As I’m about to launch the youngest of my three children to college – all you parents of tinies and tweens, don’t blink – it occurred to me it might be just as beneficial to share insights for parents as to what they might need and/or need to do, as it is to share a comprehensive checklist for students. Preparing makes a difference.
Take time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishment.
Well done, Mama. Way to go, Dad. For 18 years you’ve been raising this child for such a time as this. Of course you’re proud of your baby for making the grades to get into college, but you should also acknowledge the time, intention, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears you’ve invested. This is a big deal for both of you, and it’s easy to forget your role in getting to this point. Parenting demands sacrifice. For the most part, it’s thankless. But your child’s acceptance to tech school, university, or military service is a whopping paycheck. Put it in your love bank.
Let them bear their own weight (or at least some of it).
Unless your child is in the enviable position of a full-ride scholarship, college is expensive. Require them to earn at least a portion of their spending money. Don’t feel the responsibility of financing their wish lists (for clothes, electronics, etc.). Give them room to become more resourceful and self-reliant. Many states offer academic-based scholarships for students who maintain a certain GPA (renewed annually); it’s reasonable for college-minded students to set a minimum academic goal of qualifying for these scholarships. It’s important to get your child to take ownership of his education, and one way is for him to understand its cost, and even share the financial responsibility, by working or maintaining a certain GPA for scholarship.
Parenting will look different when your child leaves home, but make no mistake: he still needs you to be his parent. Children listen more than you realize and the college atmosphere can be tricky. Help them navigate. Don’t lecture, guilt, or threaten, but challenge them to consider carefully the consequences of their choices. Invite conversation about moral issues they’re facing – sex, alcohol, and drugs are part of every college campus. (And don’t think a faith-based institution insulates your child from the pressure of moral decisions.)
If you’ve parented with an open hand, this won’t be as hard as it will be for those who’ve helicopter parented (I always wonder if helicopter parents know they’re helicopter parents…).
Resist the urge to call, text or email every day. Don’t take it personally if your child is slow to reply or doesn’t reply at all. More than likely, that is a good thing. Don’t put pressure on your child to come home for a weekend. If they’re wanting to return home every weekend, consider telling them they can’t. Re-read the first point above and remember you’ve been raising your child to be an independent adult, and the college years are a fantastic bridge between living at home and being on your own.
It sounds like I’m contradicting my last point, doesn’t it? Except I’m not. Make sure your child knows you’re available and haven’t forgotten her. Write letters or cards and send an occasional care package. Text encouraging messages, special Bible verses, or inspiring quotes. Call occasionally but keep the conversation brief (unless circumstances dictate otherwise). It might seem unwanted, but a regular check-in feels like love.
Don’t take things personally.
When your child is home during holidays and school breaks, brace yourself for their interest in visiting friends more than being at home. It’s not you, it’s them. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you; connecting with their safe people, the high school friends they’ve grown up with, is an important way for them to process their world and this season. Don’t be passive-aggressive, or make them feel bad about hanging out with friends. Be thankful they have friends to hang out with.
Live a little.
Now is not the time to become idle. If you’ve been an at-home mom, it might be a great time to step back into the workplace or volunteer your time outside a classroom. So often during our children’s formative years, “busy” characterizes our pace; it’s foreign to find yourself with time now available for hobbies. Take advantage of this season. Learn something new or rekindle an interest you put aside while you were actively parenting.
Give a little.
Your parenting experience is invaluable to those who come behind you. Find a younger mom (or a few) to pour into. Mentoring isn’t necessarily about formally structuring your time together; it’s about spending time together. Being able to talk through parenting challenges with someone who’s “been there, done that” makes all the difference in the world. Be available.
Love a lot.
Marriage is rarely (ever?) easy, and it’s important to be intentional with your spouse. Even when they’re mostly self-sufficient as teenagers, children demand attention, time, and energy. With one less child in the home, now is the perfect time to rediscover one another and to check priorities. A healthy, loving marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your children, even when they’re on their own or married themselves.
One last note: seek out other people in the same life stage as you. You need others to commiserate with and who understand what you’re feeling as you begin that walk toward an empty nest.
What counsel would you add to my list? For parents launching their first to college, what are you finding most difficult? Do share your thoughts and ideas. (Be sure to click here for my comprehensive checklist of what freshman need to take to college!)