Manage Your Marriage for Freshmen

Why Divorce and Dorm Drop-off Shouldn't Be on the Same Day

Couple Dispute
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Every year, college health clinics and deans' offices get full with tearful freshmen who've just embarked on one of the most exciting and stressful experiences of their lives. They've left their families, moved into a dorm filled with strangers, and every single thing in their lives (except the teddy bear sprawled on the bed) is new and scary. The worst thing that can happen, on top of it all, is hearing that their parents decided to split up as soon as they went off to college.

Manage Your Marriage for Freshmen

Some college deans make it a point to ask parents at college orientation sessions to hold it together for at least a few weeks after their kids move out. One campus official at the University of Redlands was even downright blunt: "You've managed it for 18 years," he told parents. "Would another couple of months kill you?"

Family therapist Steven Freemire laughs when he hears that story, but he agrees. In many ways, college freshmen are like the toddler who takes his first steps across the room, then looks back for reassurance, to make sure mom and dad are still there. Your child may be living the college life, but he or she needs the security of knowing they still have a home base. “It is a fallacy," the Walnut Creek, CA psychologist says, "to think they’re launched."

Staying Temporarily Together

Freemire applauds couples who stay together in order to provide structure and stability for their families. In fact, he says that spouses who care for one another and nurture their marriages through the hectic years of child rearing often compare the empty nest years to a renewed honeymoon. However, it's true that some marriages cannot be saved, as neither party has any interest in repairing or reviving the relationship. Instead, some parents have simply waited until dorm move-in day to make their own move.

It sounds dramatic, but waiting a few weeks (or even a few months) will help a fledgling college student adapt to his or her new, exciting, and challenging life without the emotional upheaval that accompanies news of a divorce. If you can avoid it, Freemire says that you shouldn't touch the pier the moment your child sets sail. If you must, at least reassure your child that he or she will have a home to return to at every upcoming holiday.

Coping With Freshman Year

While freshmen are excited to explore their newly-found freedom, they're also worried about new responsibilities that come along with independence. Freshmen can experience homesickness, roommates, and new friends. They're also concerned with what they're going to major in and who to date. The best thing they can do is get guidance from their parents, so they can learn how to balance their new lifestyle and all the emotions that accompany it. There are also counseling resources and support groups at many colleges, many that are free of cost.