Learning to Let Go
You’ve been through many things with your child so far…from first their first steps to their 16th birthday to high school graduation and now to their college years. Now its time to embark on this new journey.
An anecdote from college magazine best illustrates the art of parenting in the college years:
Consider the phone call that came in from a mother early in one semester. “I have to speak to you about a problem with my son,” the woman said, stressing that the matter was urgent. When the Dean called back, the mother said: “I’m very concerned. My son calls me every day and says he can’t find bread in the dining hall.” Alexander chuckles as she recounts the story. “I resist the temptation to say, ‘Teach your son to find bread and he will eat for a lifetime’ And instead I say, ‘Might you suggest to your son that he approach the dining hall manager and ask where the bread is?”
Another father recalls a story from his daughter’s freshman year, where just two hours after dropping his student off and leaving campus, the daughter called him and lamented , “Daddy, please come pick me up right now and take me home!” The father did not come to get the daughter and helped her through this big transition, and four years later, as they were packing up and moving off campus after graduation, the daughter lamented , “Daddy, I don’t want to leave!”
Just because students are heading to college doesn’t mean they are leaving you behind or don’t need you anymore. They still need your love, wisdom, trust, advice, and counsel…they need you in different ways now. They need to feel your love and support, however, they also need to be autonomous and begin to make choices and decisions for themselves. Had the mother in the story above suggested that her son talk to someone who works in the dining hall about where the bread was, he might have felt a better sense of accomplishment and independence. Had the father in the second antidote above gone back right away to pick his daughter up and take her home, she would have missed out on the incredible college experience. The art of parenting in the college years is tough—it takes stamina, will power, energy, enthusiasm, and the ability to realize what the best thing for your child may be.
This transition can be tough…emotions are bound to be mixed. For many parents, the “I want them to stay young forever” feelings are often mixed with the “They do need to grow up and go to college” thoughts.
Trust and communication is the key to making the college experience work for both of you…
Students need three things during this evolving time…
- They need you to let go—it’s hard for a student at college to make their own life there if his or her “old life” keeps pulling them back. Let’ go to the extent that your conversations maintain a good balance of things happening at home and at school. Try not to do everything for your student. The experiences of figuring out things on their own is a necessary strength-builder.
- They need to be able to make mistakes—part of exploring this newfound sense of independence involves making inevitable mistakes. Students need to know that you support their independence and trust them to make their own decisions. Also let them know that you will support them should their risk end up as a poor choice or bad mistake.
- They need to know that you believe in them—as your student tries new things, his or her perspectives may change. Successful students are able to experiment at college, because they know that at the heart of the matter, there is someone back at home that believes in them—in their intelligence, their initiative, and their ability to make good decisions.
- Be interested, not intrusive…
- Don’t make conversations sound like quizzes
- Ask your student what he or she is learning in class instead of always focusing on grades
- If your student mentions a new person’s name, casually ask about that person rather than drilling from details
- Balance your communication by not always making it about them—share what’s happening in your life, too
- Don’t call or email constantly—there needs to be a healthy distance
- Ask what they’re getting involved in and what interests them—let them share their enthusiasm
- The only constant is change…
- This is a great chance to get to know your son or daughter on a different level
- It’s a catalyst for good, sometimes necessary conversation
- It’s a prod for you both to try new things and stretch beyond your comfort zones
- This is another way for your to determine other means of communication
- A great chance to learn things about one another!
- This is an opportunity to miss—and often gain a renewed sense of appreciation for—one another
- It’s the start or continuation of your adult relationship with your child
- Trust your child…
- A student who feels trusted by his or her parents:
- Has more self confidence
- Can stand up for what he or she believes
- Knows he or she has support back home
- Is better able to say “no” when the situation warrants
- A student who doesn’t feel trusted by his or her parents:
- May defy authority because its expected
- Won’t communicate about what’s happening at college
- Will look to others for support, some may be bad influences
- Will keep secrets that could be harmful