From August 30, 2009
Many of you have just gotten back from taking your child(ren) to college. I, too, am in that group. Nikki & Jamie, my identical twins, are starting their sophomore year at University of Illinois. While this year was MUCH easier than last, I still have the 3 W’s - wonder about how they are managing, worry about their safety, and wish for their happiness and success. So I thought this blog entry would focus on parents’ roles while children are away from home.
When children are little, parents really are problem solvers. Kids come to us with a problem, and we help them with the best solution. If their Barbie doll needs a clothing change and their little fingers can’t manage it, we take the Barbie, change the clothes, and just like that, we’re the heroes. As they enter school, we arrange their play-dates, talk to the teacher about how they learn best, and help negotiate the learning process, both with academics and friends. By middle school, our role needs to shift; we can no longer just provide a fix for their problems. At this point, we need to shift our assistance to help them gain independence in problem-solving techniques. We can empathize with their feelings, help them brainstorm solutions, and watch as they put their solution in place, hoping that all will work out well. If it doesn’t, we’re right there help them cope with the disappointment and to start the process over again. In high school, some parents don’t even hear about their kids’ problems! When we do, the best course of action is to be a great listener. Any advice we offer at this stage is usually ignored or rebuffed, and instead of the heroes we once were, now we are reduced to “oh, mom, you just don’t get it!” It’s not that we have changed, but when a teenager, who is trying to develop independence skills, is told a possibly obvious solution, the teen feels inadequate and lashes out at the ones who can take it the most – parents.
So, we have supported, advised and listened and now our little baby has grown up and is ready to take his or her first steps in that next stage of life. What do we do now?
The most common question I hear is, “How often should we be in touch?” Back in the “olden” days, when I was at college, there was no immediate access as there is today. We usually “signaled” our family on Sunday at 10 a.m. You know, call the house, let it ring once, and hang up. That way, the long distance call was on our parents’ dime! They would call back, and each parent would take turns speaking to us – usually with us repeating the same stories over and over. If a sibling was at home, we might have to do it again! With the innovative technology of today, free calling and texting on cell phones, 24/7 access, Internet capability, video chatting, all raise the question of how much is too much?
Sometimes, you will get calls that send worry-chills down your spine: roommate issues, class snafus, alcohol-related incidents, accidents or illnesses. There is a part of every parent that wants to get in a car or on a plane, rush to the aid of your child, and make it better. But we know that those skills we have been developing through the years – listening, offering advice if we are asked, and knowing that even poorly managed or unresolved issues all provide a learning ground for our developing adults. We want everything to go perfectly, but in reality, it’s how they manage through the tough times and learn how to deal with disappointments that really pave the way to adulthood. Give them the strength to manage on their own. Tell them that if it something is important to them, it is worth the struggle to get their needs or wants met. With those tools, success is just around the corner - for both your young adult and you as a college parent!