For years, as summer winds down our thoughts turn to our children’s new school year. In grade school we anxiously awaited emails with teacher and room assignments and compared notes on classes and school supply lists. In middle school we stood for hours outside of dressing rooms and debated whether to buy the next size up in the pricey, must-have sneakers. In high school we started discussing laptop and car purchases. Instead of waiting for the school bus or dropping them at school, we watch as they drive themselves or organize their own transportation. Then the college-bound checklist started. It took on hydra-like tendencies making you wake in a cold sweat for fear that you may have missed one of the million deadlines.
Your child applied for scholarships, took dozens of standardized tests and placement exams, and studied for the ACTs and SATs. Applications were completed, essays were written, and recommendations were collected. Together you attended college fairs, financial aid nights, completed a FAFSA, and went on a few college campus visits. All of this was done with one goal in mind: the letter of acceptance.
After tears, prayers and multiple intense family discussions, an offer is made and accepted. Major financial decisions are agreed upon that will make you wish for the sneaker shopping trip again. As soon as your child receives their college ID you will find yourself in uncharted territory. You used to wake up your child and make sure they were out of the house on time? Not anymore. Like it or not, your child is no longer a child and your role in their education has changed.
It is now a time to let go and support them as they make their own decisions. Accompany them to orientation and assist them with purchasing their books, but draw the line at calling their professors (they won’t talk to you anyway.) When they got on the bus or walked into school for their first time alone, you knew they were staying on school property but were still freaked out. Now they have the freedom to come and go as they please and you think “how will I ever sleep at night?” It is tempting to make up for physical proximity with constant monitoring, but just because you can instantly connect with your child through technology (emails, texts, phone calls, GPS tracking) doesn’t mean you should. Micromanaging their daily life is only sure to stress everyone out.
Teach your child where to seek help in the appropriate areas rather than them expecting you to answer all their questions. Know the classes your child is taking. Look over their syllabi and reading lists. Discuss these with your child when you have a visit but remember that no one wants to be quizzed on The Odyssey over Thanksgiving dinner.
Although they are now an adult, that doesn’t mean they no longer need you. Just as every major life phase before now has consisted of testing boundaries and finding balance, you are simply trying your new roles and learning the steps as you go. It is normal to each have complex and swirling emotions, but this transition is simply another one of life’s stepping stones that together you will figure out and conquer.