As August wraps up and the Packers season kicks off, many college freshmen are preparing to leave home and begin a new life experience away from parents, family and friends. This can be a very exciting and somewhat traumatic time for both students and parents alike.
The first and probably most important step in assisting your soon-to-be college student to be a thriving, independent young adult, is to allow them to take the lead in preparing for college. The process can be a bit overwhelming, so stay close and be willing to help when needed; however, avoid the temptation to drive the bus, even if you could do everything more efficiently and effectively. If your child is wondering what she needs to pack, direct her to her college’s admissions page or have her generically Google, ‘What should I pack for college’. Encourage her to communicate with her roommate(s) to coordinate who is bringing what furniture and who is moving in when. This will take some of the anxiety out of move-in day and will allow for the roommates to get to know each other a bit before they begin living together in a smallish dorm room for the next nine months.
Although parents can use this preparation time to share cautionary instructions like ‘make sure you always walk with a partner at night’ and ‘drinking too much can have very bad consequences’ or ‘you’ll need to study two hours for every one hour you’re in class’, try not to dwell on your fears. First, know that the admissions staff at the college will cover all of these topics thoroughly during the orientation process. Secondly, trust that the foundation you have laid over the past 18 years of your child’s life has equipped him with the tools necessary to process information and make wise decisions as he navigates his new world. Be positive and encouraging, letting him know that he is going to do great things, meet wonderful new friends, and discover who he is in the process.
And know that he will make mistakes; much of what we learn over the course of our lives is a result of mistakes that we have made along the way; if you hover too closely, you will be depriving your student of those opportunities to fail and then emerge stronger because of the failure.
For you ‘first time’ parents, drop off day will most likely be a whirlwind of emotions. Your job is to do your best to keep it together until you get back in your car to make the trip back home. Long, drawn out, tear-filled goodbyes with lots of last-minute advice need to be avoided. Smiles, quick hugs, and maybe a slap on the back will give your student the emotional stability she will need as she begins to adapt to her new environment. Although the next several weeks will be challenging for you, avoid the temptation to text with your child. If she reaches out with a specific question, answer the question and push ‘send’. If she is having second thoughts or is homesick, reiterate that she is going to be great, to hang in there and to get involved in orientation activities. In most cases, the fewer the words coming from parent texts, the faster your child will transition.
For those of you who will be empty nesters in the near future, you need to begin discerning God’s next role for you. If you are married, that could mean reconnecting with your spouse in a way that was not possible with kids and kid commitments. Take some time to discuss what a dream future would look like for the two of you (travel, hobbies, cottage, etc.) and then take steps to make those dreams a reality. Also, challenge yourself to find ways to use your time and talents to improve the world around you. If you loved being a parent, there are many children in your community who are desperate for a mentor, a tutor, or just a friendly face and a willing listener. Take some quiet prayer time to see what good God needs you to do. Although your children may need you less, the world needs you more.
Saying goodbye to a child who is moving on can be confusing and challenging. Our identity as parents is intimately tied to our children and the time we spent raising and nurturing them. Take this time of transition to be thankful for having been chosen to fill this awesome responsibility, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and then look ahead to see what else life has in store for you.