Collegebound Network

Since 1987, America's Trusted Resource on Higher Education

A New Beginning for Parents: When Your Teen Goes to College

Starting college is filled with surprises and unexpected discoveries. As your child becomes a college freshman searching for a new identity, they will probably be caught off-guard by the newness of the adventure. Get ready -- they'll soon be tripped up by tough learning curves and the test of sticking with something until they can figure it out. As their dreams take shape and they attempt to assert their independence, their academic, social, personal, and even financial skills will be put to the real test.

When preparing for the jolt they'll experience as skills are tested, your child will soon come to realize that they are not alone. It's not just college fish who struggle with learning curves, so will you as a parent!

You'll see yourself discovering some interesting truths just when you thought you had it all figured out. Your child's high school graduation ceremony will convince you that you've experienced the best and worst moments of their life. And then will come the task of sending them away, out on their own.

The only thing worse than a messy teenager's room is an empty one; likewise, a noisy, bustling house is better than a quiet one. Both are stark reminders of drastic lifestyle changes. Perhaps the only thing tougher than helping your young adult find a college identity of their own is finding your own new one, too.

At some point, you had a life of your own. As you focused on raising children, your life meshed into theirs and you started weaving together a family pattern. Now is the time to start unraveling this pattern and create new ones.

As much as we joke about cutting that umbilical cord, the process will initially be filled with doubt and frustration. Put your teen's collegiate experience into perspective -- it will help you make progress in dealing with the ambiguity of this new stage of both your lives.

Parents have unique jobs -- the better parent you are and the more you foster independence, the less you'll be needed. Your letting go starts with infancy and probably continues in one form or another throughout your entire life. When your young adult can make decisions without you, you've done your job.

Try to understand these ironic truths. It will make the awkward process of separation seem more natural.

Part of parenting is feeling like you are never quite finished -- you need one more week, another month, perhaps even a year. Your teen starting college is like when you sent him or her off to camp or high school -- except this time it's for real.

You'll suddenly be confronted with the reality that your child is grown. Equally disconcerting is realizing that you must create a new life, too. Separation conjures up feelings of doubt and anxiety about their life as well as yours. When these feelings start to prevail, step back and watch them shine.?This is your greatest success.

Don't be shocked when your teen begins showing signs of apprehension about going to college. As much as they want to grow up, growing up is hard. Sometimes they simply balk during the college process, maybe to signal they aren't quite ready either.
If this happens, nudge them gently and remind them that uncertainty is part of any new experience -- starting college, going away to school, growing up, or getting a job.

Once your child is in college, they'll need you in a new capacity. While raising them, you set rules and boundaries and instilled a work ethic to help them make choices and understand consequences. You were responsible for their well-being and assumed the role of nurturer.

When they leave for college, you must relinquish some control and become a support system, someone to bounce new ideas off and call at midnight with their greatest fears. You'll still bolster their self-confidence and celebrate their success -- this time, from the sidelines.

Sending your child to college is surely the culmination of one of your life's greatest dreams. As you accomplish this dream, it's natural to feel a sense of emptiness.

When your young adult can make decisions without you, you've done your job.

What to do? Find new dreams and maybe even rekindle those old dreams you put aside for parenting.

Working toward new dreams is an exhilarating and effective way to combat your separation frustrations. This way, there will be less time to dwell on the emptiness in your home (and to give your child a guilt trip!) This will help you cement a
better relationship now and in the future as your teen moves beyond college.

Learn a new hobby, take enrichment courses at a local community college or university, or try something completely new.
Plant a small herbal garden, take that pottery, art, or music class you've always wanted to take, attend a financial planning seminar, redecorate a room, or get involved in a community volunteer group. You'll find that reaching out to others and learning to kindle excitement about new ideas will stimulate you and make the emptiness more tolerable.

For many, this stage of life means extra time. Fill your social calendar with events other than your teen's activities. Take advantage of this opportunity to have a date with your spouse or a friend. It will add spontaneity to your life, create a new layer in your relationship, and help you both come full circle.

Throughout your child's life, you stayed connected to parents with similar interests in order to create a special type of support system. Likewise, becoming part of a support system with parents of college students can help you work through the rough spots and celebrate the milestones. Just as you wanted to know when it was normal for your baby to start sleeping through the night, you'll want to know what to expect now.

Support groups through college alumni organizations can help you cope with issues that may arise in your teen's struggle to make their college adjustment -- homesickness, tackling a tough curriculum, developing effective study habits, dealing with roommate problems, and handling new-found freedom.

Staying connected, literally, to your teen is also important. Develop ways to show support and concern -- send humorous cards, care packages, surprises, and gifts to their dorm.

Most of all, remember, the adventure of raising children doesn't end with sending them to college; it simply changes.