New Parent Orientation

This week I attended a two-day-long orientation for expectant parents who were having their first child not enter the world, but enter college. As I jotted down my notes it struck me that this format of parent orientation would have been really useful in 1992 when I took my daughter home from the hospital.

The thick stack of parent handouts included a monthly calendar with important school dates such as mid-terms and finals. As I flipped through the pages I noticed handy tips along the sidebars about what freshmen might be experiencing psychologically as the weeks of the semester went by.  It seemed like the college version of the pregnancy classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a book that most certainly was read by every mom in the auditorium room two decades previously.

Just as I was not the first mom to revel in the wonderment of a new baby, I know I am not the first mother to wrestle with the launching of a first born.  In fact, Amir Baghdadchi, the wise University of Michigan housing director, began his session with the following request: “Those of you in the room who consider yourselves part of the group of parents who are super-stressed about freshman year, please raise your hands.”  He assessed the audience from side to side and then uttered, “The rest of you are the dads…”

Baghdadchi then went on to say that moms and dads needed to transition from parents with rules and advanced surveillance techniques to positive coaches who make pithy observations only when asked. “Declare victory while you can,” he urged. “You won the college game – you are here at orientation, and they are leaving home in a month. Have faith in the values you have imparted. I am confident that you have done your job well.”

It sure did not feel like I won anything when the prize was a complete alteration of my family dynamic of the past 18 years.

I was ready for my daughter to go, and yet I was not. Mostly though, I suspected no orientation could fully prepare me for the “day” of saying goodbye and the bittersweet feelings it would bring.

Towards the end of the program, after countless presentations on everything from housing, to campus safety to academics, Baghdadchi made his most emphatic plea: “The most important support parents can provide is to make sure that your children make connections. “

He counseled that strong friendships were critical to our student’s happiness and success more than any other factor. “More important than academic preparations, more important than organization skills, trust me,” he said. “I have witnessed this in over 50,000 freshmen during my tenure and I know it to be true.”

In our Jan. 17 blog, “Good Friends Keep Us Healthy,” Linda discussed the mental and physical  benefits of friendships.  Whether it is the release of the calming hormone, Oxytocin, or simply the increase in our longevity, the evidence continues to build that live, human interaction is critical to our well-being. Further, Dr. John Medina, New York Times best-selling author of Brain Rules states that “the brain craves community.”

So, when I do tearfully hug and kiss my daughter goodbye as she enters into her collegiate adventure, I will not only tell her to study hard, not procrastinate and get plenty of sleep. I will also tell her to make sure she prioritizes making new friends and spending time with them as her success and happiness depend on it.

- Carol Lewis Gullstad, 25 July 2011


  1. [...] health-care options, study aids and the prevalence of alcohol, drugs and sex on campus.  (See Carol’s post on her orientation experience.)  I wondered if my son was ready to strike out on his [...]

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