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Lessons Learned From The Trenches | A Parent's First Year Parenting A University Student.

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

As a parent, I thought I had it all figured out. I had spent months preparing for my son's first year at university. I had made lists, shopped for supplies, and even had a plan for how we would stay connected. But as the year went on, I found that I still had to learn so many things.


Trust the process.

The first and most crucial lesson is to trust your child. Let your child make their own decisions and mistakes, and be there to support them when they need it. Parenting a student in university is a challenge as this is a time for personal growth and development, and it is important to give your child the freedom to explore who they are and what they want out of life.


Hidden Expenses

I knew there would be additional costs, but I didn't realize how much they would add up. Meal plans were a big one, and although it was required to stay in residence, I wouldn’t buy the full package. My son's cafeteria didn't always have the healthiest options, and we ended up buying a mini fridge so he could store fresh fruit and other healthy snacks. Travel expenses were another big one; multiple trips to bring our son home on holidays and weekends home added up in fuel and Starbucks; thankful he wasn’t so far; he needed a flight or bus trip.




Funding isn’t always guaranteed.


We had to adjust our budget mid-year when OSAP recalculated my son's funding. It was a stressful time, but he was thankful we had garnished his wages for years, so he had savings for a cushion. For years prior, we had helped our son save and encouraged him to apply for bursaries, grants, and school scholarships. It's an expensive endeavour but totally doable, it's a great way for them to learn to live on a budget.


Don’t buy every textbook on your book list.

hands holding a stack of colorful books, captions reads wait to buy your books.
Wait to buy your books for university

I had assumed that my son needed to buy every book on his syllabus, but he quickly learned that many of them were available at the library. We also found that some professors would only assign certain chapters, so it wasn't necessary to buy the entire book. Heading to the library and printing off the essential pages was far cheaper than buying the textbook.


Let go of YOUR plan.


I had to let go of my vision for my son's university experience. I had imagined him joining clubs, attending events, and making many friends. But as it turned out, my son was more interested in focusing on his studies and spending time with a small group of friends. Don’t get me wrong, there were many parties in there as well, but this wasn’t the joining I had envisioned for his first year. I had to accept that this was his journey and not mine.


Supporting your child's academic and career goals is also crucial. The path they choose may not always align with your vision for them, and that’s ok; this is their journey. Whether providing emotional support or financial assistance, being there for your child can make all the difference in their success.


Homesickness strikes more than once.


Homesickness is a pretty common experience for students away from home for the frist time. However, there are a few ways to help your child adjust. Keeping in touch with your child through regular phone calls, video calls, text messages, and visits is important to maintain a close relationship. Despite all the ways we can keep in touch, homesickness is inevitable. I’d also recommend encouraging your child to join a club, team or study group to meet new people and create a sense of community. Sometimes though, It doesn’t matter how outgoing or ready they are to go to school. Being away from home can be hard. Sometimes they may need an extra visit home, and if you can make it work, I can tell you it makes all the difference.



Get Social.

I followed all of the school's social media accounts and signed up for their emails. They would post any special events, study tips, and important dates. I also encouraged my son to take advantage of the resources on campus, such as counselling services and academic support. He needed to know that he had a support system, even if he was miles away from home.

Once your child has decided on their school of choice, I highly recommend signing up for any online informational sessions. Be warned they are super dry, but they will give you a head start on navigating class selection, academic support and deadlines.


Pack a pharmacy

They get sick. A lot. Universities are like breeding grounds for germs, and my son seemed to catch every bug that was going around like it was his frist year of daycare. I made sure to send him to school with a stock of medication and other essentials but found I needed to order him flu and cold meds more than I had anticipated. I was always sending Kleenex and vitamins back after every visit.



Take care of yourself.

Finally, taking care of yourself as a parent is a good thing, even after they leave the house. It's important to remember that you are also going through a significant change, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Make time for the little things that bring you joy. My husband and I started a few new hobbies together as our children are getting closer and closer to leaving us as empty nesters.


Looking back on my son's first year of university, I realized I had learned as much as he did. It wasn't always easy, but I was grateful for the experience. As a parent, it's our job to support our children, even as they venture out into the world on their own.


Here's My Dorm Room Check List


checklist, dorm room, university, college
Dorm Room Checklist





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