Freshman overwhelm


My cell phone rang at 10:45 p.m. and when I looked down I saw it was my daughter.  In New York it was almost 2:00 a.m., on a Monday night.  This would not be good news as I had already heard from her through text today that she had overslept and was overwhelmed.  When I answered, “Hi Sweetie…  What’s going on?”,  a tearful unintelligible response came back.  I had to tell her to calm down and breathe so I could understand what she was saying. She was agonizing over a first draft of a paper due tomorrow, and the fact that she is feeling chronically behind, that her roomates  are treating her badly, (I want to kill them), that she isn’t living up to her own expectations in school, and that she keeps having to make excuses to her professors.  And the worst thing, that she feels like she can’t feel comfortable in her own room, like she doesn’t have her own space.  (Did I mention that I want to smack her roomates upside their heads who never clean up after themselves?  My daughter spent all day saturday cleaning the dorm/suite).

This is a mother’s torture.  I can’t make her pain go away.  It will never be something I can get used to.  When they are babies and they have pain, the response is immediate.  They need to be held or nursed, rocked to sleep with lullabies and soothing words.  But this is so different.   I can’t fix it.  I can only trust that her pain is a part of her growth and important for her to go through.  I can’t write a note to the teacher or sit down with her to help her write her paper.

I did what I could.  I asked her to read me the email she was writing to her teacher and told her that it sounded good, not like an excuse but an honest communication about how she is struggling with time management, being sick, and adjusting to being on her own for the first time.  We talked about how this is the hardest part, first semester of freshman year, an adjustment phase.  She felt soothed, stopped crying, and then went to bed.

My adjustment phase is here too.  It’s a very different kind of parenting – less immediate but no less important.  I am now a voice of soothing through the phone, not an immediate presence to kiss the “owie” or wipe away her tears.


When we got off the phone I felt intense anxiety.  I had to remind myself that nothing terrible is happening.  She isn’t failing, she is safe, has food to eat and a bed to sleep in.  She is just going through a rough spot, one of many yet to come as a college student.   
As I wind down to sleep my gratitude is that I am able to connect with her, to empathize, to validate, to help her put things into perspective.  Somehow this too shall pass and she, (and I), will both be stronger for it.



I am a Marriage Family Therapist with a private practice in California. I work with many teenagers and their families. I am also a single parent of a sixteen-year-old girl, who is the inspiration for this blog.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, College, Daughters, Dorm life, Empty Nest, Freshman year, Gratitude, Homework, Identity, Mothers, Musical Theater, New York, Parenting, Roomates, Success, Teenagers, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Freshman overwhelm

  1. Aunts Bobbie & Chris says:

    Dear Jessie,
    You and your daughter do just get stronger every minute!!!
    We applaud your courage, your growth, and your new strengths.
    Aunts Bobbie & Chris

  2. madtaylor61046 says:

    This is definitely a new passage for both you and your daughter, and the good news is that she turns to you for comfort and finds it. I think from her response we can assume that she got what she needed from you. You were also able to comfort yourself a little bit and if that hadn’t been sufficient, you have a lot of “mothers” who would have been available to reassure you that your response was exactly what she had needed. It really is a different, less concrete, way of supporting your daughter through this stage of development. I think it also requires a kind of inner confidence that our children will be able to manage the new challenges with just a little coaching from the sidelines, so to speak.

    The hardest times for me occurred when Alanna was at school in Santa Cruz. She would call late at night, sick with flu and running a high fever. I would want to speak to a roommate just so someone would be aware in case the fever got worse, but Alanna wouldn’t want me to. She felt embarrassed having her mother intruding and asking someone to look out for her. But gratefully, she would take good enough care of herself even without my concrete ministrations, the fever would subside and she would recover. I learned, over time, that she was capable of managing with just my empathy and support. However, I’d still prefer to make the chicken soup and monitor the fever in person, even today!

    So I agree that this is a kind of “mother’s torture.” It’s the growing edge of a new phase for us, which you traversed beautifully, and wrote so movingly about.

    • says:

      That’s exactly how I felt last week when she was sick! Thankfully I’m going to New York this weekend to visit I can make her a big pot of chicken soup. I have to buy her a good soup pot.

      When the school initially put her in the wrong dance level, I wanted to send them an email to put pressure on them to switch her. (She was in the beginning level of all the dance forms, even tap which she has been doing for more than 8 years). She said she wanted to handle it herself. Eventually it worked out, but I like what you said about trusting her ability to work things out, and having the inner confidence to know she can do it without me worrying so much!

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