Keeping in touch: How to maintain a relationship with a child away at college

Kanesha Baynard/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident and author Kanesha Baynard often writes short notes to her children that are meant to inspire and empower them.

Being the parent of a college student has been a wonderful and enlightening transition. From the time our daughter was 11 years old, we knew she would focus her post-secondary options on something that involved creativity and the arts.

The spring of 2017 solidified our hunches when our daughter was accepted to Parsons School of Design in New York City. It was her dream school, her No. 1 choice and the college visit she had enjoyed the most. Our family shared in her excitement and celebrated the hard work it took for her to join the Class of 2021.

As we got closer to her heading East to start her first semester, I knew in my heart that I would miss her tremendously. Rather than being sad about the change, however, I focused my energy on taking care of myself and navigating this new stage of motherhood, while supporting my daughter at this thrilling stage of her life.

In my work with parents and children during my Creativity Summits, I guide them in activities that encourage them to use their creativity to disrupt unfulfilling patterns. The unfulfilling pattern that comes up most often is the lack of open communication. The universal challenge I witness is parents and children not fully knowing the best way to share their communication preferences. When open communication is lacking, families generally haven’t paused to evaluate (or re-evaluate) their communication style as each family member continues to grow up and enter new and different stages of life.

Prompting discussion

When August 2017 arrived and we busied ourselves with making purchases for my daughter’s college dorm and preparing for the big move, I made a special point of scheduling a 30-minute family meeting. During the meeting, my husband and our two kids discussed what our new normal would look and feel like with our older child no longer living with us full time. We shared what excited us and what made us sad. We also shared ways we could stay close and connected by upgrading and switching up some of our communication tools.

Each of us had six index cards, and we responded to the following guiding prompts to share our communication preferences.

• I feel connected to my family when …

• I enjoy hearing about each other’s personal wins through/by …

• I like to share how my day/week went by …

• When I’m stressed, I communicate it by …

• When I’m lonely, I communicate it by …

• Other thoughts/ideas about how I like to communicate …

With technology as prevalent as it is today, we planned to use email, texting, video conferencing and phone calls to keep in touch, but we also wanted something that was unique and collaborative, because we were all preparing for this big family change. From the 24 index cards generated at our family meeting, we developed three creative ways to communicate as a family while my daughter was attending college on the East Coast.

• Vision check-in. Each New Year’s Eve, we make vision boards during our celebration. My daughter was excited to take her vision board to college so that she could hang it up in her dorm room. While she was away, we all decided that at the end of each month, we were going to send a text or email when we completed a goal from our vision board. It has been exciting for all of us to cheer each other on when we achieve goals, move closer to milestones or score a big win. Connecting it to the vision board made the celebration feel collaborative because we paired it with a family tradition.

• Postcard love notes. Since my daughter was 4 years old, I would write a short love note (with words and pictures) and put it in her backpack or lunch box. Even now, I create handwritten love notes and stash them in my children’s lunch boxes, sneak them into pockets or hide them in backpacks. It’s always a treat to find a note and wonder how long it has been hiding there. To keep this tradition going, I found some blank postcards and gave each family member five postcards with stamps on them. I chose five because that was how many months my daughter would be away before she was home for the long winter holiday. It was fun to receive a doodle, collage or quick little note from my daughter when she sent her postcards to California. This made her younger brother happy, too, because he was thrilled to receive real mail. Our daughter said she enjoyed receiving the postcards from us at random times during her first semester, and she posted them on her wall next to her vision board.

• Photo summary. Because my daughter is in art school and loves taking pictures, we asked her to send us a weekly photo summary, texting or emailing seven pictures that highlighted her week. She said she loved this communication idea because it helped her stay mindful about how she was taking care of herself and spending her time. We loved receiving the seven pictures each week because it gave us an extra glimpse into her adventures and experiences. It also enabled her to have some privacy and autonomy without feeling like we were taking up too much of her time or overly checking up on her.

After we had our communication meeting last month, the feedback from my family was that they wanted to continue with the communication structure because it was simple, not overly time-consuming and helped ease some of the sadness that came with our daughter being away at college.

Kanesha Baynard is a Los Altos resident. In partnership with Silicon Valley Reads 2018, Baynard will present her workshop "Solidifying Your Mindfulness Practice through Bullet Journaling: A Workshop for Teens" at four local libraries. She also is working on her fourth book, which focuses on creativity and mindfulness. For more information, visit n

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