else, make good decisions. Because every decision you make could be your last.” He held himself together long enough to say “My son made a very bad decision. And now he’s not here to reconsider.” It was heartbreaking. And I’ll never forget that speech. We can only hope that every teenager standing there was listening. And taking in what this broken father was pleading to them. I hope that was burned into the kids’ memories as it was mine.

And then comes second semester. Literally as I wrote this she somehow found a way to sublease for the rest of the school year. And just like that…poof. She’s gone. Dreading this day, I signed us up for both CPR and Self Defense classes. She already missed the CPR class, saying she was sick. And now that it’s become almost impossible to mandate anything because she’s out of my reach, I can only hope she has the good sense to come to the Defense class. One day, her life may depend upon it. Though, I hope not. In the meantime, she carries the mace that I gave her (in a compact little pink lipstick-looking disguise), and hopefully she is aware of her surroundings and thinking smart.

While she’s away, we text and call a lot. I like to send my messages often disguised as a bitmoji– that little animated character that looks like me, but has the charm and appeal to make my messages more appealing. It’s hard to adjust to my new role with my kids. It’s not easy to just back off and hope for the best.

Something must be working though, because every so often, very late at night, I’ll get a “good night mommy, I love you” text.  This makes my heart sing, grateful that we’re weathering these difficult days together.


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