As your child prepares to head off to college, you are both likely experiencing a range of conflicting emotions. Excitement. Elation. Trepidation. Sadness. Life is full of confusing transitions like this, but that confusion doesn’t have to render you helpless as you both prepare for this major milestone.
Here are 5 tips to help you send your child off to college with confidence.
1. Know – and accept – your new parenting role.
Rest assured, your college student still needs you. Your ability to transition in your newfound role with grace and confidence will allow your student to engage in college-life free from guilt.
Up until this point in your child’s life, you’ve established expectations as a parent and provided consequences and rewards for your child’s choices. At times you may have found yourself needing to employ prompts and gentle redirects to nudge your child back to center when his or behavior fell short of expectation. These are all supervisory functions of a “Manager”.
The time has now come to trade in your manager title for “CEO”. Effective CEOs are those who believe in their people and consult them. CEOs can be heard saying things like, “I wonder what would happen if you tried this,” or “I can see you’ve thought that plan out well. Check-in tomorrow and let me know how that goes.”
2. Come to terms with your loss.
Sending your child to college is difficult. No matter what mind tricks you attempt to play on yourself, saying goodbye is likely going to hurt. Maybe it will hit you as you are tightening the last bolt on a loft that you’re setting up in your child’s dorm room. Perhaps, not until you pull away from campus.
Letting a few tears leak is OK. This is expected. And, for many children, your tears are very much appreciated. What you are experiencing is grief. It is a unique kind of grief, but you can expect to experience some of the typical stages.
However, you’ll need more than this tearful moment to work through this transition – and your child is not the one who should be expected to be there for you in that tension. Instead, seek out your spouse, a life-long friend, your pastor or a therapist and let it all out.
3. Establish a supportive presence … from a healthy distance.
Get off on the right foot. Always accompany your child to their college campus for the initial drop-off if at all possible. Bring tools and some spare cash. You never know what’s going to need to be fixed or replaced to make their new home functional.
Never underestimate the power of your presence. At the same time, allow your child to establish boundaries for where you belong in their day-to-day schedule. Don’t worry. You STILL belong. But by allowing your child the ability to set parameters, you are empowering them to develop the assertiveness that will take them far in life.
Some of the parent/child boundary issues to initiate with your child are:
• Social media connection and outreach. Can you “friend” your child? Follow each other’s accounts? Tag your child in your posts?
• Frequency of phone calls and texts. For some kids and parents, a brief, daily check-in is the perfect solution. Others may prefer a scheduled weekly call or just calling as needed or when the mood strikes.
• Expectations for returning phone calls and texts. Parents should respect their child’s newfound independence while maintaining reasonable expectations for acknowledging and responding to family messages.
Some parents are blessed to have their students attending locally, where they can see them regularly. If you can, absolutely do this. (And make sure you feed them and their friends when you come to visit!) However, formalize these visits by having the dates and times pre-determined. Ask if your child wishes to invite spontaneous drop-ins, but save these for random connections between your established visits.
In the event that your child is attending university further away, make every effort to have a meaningful visit every semester. But, again, schedule this with your child so they can be prepared and not leaving either of you feeling guilty or rejected.
4. Wrap them up as you let them go.
Your college-bound child needs to hear your heart. This is best done at home or early on moving day. The risk of saving this for the “final goodbye” is that there is too much to say. Don’t shy away from discussing topics such as time management and the pitfalls of dorm life. But, be sure to return to the central message of belief in your child and your love for them. Let them know that they have what it takes and that they are never alone.
Reassure your child you will be there to walk through these years with them. Direct them to campus counselors and mental health professionals, and to the buildings where their professors have open office hours. At most colleges and universities, professors are required to have open office hours a minimum of two days of every week. Many professors would say that these encounters with students are when some of their best work and most coveted moments as teachers take place.
5. Take care of you.
As you pull away from the dorms and head back to an emptier house, it may serve you well to have an outing with friends or activity with your spouse lined up to head to next. This is especially true in the event that home is going to be a quiet place.
The new emptiness may occupy your thoughts for a bit. But when these thoughts come rushing into your mind, be kind to yourself. Know that you have contributed to developing a wonderful human being and that you’ve given him or her the tools they need to succeed on their own. Know that countless opportunities with your child lie ahead.
Know that the college years will likely be some of the best years of your child’s life.