Sending children off to school is always difficult. Not only is it a concrete marker of time passing, but it’s a reminder that they are becoming more and more independent. Of course, that’s a great thing, but redefining your role as a parent, especially when children leave home to go to college, isn’t always easy. Like any phase of parenting, it takes practice – and quite a lot of discipline to make sure you’re giving your child what they need, not just doing what you need.
One of the most important things to remember as a parent of a college student is that this is an adjustment for them too. Just like you, they’re figuring out how to fit these new pieces of their life into their current beliefs and, hopefully, learning to make adjustments in order to excel, both academically and socially. As a parent, it becomes more and more clear that this new stage needs to be defined as something entirely new and independent, which means a distinction should occur between those moments when you use “we” and when you use “you”.
While it might seem small, most parents don’t recognize when it’s time to start doing this because for so long the “we” dialogue reigns in households. While of course there’s still a time and place to talk about family matters as “we”, it becomes increasingly significant to your college-aged child to be recognized as an independent entity.
By letting go of the “we” talk with your child, you create space for them to healthily explore their identity, releasing any pressures they may have felt to live up to your expectations. Making an effort to really communicate to your child that they are on their own journey, one that is independent from you, is one of the best things you can do as a parent to set your child up for success in college. This doesn’t mean that you should let your kid suddenly start “figuring things out” without any guidance from you, but they should know that they can – and should – make decisions on their own, that they are entirely capable of smart decision making.
At this point in your child’s life, much of what they will do is up to them. So, while it’s no longer appropriate for you to solve their problems, you should definitely become someone that they see as a mentor and confidant. The best way to do this? Start by not rushing to try to give an answer or solution to every single problem or dilemma they have. Instead of “swooping in”, show up with support and sympathy. And, if they ask, then definitely give them your advice, leaving plenty of room for them to make their own decision, and letting them know that you trust they’ll make the right one.
Avoiding micromanaging your college student’s life at all costs. Let them share with you how they’re doing, what their concerns are, what they feel prepared for, and all of the ups and downs of their personal life. And, if you feel a huge urge to offer advice, be sure to ask them first if they want to hear it. Clarifying a conversation before it gets too deep by asking something like, “Do you just want me to listen or can I help you try to solve this?” will keep your relationship healthy and strong, even while they’re living on campus.
Knowing that you’re there to support them, not control them, might not seem like doing a lot (especially when you’re so used to doing everything for them at home), but in their eyes, it is exactly what they need – and want. And, every chance you get, be sure to tell your student how proud you are of them, reminding them about all of the achievements they’ve made so far that have lead them to where they are right now.