So you’ve just spent hours in the Target dorm room aisles… Shopping for color-coordinated linens and accessories for your daughter’s new dorm room. Or, if it’s your son, you were probably trying to convince him that he actually needs a bedspread to go along with his trunk full of technology (that will absolutely make it into his new “college student man cave”).
Now you’ve delivered them, set up their new world, and driven or flown away. You feel the anxiety of their absence. Can they get along without you making sure the laundry is done, the curfew is adhered to, and the insurance is paid? Well, you’ve spent the last 18 years getting them to this point, so the assumption is that they probably will. This is the moment you realize your next parenting forage is going to be quite different… Something you’ve been working toward all these years. That is: letting go. There are some things a parent needs to do in order to make that happen.
Many parents find themselves paying tuition—all or part—or still in the position of providing financial help where needed. But, if they haven’t yet, it’s time for your child to step up and share in the world of funding their lives. Consider where your college student is and where they’re going. Determine what that means for them, school workload along with work workload. Set bars that they must achieve in order to continue to receive your support and agree upon ways they can partner in the shared financial burden.
It’s also time they make their own decisions. You’ve let them make many decisions under your supervision so that they get a chance to exercise their decision-making muscle. Now it’s time to see just how strong that muscle is.
Whether you want to accept it or not, they are in their own world—not yours—and the decisions they make will be theirs to own. Good, bad, or indifferent, the consequences will be solely theirs to experience. Scary thought, isn’t it? But parents, that is a good thing! They’re growing up!
If you remember correctly, that was the goal all along. The day has finally come for that relationship to cross the bridge from being solely parent/child to parent/friend. Their transition from living under your influence to determining their own choices on how to live in the world of their own making has come. If you’ve worked hard at your parenting job (not perfectly, just determinably), they will be fine. Don’t expect perfection, just more right than wrong from them in these years. It won’t come without bumps in the road as they hit some life walls (just like you did). When that happens, remind yourself that you got a lot wiser in those years, they will too.
Whether you want to accept it or not, they are in their own world—not yours—and the decisions they make will be theirs to own.
Once you’ve settled into this new life when the passing of their bedroom door no longer brings tears… When the memories of the little boy or girl that used to come thundering into the house become fond and not heartrending, you will love your newfound freedom. You’ll soon realize that you’re no longer waiting up at night, listening for the car to pull into the driveway in order to safely deliver your teen back home. You can sleep without disturbance. You’ll no longer jump when the phone rings at night after experiencing one too many auto accidents… They’ll call just because they want to talk, not because they’re in trouble.
Your relationship is changing indeed. But I can tell you this: it’s getting better, richer, and more fulfilling. The physical separation that begins on the day of the dorm room move-in leads to an emotional connection that is what you have always dreamed of. So parents: help them move, pine their absence, and then live in the anticipation of a future with this wonderful treasure that your child is. It will be so much sweeter than anything you’ve yet experienced.