College bound: Letting them Soar or Sink…

For many, the tears have dried as they left their first time in college student at their desired dorm or apartment. The trip home was full of great memories, fears of the unknown, and hopes that their child would Soar rather than Sink.  The reality is many parents have given their child every opportunity to soar.  We have carefully monitored their grades, checked their rooms, and done our best to teach them to be respectful young adults.  School routines and extra curricular activities should have helped with time management and the knowledge they need to be successful academically.  Good parents have tried their best to give their kids the tools they need to be successful!

The trouble comes in when we don’t give them the space they need to soar. They still need our love and support… maybe even daily calls. Do whatever it takes to make them understand that they still have your attention and support! Along those same lines, you need to let go a little and let them start to craft their own reality.  Just as if you started a new highly technical job, you may make mistakes… you young adult needs to learn to navigate the new path on their own.  If they are still on your payroll and you have established criteria for them to meet to remain well-kept, by all means hold them to those standards.  The most painful part is trying to fix it when they don’t meet “your” expectations! That brutal time has come when we must let them learn to accept the natural consequences associated with their actions.

For a large majority of their lives, we have done our best to minimize their failures and to shield them from pain or discomfort of any kind.  It’s what we do as parents! Hence, we should not be surprised when they continue to expect us to fix their wrong doings or to tolerate their misgivings. I’ve often wondered if we have in some ways set over privileged children up for failure when they are sent off to college. If they have not had expectations at home, how are they to meet life’s expectations while away from home?  Furthermore, at what point do you make them step up to the plate and at what cost?

A very clear set of expectations provides a foundation for their success, as well as your continued sanity and healthy relationship with them. The second semester may be the best time to establish this criteria. They have had a chance to establish themselves and learn the college ropes,  and parents have had time to get over the initial heartbreak (or celebration- insert laughing emoji) of their child leaving. You have had an opportunity to determine how well your child did managing their first semester on their own.  Were they out partying every night? Traveling on expenses they did not have? Did their grades make you proud or make you cringe? And on and on…

If you have friends with older children, you may have heard them talk about how hard it is for them to let go. In many cases they are not referring to the initial separation, but the road that gets paved after that. It’s hard for parents to let go and let their child make poor decisions. However, it may be time to let them sink (or at least start swimming). Let them know your expectations. Make them clear, concise and deliverable. Do not include everything you ever want your child to do or everything you wish you could have fixed before they left. Decide which expectations are the big ticket items- the deal breakers. A sample list may look something like this:

Expectation                                                                          Outcome

Grades must remain at a 3.0 or better with no                   Tuition will be paid

class dropping below a B.

Travel outside of the campus city will be pre-approved.     Room and Board will be paid

A job must be maintained at least 15 hours a week            Additional money for                                                                                                                                                                                           emergencies (car fixed, holiday breaks) will be                                                                                                                                                 available as needed


There are lots of other items that can be included.  Decide with your young adult what your highest level of expectations are and what you cannot afford to let them do without your support.  Here is where it gets tricky! You cannot continue to try and micro-manage their lives. They may revolt or at a minimum resent you for continuing to try and insert yourself in their grown-up world.  It’s time to let go a little and let them make their own mistakes. It’s okay to impose the consequences that you have promised would come with their error.  Sometimes letting them make their own mistakes is the best thing that happens to them.  It often hurts parents more than their child.  Stop trying to fix everything and let them take on that responsibility. As painful as it is to let go, you may be amazed with the outcome! If not, don’t accept the blame for their poor choices. It is imperative that young adults accept responsibility for their actions and that you allow them to do so.  This is a critical part of growing up!

Your comments, thoughts and experiences help others navigate this tough parenting path! You are not alone… please share!  For specific feedback regarding an issue you are having with your child, use the contact form and one of our team of experts will get back to you within 24 hours.

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