Between this month and next, many kids will leave home embarking on their college journey. Often, and rightly so, we focus on the transition for the kids and how to help them thrive within their new environment. But what about the parents who are left at home worrying about their child’s choices and how they are managing (“Will they be okay?”) and who are trying to figure out this new parent-child relationship dynamic (“Will I be okay?”).
When a child goes to college, parents have less control and their knowledge of their child’s life is dependant upon their child communicating and sharing information, which can be a frightening scenario. This comes at a time when it is developmentally appropriate for children to be separating from their parents and forming their own identity. Yet, this unknown can cause a great deal of anxiety for parents. So what do to?
- Recognize separation is not rejection. In order to grow into happy, emotionally healthy, and productive adults, your child needs to figure out who they are and explore their place in the world. They need to separate from you, their parents, to do this. Remember this is not a rejection of you as a parent; rather it is your child becoming their own person.
- Trust your parenting. You have raised your children with values. You have encouraged them to set goals and work towards them. You have taught them emotional regulation, problem-solving, and coping skills. Trust that your child will take these lessons with them. So, set them free, hope for the best, and support them through life’s ups and downs.
- Take advantage of technology. With text message, email, instant message, and all forms of social media, it is much easier to stay in touch. But, in terms of how often to communicate and by what method, let your child take the lead. Do not hover. After all, they are living their life and this is what you want for them. So don’t expect them to text you 10 times a day.
- Purchase some gear. Yes, you are already probably shelling out big bucks for college but when you drink your morning coffee out of that college mug, you will think of your child and it will connect you.
- Participate in a parting ceremony. Many colleges realize the difficulties of parents and children separating and some have even instituted a structured ceremony or event that signals “goodbye” and is the sign for parents to leave. If your child’s college does not have such an event, discuss with your child how move in day will look, how much you will help, and when you will take your final goodbye. This can help avoid the awkward moments and long goodbyes.
- Take time to focus on you, particularly if you now have an “empty nest.” What are some things that you have wanted to do yet have not had time? Have you wanted to try yoga or learn golf or take a cooking class or read more? Now is the time to rediscover yourself and maybe expand your interests.
And if your child has experienced difficulties such as a learning disorder, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or some other challenge that may heighten your concerns, utilize the resources colleges have in place as support.
“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” – Frank A Clark