I dropped my oldest daughter off at college at the end of August. I had vicariously lived through this experience with my clients over the past 8 years, but of course, it is totally different when it was my own. I admit, I had been in denial leading up to it.
As soon as we arrived on campus and parked the car, students happily met us, unloaded her stuff from the car, and brought it into the dorm room. The room was clean and bright. Her roommate arrived shortly after us and together we put together the room, but it still did not feel real.
As part of the new student orientation program for families, there was a parent panel. I dutifully attended with my younger two daughters. At first, the Dean of Students, who also had college age children at different schools, empathized with us, knowing how difficult it may be to leave our children. She told us that the way we communicated with our children would change from in person to primarily texts in between classes and activities. She introduced the parent panel, all of who had at least one, sometimes two children at the school. They shared how fabulous their kids’ experience was. Then she opened it up to questions. A mother raised her hand.
“You all talked about how well your kids adjusted, but my son is very shy, what does the school do to help kids make friends?”
The parents on the panel looked at each other and shrugged. Finally one of them ventured out and replied. “Well, the kids here are very open and welcoming. The orientation committee also plans a lot of activities the first week of school so people can meet each other.”
What else could they say? I thought, is this a kindergarten orientation or a college orientation?
The next hand shot up, a father this time.
“How do we know how our kids are doing in their classes or if they turn in their assignments?”
Again the parent panel and the audience held back a sigh. Finally one of the dads on the panel smartly replied (as did I in my head.)
“You don’t.” Then feeling like he had chastised the worried father, he added, “My kids call me up excited about what they are learning and are eager to share what a professor said, so I don’t think you’ll have that problem. Most kids here are very motivated and intellectually curious.”
The questions continued, but after a while I stopped listening. It was not that I did not have concerns about how my daughter would transition, but I knew that she had to transition on her own. I had seen her fail and struggle throughout high school and rebound with amazing aptitude, so I knew that she had the tools to handle whatever came her way.
As we go through this process with our kids, one of the hardest parts is letting go and recognizing that it is okay for them to make mistakes, struggle, and find their way! The sooner parents can start doing this, the easier it will be when the time comes.
The college application process is a perfect time to start cutting the strings, even if the risks seem very high. It is a time for kids to move into the role of project manager and the parents to back off and let them lead.
1. Understand that you will reach different stages at different times. Often times parents balk because they feel like their child is not taking this process seriously. This often happens when parents and students arrive at the process in different stages. Many parents have been thinking about college since their child entered high school (or even before), but most students are not yet ready to start thinking about college in ninth and tenth grade (or in some cases, even eleventh).
2. Resist the urge to transfer your feelings to your child. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the process, your child will sense those feelings. Try to separate your own feeling of anxiety from your child’s. And if you think a particular school is the be all and end all, don’t expect your child to share in your enthusiasm.
3. Listen to your child’s concerns. Restate them to make sure you have understood them correctly. Resist the urge to fix the problem. Allow the space for your child to come up with a solution on his own.
4. Give your child the tools to lead, and then get out of the way: college books, web sites, materials; college visits; clear information about what you are prepared to do and how much you are willing to pay.
Parents often get frustrated when students do not seem as excited as they are about researching schools, but they will come to it on their own time. Give them the space to figure out their needs and be supportive of them.
5. Maintain an open mind and sense of humor. Visiting colleges can be a lot of fun, and sometimes you may find that a school you had originally dismissed is actually a great fit or vice versa.
1. Become the project manager. If you want your parents to leave you alone, then you need to step up. Develop a plan to show your parents that you have the process under control and are taking care of it.
2. Communicate progress. The cornerstone of a good manager is making sure everyone is on the same page. If you communicate with your parents where you are in the process, that will go a long way toward assuring them that you are ready to lead, and hopefully they will back off.
3. Ask for the support that you need. Everyone needs help with part of the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it, and delineate clearly what type of assistance you need.
Parents, resist the urge to do more than is asked!
This weekend I got a text from my daughter.
“Mom, what is your credit card number? For some reason mine won’t work when I enter it in to buy my bus ticket to come home.”
I texted her back and told her to call me if she still could not figure it out and I would walk her through it.
An hour later I got another text.
“Never mind, I figured it out."