I wrote this in 2018 on a college parents’ page, and while 2020 has its own challenges, it still might ring true for parents navigating this path. Hopefully it will privide a trail of breadcrumbs:
Thoughts from a mom of 2 upperclassmen Falcons, and a longtime teacher of college students: (for what it’s worth). One of the things I wish I’d figured out earlier was how to step back, without worrying, and let my kid make messes and clean them up, get stuck and learn how to fix it.
Because this safe middle-ground between school and job, between having parents and being parents, is practice for the adult world.
If you have an annoying roommate, you learn skills to deal with an annoying coworker. If your teacher is demanding, so might be your boss one day. If your advanced math teacher speaks English with a strong “foreign” accent, you can practice a job skill for an Engineering career full of people from different nations.
I know now that on a bad day or in a weak moment, a kid will call home and lament – be comforted – and then hang up, cheer up, and have a great week, while I worried and wondered and didn’t hear a peep. So I learned to listen and then let it go.
I learned to answer their drama-du-jour with some version of: “What’s the resource there? Who can help you figure this out? Talk to your people. You’ve got this.” If you believe they can handle things, so will they. Fake it ’til you make it.
I learned that a lot of kids still think they are earning grades for their parents, so if the wheels start coming off the wagon, some will preemptively call home to blame the teacher, the advisor, the college, the technology. None of these are perfect, of course, but sometimes we aren’t getting the whole story.
The old parental urge to put on a cape and come to the rescue doesn’t fit here anymore, no matter how many times we Insist that We Are Paying For This and demand satisfaction. If you would not march into your adult child’s future workplace and confront the boss, you shouldn’t get involved here, either.
They will have to handle all kinds of bureaucracy, administrivia and complications in life, from doing taxes to waiting at motor vehicles to balancing their budgets. This is a practice ground for adulting. And since students are adults, the college (and its teachers and staff) are not even legally allowed to talk to parents about a kid’s grades, behavior or finances unless they have written advance permission. Trust your kid to work it out.
When my toddlers – and later, students – used to come to tattle or report some problem, I used the line a wise mom taught me: I listened sympathetically and asked, “How did you handle that?” (It still works for college kids.)
Remember that it’s just college. We have not sent them off to sea or off to war. Our fortunate kids are in a safe place, surrounded by other young people also working toward the future. They have shelter, food and amenities, a place to gather and make friends, teachers and tutors and counselors, a health center when they are sick, security guards on campus, RAs in the dorms. They will learn (or not) to do school without reminders and hand holding, to make choices without fear of parental consequences, and they will find their way.
About half won’t finish college – that can be ok too. But while they are at school, they have both freedom and a safety net. It’s a good place to try your wings. So we all need to lean back, relax, trust the system. We can’t manage their lives from home any more than we could drive the car from the passenger seat (or hit that imaginary brake) when they were just learning to drive. Trust that our kids will reinvent themselves, go through phases and try on attitudes, test their own beliefs, lose friends and make new ones.
(I’ve learned to keep my thoughts to myself when they come home with wild looks or wild friends… “This, too, will pass.”)
Lean back, relax, trust your kid. It’s not about us, anymore – and if it is, it shouldn’t be.
One more: It was weird when my kids went off to school. My house felt empty, I wasn’t sure who I was if you took “mom” out of my job description. Two things happened: 1.) Parents who had BTDT predicted (correctly) that those kids would be back to the nest – summers, life changes, job hunting, in betweens. And 2) “New Normal” slowly but surely took over my house, life and marriage. After all, there was life *before* kids and would be a long life *after* – and before long our energy went in a lot of fun and freeing directions. (Even to the point where bird coming back to the nest took a little… accommodating. lol. )
Sorry so long winded. I’m just smiling over the annual flow of this list and the regularity of what comes next and next. High five to all the Falcon parents – we did the best we could to parent them with all our flaws and good intentions – and now they are grown and we can call it a job well done. The journey from here – for better or worse – belongs to them.