What You Should Know About Parenting a College Student
Southwestern University welcomes your family into ours. We are pleased that your student has chosen this community to be his or her intellectual home for the next four years, and look forward to the achievements he or she will experience while enrolled.
We want for your student what you want—success, happiness, health, safety, challenge, and growth, so that the child you raised can be a bright, moral and courageous leader as a post-Southwestern adult.
The University is full of professionals who have spent years working with students, and we encourage you to draw upon their wisdom when you need some information or some reassurance. But most importantly, we encourage you to encourage your student to seek out our expertise when faced with questions or challenges, or when they want to share an inspiring story. Here are some thoughts to consider as your family embarks on this journey, adapted, with gratitude, from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
During the college years, students essentially re-create themselves and their identities, using the values you have embedded as their cornerstones. The developmental tasks of a young adult are as significant as those of a developing toddler. The intellectual stimulation of college introduces new horizons of thought that students must examine and integrate into their views of the world. Responsibilities and problems will arise that students will have to learn to negotiate on their own.
In the next four years, you will once again see your student struggling to walk on his or her own, perhaps falling and scraping their knees, going in new directions or experiencing the euphoria of discovery. You will once again be asked to “let go.” As with a toddler, you will be asked to guide and instruct, to maintain loving contact and to allow your student to learn to walk alone, bruises and all, in order to discover new horizons.
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood and maturity is called “individuation,” becoming a person in one’s own right, not merely an extension and junior edition of one’s parents. This is a time of uncertainty, questioning, experimentation and vulnerability. College students find themselves in largely unrecognized turmoil, confronted with new rules of interaction, new lifestyles (some of which they’ll try on for size) and a lack of familiar structure. This leads to a great deal of self-evaluation, comparing previous structures from home and high school with new ideas.
Having your student begin his or her college career can be a stressful experience for you as parents, especially if your son or daughter hasn’t lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions on hold while helping their student prepare for college life. Attending to your own emotional needs as well as your student’s, however, will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college presents.
1. Recognize that feelings of ambivalence about your student’s leaving home are normal.
Give yourself time to adjust. For some families, this step can seem like a dramatic separation of parent and student, although it is usually the separation of adult from almost-adult. It is normal, too, to look forward to the relative peace and quiet of having your active older adolescent out of the house and having the place to yourself, or being able to spend time with your younger children. After all, if the phone rings, it might actually be for you!
2. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.
While your student is getting ready to come to Southwestern, there is little benefit in pretending that you do not feel sad, guilty, relieved, apprehensive, or whatever feelings you do have. Often, parents have other changes and sources of stress happening in their own lives, such as aging parents or mid-life health issues that add to impact of this transition. You’re probably not fooling anyone by trying to hide your reactions; a healthier approach is to talk about them with your family, friends, clergy or whoever is a source of support for you.
3. Make “overall wellness” a goal for yourself.
Especially during times of change it helps to get enough sleep, eat healthful meals and get adequate exercise. Spending time doing things you especially like is another step toward wellness. If you are feeling good, you are more likely to have the energy to be a good role model and resource for your student.
4. Remember that, for your student, coming to Southwestern is a tremendously important developmental step toward adulthood.
This step represents the culmination of 18 or so years of learning, much of it geared toward helping your student assume a productive place in the world. This is the time when your hard work will show itself in the form of a framework that your first-year student will use in becoming independent. Many parents find that it helps to focus on the fact that providing your student with this opportunity is a priceless gift. Be proud of yourself!
5. Don’t forget to reward yourself!
Go out and celebrate with a dinner or a party. You have raised a wonderful adult who is moving on to an exciting phase of his or her life. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.
6. Consider you own dreams.
Especially for parents whose last or only child has moved away to college, consider the possibilities that come with greater personal freedom. Taking on new challenges is an excellent way to manage and channel energy and feelings. Have you ever wanted to write a book? Learn to fly fish? Make a quilt? Volunteer in your community? Assume a new project or responsibility at work? Travel? Make a list of all the things you intended to do while your son or daughter was growing up, but never had the time to do. Now is your chance!