All over the country, young high school graduates are embarking on the next step in their lifelong journey through the educational system: college. Whether your child will be living in a dormitory across the country or attending a community college in your town, your role as the parent of an adult child will be changing rapidly. No longer the one holding all of the authority, you now need to step back and allow your child to grow into the adult that she has been becoming over the past several years. Here are some ways that you can transition into your new role, while supporting your child’s transition as well:
- Resist the urge to be a mother hen. Whether your child is packing up her life into suitcases to move to a college several hours away or simply perusing the course offerings at the community college nearby, offer your help, but don’t meddle. Chances are, your child will want to handle this on her own; the excitement of freedom is often too much to allow Mom to get involved in! If she does ask for your advice, give it, but be prepared for her to the exact opposite.
- Be prepared for it to be difficult. Very difficult! The child that you have nurtured for the past 18-or-so years is now moving on with his life, and that can be very hard on mom! Try to keep yourself busy, but also allow yourself downtime in order to process your feelings. If you need to shut your child’s bedroom door and not go in for several weeks, that’s okay; if you want to go sit on his bed and cry, that’s okay, too.
- Don’t even think about trying to take over tasks that are your child’s responsibility. If she isn’t keeping up in a course, it is not your job to talk to the professor. You cannot attend your child’s pre-admission interviews, and you should not accompany her to set up her schedule with her counselor. Trying to meddle in these types of situations fall under the umbrella term of “helicopter parenting.” Don’t do it!
- If this is your first child going off to college, then you still have kids at home, and you’re still very much in “mom mode.” If you just bid goodbye to your baby, however, you need to find a new niche: Time to dust off those relationships that may have played second fiddle to motherhood! Take advantage of this opportunity to reconnect with your husband, to spend more time with your friends and to volunteer in the community. There’s a whole world waiting for you, not just your child!
- Let your child set the tone for staying in touch, but don’t be afraid to suggest reasonable guidelines. Your experience may be that he calls every night, or it might be that you only hear from him very occasionally. Asking for a weekly telephone call or email is not unreasonable; insisting on daily updates is. If your child is living at home, a curfew is probably no longer necessary, but you can ask that your child let you know if he’ll be away for more than one night as a matter of courtesy. You’ll need to play it by ear and find a method and frequency of communication that works for everyone.
Remember, if you’ve gotten to this point in parenting, you’ve done a wonderful job! You’ve successfully raised a child to adulthood! Your job isn’t over, as you’ll be a parent for life, but you will soon be able to rest easy and simply enjoy the adult that you’ve put so much nurturing and effort into bringing up. Good job, mom!