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Transitions & Letting Go

As a parent of two college students I can tell you that seeing your child off to college is not as easy as many college administrators would have you believe…….and I have been a college administrator for over 30 years.  Throughout my years in higher education it was always easy to give advice to parents about how to let go and tell them not to worry.  When it is your child going to college you don’t look at it from quite the same perspective.  I forgot all the wonderful opportunities that my children were going to have to grow intellectually and develop and mature and saw them as my children, about to embark without me by their side to guide them.

You are a parent who is now going to “parent” from a distance and you also become aware of the void that will be left when your son or daughter leaves for school.   But, as parents we have two responsibilities – to give roots to our children as well as wings.  The college experience is going to be for many of them the first time they can test the wings we’ve given them.  This is a dream about to be realized.  They will be furthering their education, aspiring to the dreams we have for them and they have for themselves.  It isn’t easy letting them grow up but we don’t have any other options.

Transitions are never easy and both you and your college student will be making a series of transitions over the next few months and over the course of their college career.  You will move from a parent-child relationship to an adult-adult relationship.  As that relationship changes, you will need to give your child an opportunity to be independent and you should find yourself playing the role of coach rather than to trying to solve your child’s problems.  Don’t tell them what to do to solve a problem but help them seek out the resources that will assist them. Encourage them to find the appropriate campus resources to get through an illness, find academic assistance, resolve a roommate problem, etc.  Part of maturing and becoming responsible adults is learning how to solve problems and be critical thinkers. 

Continue to be available and be a sounding board but avoid being intrusive.  While you may want to talk everyday allow your son or daughter to take the lead in communicating with you.  They will call – even if it is to tell you they need more money!  Let the calls and communication focus on the positive and give them a chance to tell their story without being judgmental.  Perhaps they solved a problem differently that you would have, but, encourage them it continue to solve problems.  They will learn from their errors not yours.

Be an anchor for your child.  Keep them informed about what is happening and realize that their connection to happenings at home may be different than in the past.  Don’t expect them to come home for all the family events – perhaps they’ve never missed a birthday celebration before or were always at home for a special event -   rethink your expectations of their involvement…….going to college is a full-time job and they will not have as much flexibility as they did in the past.    Avoid burdening your child with problems that are occurring at home and over which they have no control.

Encourage your student to get involved in at least one activity.  Perhaps a part-time job, membership in a student organization, volunteering in the local community will be the connection that helps your student meet new people, develop new skills and feel connected their home away from home.

Know that wherever your child goes that part of you will go with them.  The “roots” you have provided them will be their anchor and will sustain them.  The values you instilled will guide them as they make decisions and set their course. 

Always remember that the university has a wide range of services to assist you and your child with this transition. We are available to assist you and your child with identifying resources on the campus that will be valuable to a successful and rewarding experience.  As a parent know the resources that are available and direct your student to use them.  Provide the guidance and allow them to initiate and follow through.

It is not easy to let go but we must allow our children the opportunity to realize their dreams and full potential. 

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