My Mom Won't Let Me Live On Campus

Question: I just got accepted into one of the two universities that I applied to. It's about 30 miles or 45 minutes away from where I live. Here's the thing. My mom, who I live with with (plus 2 siblings; no dad) wants us all to move to the city where the university is, but I want to live in the residence halls to meet new people and become a little more independent. My mom is a super, over-the-top "protective" parent. I know that if I tell her just like that, she'll go ballistic. I don't want to live on campus the whole time though. Just from Monday-Friday when I have classes and then at home for the weekends, breaks, and summer. I don't know how she'll take it, because I don't want her to tell me that if i move out, I can't live with her anymore. How do I tell her without causing problems?

I always tell parents that one of the most valuable parts of going to college can be the "going" itself. What you learn in the classrooms, library, and labs can sometimes pale when compared to the experiences you will glean from sharing space with a roommate and negotiating all the assorted challenges of dorm or apartment life. There's nothing like a few healthy, “Who ate my Reese's Pieces?" conversations (or “Didn't I vacuum last time?") to prepare a teenager for marriage down the road! And asking your neighbors politely to turn down their music at 2 a.m. can set the stage for a successful career in international diplomacy. ;-)

So tell your mom that you feel it's important for you to have the opportunity to be on your own, at least during the week. If you think it will help your cause, also show her this famous quotation from the late Louisiana journalist, Hodding Carter:

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings.

Point out that she's already covered the first part, but now it's time for her to support you as you learn to fly.

Ask her how much contact she requires (e.g., a phone call every few days, an "I'm alive" text each evening) and, if you feel her demands are reasonable, promise to comply. (Offer to put this “pledge" in writing, if you think it might boost your mom's comfort level.)

You can also tell her that you expect to return home on the weekends. However, I urge you to keep your mind open about that. Don't make a firm commitment here, because you may find that you want to stay on campus to enjoy some of the social, sports, or cultural events.

You might also want to check your university's Web site to see if there are “theme" dorms or “Living Communities." (These are residence halls for students with a common interest. This might be a specific foreign language, social justice, sustainability, leadership, visual arts, wellness, etc.). If your prospective school offers such options, and one of them cries out to you, this could provide added ammunition in your quest to explain your housing plan to your mom. Despite her resistance to your leaving home, she might see the logic in your desire to bond with others who share your passions or goals. (Point out, too, that Living Communities can be a résumé plus at job-search time.)

Don't be surprised if your mom cites cost as a reason to keep you at home. If money is tight in your household, be prepared to provide proof that your on-campus plan is affordable.

You are certainly not alone as you face this dilemma. Countless parents have had a hard time cutting the umbilical cord as their offspring leave high school. Here are a couple previous College Confidential discussion threads on this topic where you can find additional advice:

I'm going to post this query on CC, too, and perhaps other CC members will chime in with some helpful suggestions. It would be especially valuable to hear from students who were once in your shoes.

Good luck to you. Perhaps your mom will be more willing to accept your request than you expect.

(posted 2/4/2013)