5 minutes ago you were changing their diaper and rocking them to sleep. Now, they are visiting colleges or already working toward their college degree. Time flies.
As a parent, the game changes when your child begins college. Your kids still need you but they need you in different ways. You must learn to adapt.
For a student, the first semester of college is incredibly disorienting. Everything is new and unfamiliar. What used to be automatic is now complicated. What used to be done for you is now your responsibility. The workload is impossible. The social scene is foreign. The temptations are new and the churches are weird. The first semester of college might as well be Mars.
College freshman feel lost between two worlds. A few months ago they were kids. Mom did their laundry and made their meals. They aren’t quite adults either. They can still sleep in until noon and play video games all night. Nevertheless they feel lost and it will be a very long time until a college student truly feels like a “real” adult.
Because of this, college freshmen will fluctuate between moments of impressive maturity and forehead slapping immaturity. It’s the nature of the transition. This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight. There will be crashes, tears, triumphs and setbacks.
College can be as confusing for parents as it is for students. What exactly is your role now? The signals are confusing. She calls me crying. He wants money. She screams, “This is my life!” He has a new girlfriend who I’ve never even met.
I believe that college students want and need their parents more than they often let on. The support they want and need looks different than it did when they lived at home but it is crucial nonetheless. Here’s my advice on how to parent a college freshman…
1. A Retreat
Nearly everything about college is foreign and new. It’s all a bit too unsettling and disorienting. In the midst of this, home holds within it everything that is familiar and comfortable. A weekend at home can reorient and recharge.
Many parents quickly transform their college student’s room into an office or spare bedroom. Please don’t do this. You’re taking away your son or daughter’s retreat to the familiar. Even simply knowing that their childhood room still exists can be a comfort.
2. Communicate on Their Terms
You may feel that your college student is delusional when they talk about how busy they are. Just wait until you have a full-time job and children! But, they still feel overwhelmed and perception is reality.
We have to understand that their communication with us will be sporadic and sometimes curt. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear from you. In fact, they desperately need to hear from you. They are simply learning to navigate the busiest schedule they have ever managed.
Leave them static communications that they can get to in their own time. Text. Leave a voice mail. Send a care package or snail mail. Communicate regularly, even when you don’t hear back. Encourage your kids, let them know you believe in them and care about them. They are listening and they need you.
3. Don’t Get Offended
Your child is interacting with all kinds of new information. He is meeting people from different backgrounds. She’s sitting under the teaching of professors from entirely different worldviews.
It’s very likely that your son or daughter will come home in a few months and share some new ideas that you will not like. Do you best to restrain yourself from intellectually destroying your son or daughter’s new ideas. Most likely they haven’t changed their entire belief system. They are exploring. They are attempting to reconcile what they have always known with what they are learning.
The truth is, if you did a good job of building their worldview when they were a child they will be fine. If you didn’t, now isn’t the time to pounce all over their independent thinking. You will only drive them away.
4. Advice Instead of Decrees
With all that said, college freshmen still need direction and you are still their parents. However, the game has changed. You aren’t in a position to “ground” them or take away their allowance. Instead of making decrees shift to advice. Share stories from your life. Ask for permission to share your opinions. In short, treat them like they are an adult. Doing this communicates respect. Your kids still want your opinions and advice but they want to be treated like an equal.
To recap, college is exhilarating and disorienting. Your college student still desperately needs you but they need you in new and different ways. My hope and prayer is that you courageously adapt and engage.