August 10, 2011
Letting-Sarah-go

How do I let Sarah (or Johnny) go to college?

Your child is going to college! Since birth, this is what you’ve been preparing her for – becoming an independent adult who is ready to leave the nest.

I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. At every stage of parenting I ask other parents, “Is this next stage easier?” I often get the same response – not easier, just different. But letting my 3-year-old choose her outfits no matter how mismatched and artfully coordinated seems a much easier step toward autonomy than helping her pack for college. But I know parents who will tell me it’s a short hop, skip, and a jump away from the day she’ll be all grown up.

This is a big step for every new college student, but it’s a big step for you too! Here are a few tips to making the most of this important transition:

Let him take the lead in how much contact he wants from you.

Just like his earlier teen years, he is learning who he is and how he fits in the world. He is testing his wings. He may call you every other day or not at all for a month. He needs time and space to figure out how to live life on his own. It’s better for you to be the sought-after resource than the nagging phone call. Be there and be ready, but let him set the new terms.

Let her ‘do’ college.

“Helicopter parents” hover and intrude, making decisions and taking care of business for their students. You might feel like you’re helping, but the lessons she learns from doing it herself will make her a more confident adult. College campuses are chock full of resources to support new students. Tutoring, Advising, Orientation, Stress Management, and Career Counseling are often tailored to the First Year Experience, or their freshman year. Let her lead the way and you can back her up. Colleges will partner with you in this. We’d rather get a call from the student than from the parent – we want her to grow into a successful adult too!

Let him make mistakes.

Have you seen the Batman movies? When young Bruce Wayne falls down the well and is rescued by his father, there is a great learning moment for our hero. “Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” Letting him struggle with a problem will give him the skills to be capable and confident. Encourage him to find his own solutions and seek out services that are in place to help. Some of life’s best lessons are learned the hard way.

Enjoy your freedom.

While our job as parents is never done, things change significantly once children leave the nest. While they are exploring their new wings, it’s time to start flapping yours a bit more. Explore some new interests you’ve longed to try. Rekindle your relationship with your mate. Reconnect with friends. Re-examine your own goals and ambitions. Your relationship is changing with your child, but to one for the better. Welcome to the next chapter in your family story!

About the author:

Danielle Carnes is the Coordinator of Recruitment and Outreach at Front Range Community College-Larimer Campus. She is a swing dancer and social do-gooder, living and loving life in Fort Collins.

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