Guest blogger Marcia Moor, whose son is beginning college in the fall, writes about the process of letting go for parents.
I was delighted to run into a Campus Bound mom with her son at a bedding store last weekend. I chuckled at the sight of their cart, as it was loaded with Twin XL linen sets, toiletries, a shower caddy, an over-sized hamper, and towels. “It looks like you’re all set,” I volunteered. “If only it were this easy,” she replied.
I know what she meant. As parents who have spent much of our children’s lives being fixers, do-ers, and cheerleaders, we now worry whether they are equipped to fix, do, and advocate for themselves once they must leave for school. We realize that they are the ones now in charge of their own schedules, meeting academic and other demands independently, and solving problems when the unexpected arises. This is a daunting reality to confront, as we are uncertain if our children are even aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
While much of this mastery the student has to “learn by doing,” there are those who advise that some guidance prior to the departure might help. Conversations on topics such as time and money management or healthy choices in navigating social situations can be relevant. It may not seem that way sitting around your kitchen table, but these suggestions do actually get stored for application at a later date.
Shelly Shinebarger in Union College’s student support office writes, “I personally advise students to treat their days like ‘work days.’ Some might nap between classes or hang out and talk when they could be reading. They’re probably used to doing homework at night and think they’ll hit the books later. But residence hall life is distracting, and campus is teeming with evening parties and social and sports events. If students use their days to study, they can relax at night with their friends.” It is important that students realize that the rhythm of their daily lives and weeks will be very different from high school and, while the new portion of stimulation will be valuable, the accompanying diversions and temptation can be unnerving.
Coburn and Treeger, authors of Letting Go, offer another consideration. They remind us, “College offers a breather after the dependency of childhood and before the commitments of adulthood. During this time students may explore, take risks, try on new ways of being, and make mistakes without drastic consequences. Many of us need to look back to our own youth and recall such times of uncertainty, excitement and turmoil.” They suggest that, developmentally, late adolescence is the time for focus on self definition, and parents should not try to over regulate or manage the self discovery.
As I turn and watch my fellow shopper’s wobbly shopping cart make its way through the linen store parking lot, I think about the many messages surrounding letting go. While all feel pretty reasonable, they also feel pretty mixed and uncomfortable. Tony Schwartz warns in his Harvard Business Review post on the topic, that we parents have this primal need for our children to feel safe, loved, and protected. When that primal need is tampered with—even for the betterment of the people we so love—we are disoriented and long for some control or order. Perhaps this is why I understand as I watch my Campus Bound friend load her car so meticulously.