While we grow up, we’re told over and over about how college is our entry into the “real world.” Of course, once we get there the saying goes that leaving college equates our entry into the real world. Regardless, leaving home means our first step into adulthood. New responsibilities now thrust upon us, suddenly we need to take charge of our own lives—for better or worse. The independence and freedom can feel thrilling.
But after a while, they remind you how much simpler things seemed when your parents looked out for you.
On move-in day, I hugged my tearful parents goodbye and set off on my own adventure. I cried for about two hours before I got hungry. I grabbed a group of pre-friends (the people you surround yourself with for the first couple weeks of college who may or may not morph into your actual friends) and headed to the dining hall. There I found a smorgasbord of burgers, pizza, veggies, fruits and desserts. I had no idea how to choose.
I prepared myself for the responsibilities of my own education and future, but it never occurred to me that I didn’t know how to eat. My mom cooked dinner every night and did all the grocery shopping, so anything we ate she ultimately decided. Even the Poptarts and pudding cups I snuck to my room to binge-watch Game of Thrones were only there because she put them there.
Things got much worse when I moved off campus my sophomore year. Not only did I have to make sure I didn’t die of scurvy, now I needed to do all my own grocery shopping instead of eating at the dining hall. There came the true culture shock. I had no idea what was even good for me.
Is corn healthy? I asked myself. Why is cheese so expensive? What should I really pay for apricots? I took my mom for granted in this regard. She raised me into a healthy, well-nourished young adult and now I sat here eating a $2 bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos instead of real dinner.
College also meant remembering everything for myself—with no one to remind me when I forget. In high school, I set my own alarm every night but knew that when my dad walked by my room in the morning he could bang on my door if I wasn’t up yet. Without this insurance, I managed to sleep through the first exam of my freshman year.
I had to cry in my TA’s office until she took mercy on me and let me take the exam that afternoon. I’d set my alarm for 8:30 p.m. instead of a.m., and I quickly learned to miss Dad’s morning check-ins.
You achieve another rite of adulthood with a fully stocked home. When you’re a kid or a teenager and the remote runs out of batteries, you know exactly what drawer in the kitchen to go to and find AAAs. Batteries, light bulbs, a pizza cutter—you won’t notice you don’t own these things until you really need them. That first time you need a plunger you’ll appreciate your parents’ three or four that lie around for no reason. There’s nothing like spending the first few weeks in your new place running back to Target every other day.
Suddenly, the only person around to keep you disciplined is yourself.
All the “pressure” your parents put on you to do well and aim high felt so crappy at the time. And sure, who doesn’t want time to just be a teenager? But now you’re on your own. Nobody stops you from going out to frats instead of doing homework or making sure you don’t wait until the last minute to write your paper. When your parents push you forward all your life, it feels like you stop moving the second they leave.
However, I miss my parents’ honest advice most of all. I miss it at the end of the day when I’m trying to decide whether to go to Catie’s house or just see her tomorrow at the party. I miss it when I don’t know how to fix a fight with my boyfriend. I miss it when I’m scared because I don’t know what to do with my future and I don’t feel like I’m talented or smart enough to succeed.
There’s no advice like a parent’s advice.
Friends, significant others and professors care about you, but nobody keeps your best interest at heart like your parents. They’re the first people you ever love. In most cases, they raised you from a tiny baby into the adult you are now.
When I lived at home, I could talk to my parents every day. They could look at me and just know something was wrong. Now, when I don’t see them for months at a time, it feels difficult to reach out.
Suddenly, you start to feel like less a part of their lives. When you go home to visit, they’ve replaced the couch that sat in the living room your entire life. They talk about moving out of your childhood home on a daily basis. They take weekend trips that they don’t mention until months later, or you text them asking to come home for the weekend and find out they’re in Wilmington until next Tuesday. They might call you to tell you they’re turning your room into a guest room or ask which of your books you want to keep so they can sell the rest at a garage sale.
I realized that while I’ve known my parents my entire life, I’ve only existed for a fraction of theirs. When I see them turning into people I don’t recognize, they’re really just getting back to who they were before my brother and I came along. It’s my time to be an adult now.
Their work is almost done.
I didn’t realize I felt this way until I really needed my parents. Not because my car broke down or I didn’t know what to get at the grocery store, but because I desperately needed advice. Even with all I’ve learned about taking care of myself, I didn’t understand what it meant to miss my parents until I felt totally lost.
The only person I wanted to talk to was my mom. I’m so lucky to have parents who are always there for me and love me unconditionally. I only wish I appreciated all of the support, love and great advice before I set out on my own.