We are nearing the start of another academic year and residence hall move-in later this week with classes starting next Monday. In that spirit I have a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT for all the parents out there with first time college students. As someone that has worked in Higher Education, and with on-campus students for over thirty years, I am keenly aware of how difficult the transition to campus life can be. Not just for students, but for parents as well. So, I will share some thoughts on the subject.
I am hearing about, and observing, parents that are having a difficult time letting go (I have dozens of friends and acquaintances going through this experience again this year). It is very important for you to know that you have worked hard to send your kid to school. It is no easy task in this environment to do everything it takes to be able to send a student off to college (especially if you have more than one kid). So, take a quiet moment of reflection this week and give yourself a little credit for negotiating all the obstacles of making that dream a reality. You did it and should take some pride in having done so. Now it is time for that next big transition. You baby is about to become a real-life adult and is going to go off to school (without you).
Attending a university is about chasing those academic pursuits that will hopefully end up with the student finding a meaningful and fulfilling career. However, another big part of going to college is learning to become an independent and self-sustaining adult outside the classroom. That means that your kid is going to make some mistakes and “skin their knees” once in a while. They are going to have to figure out how to solve everyday problems that confront them and are thrown their way. Sometimes that will be a painful process for them. It can also be lifechanging in a very good way. Some of the best lessons in life are the hardest.
It will be very difficult to achieve that goal if you are Face-timing or texting four times a day (yes there are parents that truly do this) or encouraging them to come home every weekend. Tell them when you drop them off that you don’t want to see them for the first month (It will be fine—trust me) and limit your contacts (daily texts, Facetime, phone calls). It doesn’t mean you don’t love them or don’t care for them if you are not smothering them. In fact, it means the exact opposite. You have worked hard to raise them to be able to take care of themselves. Now is the time to let them do just that in this next part of their life.
I know that it is a time of high anxiety, but most institutions have excellent systems and resources in place to support this transition. Trust in that process. You are the adult in the relationship. Live vicariously through them on social media if you need to, but let them have this experience. I know that this Thursday I am going to have a front row seat to a great deal of stressed out parents. They will be panicked that they didn’t prepare enough or packed all the right things. Many more will be worried what their child is going to do without them (or what they are going to do without their child). Their will be tears. Lots and lots of tears. Some out of joy and some out of sadness. Despite all that, don’t be surprised at a young person’s resiliency. They have access to more information and resources than any generation before them. They can do this. I promise.
As you drop off your student for their next great adventure in life please give them a chance to spread their wings and fly. We will take care of them on our end (no matter what school they are at---I have outstanding colleagues all over the country). I beg of you have the discipline to let them have the true college experience and not be an enabling “helicopter” parent. Someday they may have to do it without you for real and will need to be ready. They are about to embark on some of the best years of their life. Your victory should be celebrating that you got them to this place in the race. Now it is their turn to take the baton and run with it. Move them in, buy them some groceries, give them a hug, and let go. You did your job, now let them do theirs and make you proud.