Sending my two girls off to college within the last two years has given me a crash course in parent “collegology”. The college chapter is when the whole family is on a roller coaster that doesn’t get back to the place where you all got on. You and your college bound student are in the front car that speeds up at every twist and turn. The new goal is not only getting your young adult to college, but not derailing the whole family all together. Tensions are high, uncertainty is your daily bread. Days and even moments can go from your student counting down the days until they leave, to sadness about leaving everything they know “behind”. Hang in there parents. This ride will stop. Your job in the process is to get control of the ride. Here are 5 steps to help you do just that.
1. Lighten Up. We wonder why teens think college is a life or death situation. It’s because they see adults act like it is. For example, all through high school, schools and parents put a ton of pressure on kids to exceed, excel, do better, do more-oh and remember to join every club you can so you appear socially conscious to colleges. Whoa. That’s a tall order for a teen. Imagine as a parent at this time in life if this type of pressure were put on us. When we’re older life success does not depend on how we live for only 4 years. Do we ever tell our teens what will happen after the 4 years of college? Imagine the let down they will have when they find out that the 4 years doesn’t lead to happy ever after. Success is measured by character, effort, excellence and most importantly, constancy. It’s not like we do not get second chances or a Plan B. We grow, Our interests and needs change as we get older. Our goals change. So far, we live in a society that supports and encourages change and growth. How about we tell our teens to do their best every day, to look at the whole picture and teach them to be constant? On tough days, our best may not be as good as it is on our good days. Choosing a college is not the be all, end all. If it doesn’t work out, they can change their minds. Removing the pressure of blowing the “the most important decision of their lives” will do wonders for them. Give them a little room to grow and the process might even be enjoyable. If we want our teens to lighten up, we must lighten up first.
2. Visit Colleges Years Before it is Time for them to Fly (Apply). Visiting colleges can easily cost as much as a year’s tuition. It is also very timely. Start visiting EARLY, and at everyone’s liesure. Whenever you take a family vacation, try to visit a college in that area while you are already there. This can be easily done while taking trips to visit family in other parts of the country as well. Seeing colleges while everyone is enjoying relaxing vacation time takes pressure off and adds excitement for their future. It can also save you time and money.
3.Don’t Take Every College Tour Before You Show Your Student the College First. This seems counter-intuitive, but scheduled tours can take up to 4 hours. Usually, your young adult knows if he or she wants to go there within minutes. Taking a brief visit to a college before planning a scheduled tour can save you a lot of time, as the tours give you details you would only want to know if it were a serious consideration.
4. Remember This is About Them, Not You. This is tougher than you think. It is incredible how much showing your teens colleges will bring back your own college memories. We learned valuable information in our college experience. If we could only do it again, we would do it better or right this time. As we help our kids, this time we can do it right. Right? Wrong. It’s their turn. We’ve had our time and made our decisions. Our responsibility is to help and guide these young adults to make decisions that will help them discover God’s purpose for them and their own purpose in life. Inadvertently treating our children as if they are some extension of our purpose in life will cause tension in our relationships and may even get in the way of God’s plans for them. Of course, they need our help to some degree. As a first generation American, I did not have help applying to colleges. I had to figure it out by myself. Just knowing the process and guiding them through it is a tremendous help. Anything beyond that may cause resentment and stress in your relationship. Give them room to exercise the mind and personality that you helped them to discover. It is sad to know they don’t need us as much as they did. It is also happy because, we’ve done a good job to get them to this point. There is something very beautiful about watching them fly.
5. Keep Emotions Separate. Of course this is not entirely possible. If it is our goal though, it may keep emotions in check. I began my “grieving process” of letting go a few years before it was time to get to work on the college hunt. I like to be prepared and plan ahead! 🙂 I also didn’t want my emotions to get in the way of sound reasoning. The most threatening emotion can be fear. It will ruin your life if it goes unchecked. Yes, fear can keep you safe in a dangerous moment. However, most fear is about events that will never, ever happen. Ever. Creating memory boards can help in the process of letting go. It is a lot of fun to go back through the years and look through photos that are snapshots of the privilege you’ve had to be their parent. Even though you still see them as that cherub who fell asleep in the chair with her angel costume on, they don’t see themselves that way. They are fighting to be seen as the adults you have raised them to be. On the same subject of emotions, give your kids a break too. They can only handle so much at a time. So when your high school senior who has two weeks to choose a college tells you “I can’t talk about it now”, resist the urge to pull a “mama bear”. Try to gently remind them that they will have to think about it soon. I recommend taking deep breaths first, and often.
Having kids go to college is a confusing, emotional and wonderful time. Confusing because they want to go and you are not ready. Wonderful because they are on the next part of their journey. And sad because you cannot go on this next part of their journey with them. Don’t worry though, they will still need you. Just in a different and a little more distant way. My favorite texts form my adults are, “Mom, can I ask you a question…”