Since when do kids advise their parents? Since they have learned a few things their parents have forgotten. It works something like this: My mom can’t remember her first college homework assignment. She went to college, she has her degree and most of the knowledge, and she has many memories of her college career. But some of the specifics escape her. So now I’m off at college, and my mom is trying to help me adjust based on her recollection of college in the late seventies. It’s been interesting, and I dare say it’s a challenge many other parents and children face. So, perhaps it’s time for a college student to offer a little advice to parents.
When I think about my first day at college, I remember being thrilled to move out – finally! It wasn’t that I hated my family; far from it. But I was excited to test my wings. I felt all grown up as I moved into my dorm room and registered my car and figured out where everything was. I was becoming an adult.
My mom, on the other hand, was worried and a little sad. I am the oldest child in my family, so this was the first time she’d had to watch one of her children leave home. Of course she was happy and proud, and maybe even relieved. But it was still difficult; her child was growing up. She told me, “In some ways, a mother never wants that ‘little girl’ time to end because it’s sweet, but life is always about change, and hopefully for the better.” But she worried because she wouldn’t be there anymore to guide and protect me every step of the way.
In the midst of her worries and tears, my mom did something that meant a great deal to me: she let me go. Yes, she worried and fussed a little, helped me settle into my dorm room, and cried a bit when we said goodbye. But she didn’t hover or freak out. She reminded me that I am loved, then she went home.
This is probably the best possible thing parents can do for their adult-child on that first dorm move-in day. As your college student begins this new and exciting adventure, he or she will want to do things independently, and it will be a little embarrassing if you hover. We children love you dearly, but just as we had to learn to walk by ourselves, we now have to learn to take on life by ourselves.
You’ll probably cry a little and worry a lot, and that’s normal. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and call your student once every week or two, just to reassure yourself that he or she is getting enough sleep and eating veggies and doing homework. But try not to be offended if your college student doesn’t want to talk for hours. After all, this is a time of learning a new routine and making new friends and exploring new places.
When your child faces that first crisis, it will be tempting for you to jump in and solve it, but the first thing to do is to wait. Your child will have to deal with difficult people for an entire lifetime, so whether ticked at a roommate or upset because a professor gave a low grade, you need to let your child figure out how to handle it on his or her own. My mom told me that the hardest thing for her was “not getting to protect and nurture daily, knowing you would step into snares and I couldn’t make it better. I wanted to protect you.” This is natural for every parent, but your child must learn to cope. My mom wisely added, “If I did keep you from ever stumbling, you would never learn to walk.” I know I have learned the most when I’ve had to face difficulties by myself.
This is not to say that parents should not support their children. Feel free to offer advice if your child asks for it, although you should not pester your child with unwanted advice. And if your son or daughter gets into trouble that’s too big to handle alone – from car accidents to financial issues – you may be the only one who can help. Be ready and willing to help your child, but as a general rule, wait to be asked. College students appreciate independence, and we usually prefer to try to solve problems by ourselves first, instead of crying for help at the first sign of trouble. Parents, the best way to help is to let your child try it alone and only step in when you’re asked. It’s a fine line to walk, but you will find that it becomes more natural with time.
Through the college years, your child may begin to come home less often. By making new friends, your child will become more confident in living away from home. Hopefully, a love for college will develop, decreasing the desire to come home every other weekend. Your student will also spend breaks with friends who live in the next state, or even across the country, and he or she may ask to bring friends home. Unless there’s a strong reason to the contrary, both of these ideas are probably for the best. Your child will slowly become more independent, and, yes, eventually will even move out.
So, with all these things that a parent should not do, what can a parent do? Probably the most important thing is to encourage your child. Although we enjoy our independence, it’s still new and somewhat scary. Hearing you remind us that you love and believe in us helps build confidence. And, yes, while we need to learn from experience, we may occasionally need a figurative kick in the behind. And one very important thing: college students adore care packages. You probably remember the joys of college cafeterias, so you can imagine our delight at finding a box of Mom’s cookies with a note from home.
As crazy or scary as this transition to college may be, it is a necessary part of life. Your child will certainly face difficulties, and you will probably want to hang on at least a little longer, but it’s important to remember to let go. Your child will appreciate your efforts to allow him or her to test new wings, with the nest there for safety. As my mom advises, “Believe in your adult-child. You’ve trained, nurtured, sheltered, and developed him or her for this day. Trust God and let go.”
Corinne Hills is a professional writing major at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Her freelance articles appear in Pathways to God, The Aboite Independent, Church Libraries, and Christian Book Previews.