Yes, You’re a College Parent, but What Exactly Does That Mean?
As your student begins his college career, you know that he will be forming a new identity in his new role. But what about your role as a college parent? How will your identity change? It’s worth considering how many changes may be in store for you, as parent, as well as for your student.
This is a transitional time for everyone.
Your student is not the only one who is going through a transitional time. Sometimes we become so focused on the changes that are occurring for our student, that we forget that changes will be occurring for us as well. Or perhaps we are all too well aware of the changes that will be taking place in our lives, and we need to put things in perspective.
Remembering that this is a time of transition for everyone is helpful. Because your student may be feeling stress as he heads off to college, he may try your patience. Recognizing why this is happening helps. It also may help to recognize that your patience may be a bit shorter than usual because you are stressed as well. If this is your first child to go to college, you may be working hard to keep up with all of the necessary paperwork, and finances, and new terms, and necessary shopping and logistics. You may be wondering what life at home will be like without him there. If this is your last child to go to college, you will definitely be facing some changes at home, and this can be both emotional and stressful.
Just as your child is now facing an opportunity for a new beginning, so are you. Recognize this for the possibilities that it presents to you. Don’t ignore or minimize the changes that will be taking place at home. Anticipate them. Think about them and confront them. Embrace the new phase in your life for its possibilities and think about how you will deal with the changes.
Everyone is experiencing changing roles.
As your child leaves for college, your role changes. Obviously, you are still the parent, you always will be, but the parenting you do as a college parent may be different in nature from what you have been doing as your child has moved through elementary school, middle school, and high school.
You may no longer be involved in the day to day activities and nuances of your child’s life. However, remember that you will continue to have a role in his life - as coach and chief cheerleader. You may move to the sidelines – giving suggestions, sometimes chiding, and sometimes encouraging – but you’re not on the field playing the game. By recognizing that your role is still crucial, but is now different, and helping your child to realize it, you will make the transition to college easier for both of you.
You still provide the necessary safe haven.
One role as parent will never change. That is to provide the unconditional love and safe haven that your child will need, perhaps right now more than ever. He needs to know that he can spread his wings, try out his new independence and life, and that you will be there when he needs you. How you will be there may vary. Sometimes you will be there to congratulate him and celebrate with him, sometimes you will need to encourage him, sometimes you’ll be chiding or expressing displeasure or even fear, and sometimes you’ll just need to help him pick up the pieces and figure out how to go on. But he will know that you are there – no matter what - and that will make the difference.
Your new adventure begins.
Being the parent of a college student is a difficult but vitally important job. For many of us, because it is a new job description, there is a learning curve. There may be new rules, new tasks, and new expectations. Our responsibilities have not ended, but they have changed. Our involvement in our college student’s life is still crucial, but our mode of operation may need to be modified. Embracing the change, accepting the challenge, and enjoying the adventure, will make the transition smoother and more rewarding for everyone.