How to Survive Sending Your Child to College

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Facebook is full of pictures loaded with feels this week: dorm rooms all set up, awkward 18 year old’s next to entrance signs for various universities and colleges, tearful looking mama’s (and generally non tearful proud looking dad’s) hugging kids. These are kids my kids grew up with getting dropped off for their first year of college. It’s amazing that my middle child is now entering his freshman year and my oldest begins his junior year next week! Reading all the posts along with conversations with other moms in this transitional season, has me reminiscing on myself two years ago- one big ball of roller coaster style emotions with very few moms ahead of me to help me navigate a brand new, totally uncharted road in motherhood. How exactly do I “Mom” this child in front of me while allowing him to be the young adult he actually is?

I have made lots of mistakes along the way, but can happily report my relationship with our oldest survived the bumps and mishaps as each of us redefined our roles, and we found a new rhythm that works for us in this season. As my sweet mother in law reminds me, it’s always changing, and I have learned not to get too attached to any one stage but enjoy it as it comes and learn all that God is teaching me for that time. As a mom who is only two years in, I am sure I have much learning to do, but for now here are the strategies that helped us make it this far with love and connection still in place:

Allow communication to happen on your child’s terms. This is a season for them to make new friends, learn to handle problems more independently from you and generally practice being an adult. After we dropped Kyler off, I texted him every day for the first week. It felt like my life line. Then my husband challenged me to just wait and let him check in. I cannot express enough how much I did not feel warm and fuzzy about his suggestion. But I also knew he was probably right. A healthy relationship needs freedom built into it, and I did not want my son to feel pressured to communicate with me daily. So I waited…………….. And he checked in when he was in the mood to talk, which made the conversations much more informative and natural. Turns out the hubs was 100% correct on that point. Which leads to the next thought,

Listen to your husband, or other men who love your child. Moms, let’s face it: it’s just harder on us to let them go. We cling tighter than our husbands and they have a better perspective on what is normal for our kids to feel, especially if you have boys. I cannot tell you how many conversations began with, “I was like that in college….” as my husband would help me push back from worry or hurt feelings. I needed an outside voice because letting go of my first born exposed my less rational, more emotional self. I was grieving the change, on some level, and part of grieving is simply not fully accepting the loss. But the truth is, in order to move forward with a close and free relationship, you have to accept not being in charge of your child and seeing them as an adult. And on that thought,

Decide from the day they leave home to treat them like an adult who is free to make their own decisions. We went to visit Kyler during parents week, but we asked him how long he would like us to stay and let him set the plans. When fall break rolled around I did not assume he “had to” or “should” come home, but asked if he planned to. When he was home on breaks I would tell him about family plans and invite him to be with us, but my assumption from the day he moved out, was he could have other plans. I no longer felt I could dictate his participation. Most of the time he was happy to join us, but sometimes he chose not to. When he was at school, he chose his classes, planned his activities and picked his involvement at church. He also solved his own problems like finding a part time job for his spending money. Because we do not pay for Kyler’s schooling (he earned scholarships and has grants), we did not see him as accountable to us about his grades, though we certainly asked him at the end of each semester, from the stand point of being interested and supportive.

Be prepared when they come home on breaks for them to want to get out of the house with friends a lot, and often late. At college they have unlimited freedom to hang out with friends at all hours, and that becomes their “normal”. When they come home, if you give them pressure to be with you every evening or get home early, it will feel like going from freedom to a prison. And the time together will feel strained, not fun. If you want them to hang out with you, plan the time and ask ahead what nights they are willing to do a movie night, or go out to dinner or play games. The bottom line is this: they need to be respected as a separate person who has the right to choose. Our rule for our young adults: if we would not expect it of any other adult, we do not expect it of them. So that means everything from not having a curfew anymore to not expecting them to tell us private details of their life. But, we also ask that if they let us know a general idea of what is going on, simply for safety reasons. Also, we have had lots of Kyler’s friends come stay with us for breaks and holidays. It is so much fun! Offer for your child to bring a friend home on some breaks- you get to see who your child is becoming through relationships they are building.

Offer opinion, critique and advice if they ask. Offer encouragement, care packages, prayer and support every chance you get. I failed miserably at this Kyler’s first semester at college. He was experimenting with his look, and it drove me crazy. I got fixated on it and found myself nit picking. The truth was it exposed fear in me about his adjustment to college, and ultimately him being okay. I just had a hard time prying my hands open off that fear and my mouth shut. But, while that semester was bumpy, I learned a lot. And, surprise, my kiddo has done great! He just needed to reinvent himself some and figure out who he really was as an adult. His second year, we have done so much better as I try to notice every place I can be an encourager (and there are many!) and quit offering my unsolicited opinions.

Be patient and pray a lot. It takes time for everyone to adjust to the changes. It will feel sad sometimes. It will be super annoying sometimes. But it is also exciting and wonderful. And in some ways, a relief. No longer being in charge, means I get to relax and enjoy my kid, knowing his choices are between him and God. And since God loves that boy more than I ever could, he is in very good hands.

 

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