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Parenting your college student: Learning to let go and let live

When your child is 5 years of age and younger, you can pretty much control every aspect of his (or her) life. You pick the food ... the friends ... the bedtime. Then comes kindergarten. Your child starts to develop some independence ... those carrots you proudly cut up for lunch (you are a good mom) may end up in the trash, the kid who is always in time out may end up being the best friend ... and when slumber parties begin ... well, you can't control the bedtime or the movie being watched. Still, during these wonderful years, your child loves you and respects you and thinks you are just about the smartest person in the world.

Then the teenage years arrive. Your very young adult wants to pick the curfew, refuses to eat the healthy meal you just fixed, and wants to hang out at the mall on Saturdays (everybody's there, mom) and your baby suddenly thinks you aren't really that smart. You could never understand. No one has ever had the same homework issues, problem teachers, best friend dramas that he or she is experiencing. It's just not possible.

Give it time. Your child will return to you safe and sound.

When your child heads off to college, he or she does want your advice, your support and your wisdom. Although it may seem like your advice is falling on deaf ears, it is not. It is needed. Give it to them. You do know better. You do understand. You have been there.

As a parent of two college kids, I take every opportunity to share my feelings, my thoughts and my advice. I send letters and Facebook messages. I text. I'm always telling them what I think. They need to know. They do need the advice I can provide. They also need the support and the love of the far away parent. By contacting them, they know I am there and I care. So when my son loses his wallet or my daughter is feeling vulnerable, they know where to turn.

College students feel stressed and uncomfortable. They are far away from friends and family, and it's a difficult transition. Imagine giving up your job, your friends, your life and moving to a place where you have never lived before, where you don't know anyone. It would be difficult for anyone.

Make sure your child knows you are there, and that you care. Just be there. And, remember the following advice:
  1. You will be sad and miss your baby (my words ... your grown-up college student won't like it). And, believe it or not, your child will really, really miss you. This is not easy.
  2. Give up some control. This is a time for your child to learn to make decisions. Don't buy all the books or pick out the dorm d├ęcor or help with homework. Your child needs to learn to make good choices. Time to grow up.
  3. Encourage your student to make new friends, find a part-time job and join clubs and organizations on campus. It will make them feel more included.
  4. Don't give your student too much money. You want him or her to study and not shop or party. Those things will happen. No need to encourage it.
  5. Set up your expectations. Let your child know you expect appropriate behavior, good grades and a phone call once in a while. Also, remember to let your child know that college is a privilege, not a right. He or she is one of the fortunate ones.
  6. When your child comes home for breaks or weekends or the summer, keep your house rules intact. It's your home and your rules.
  7. Don't transition your student's bedroom into your home gym just yet. You want your child to feel welcome and comfortable when with you.
  8. Don't ignore problems. Whether the problem is emotional or academic, encourage your child to talk to you or the appropriate counselor.
  9. Be patient. Your child may struggle the first semester or year. Encourage your college student to understand this is a transitional time. Feeling overwhelmed and a little nervous is OK.
  10. This is a time for you, as a parent, to develop new interests. You've been focused on your child for 18 years. Sometimes it's hard to let go. However, it's best for everyone if you ... and your college student ... learn to accept and enjoy the experiences in this new stage of life.

Written by Kelly, an empty nester and mother of two college students ... who is thinking about taking some pottery classes.

November 2011