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While You’re Preparing to Send Your Child to College, Don’t Forget to Prepare Yourself

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Dr. Meg Meeker

There are a lot of conversations this time of year about getting kids ready for college. If you have a college-bound freshman, you are probably chatting with other parents about ordering textbooks, getting your child’s dorm room set up and making sure their classes are scheduled.

But how are you preparing for yourself for your child’s departure to college? You might be so preoccupied with readying him that you’ve forgotten this is a big transition for you too.

As you spend the next few weeks preparing your son or daughter to go to college, don’t neglect to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you are preparing to say goodbye to your college-bound child:

Be proactive, but don’t be fearful.

You’ve heard me say this many times and I will say it again: Do not parent out of fear. Be proactive. This is especially important during a big transition like the one you are facing.

Ensure your child has what she needs for her dorm room and her classes. Beyond that, you don’t have much control, but don’t let this loss of control scare you into fear-based parenting. If you do, you will end up trying to manipulate your child’s schedule, or interfere too much in her academic decisions, which are now just that—her decisions.

I am not saying you can no longer play a role in your child’s life now that she is in college. Just make sure that in the weeks leading up to her departure you are making decisions from a place of being proactive, not afraid.

You can still be a great parent, but don’t overparent.

Somewhat related to my point above, remember that you can be a great parent without overparenting. This is critical now that your child is preparing to be away at school and no longer under your roof.

In her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Students at Stanford University, all but begs parents to back off from helicopter parenting. The book is a response to serious problems she saw with incoming freshman: depression, anxiety, lack of ability to solve problems and poor high executive functioning. The common denominator among these students? Parents who over-managed them in order for them to “succeed.”

Because of this, Lythcott-Haims encountered kids who didn’t know how to solve problems, who texted their mothers when in a bind and who felt so uncomfortable with adults, they refused to make eye contact.

Don’t let your child be a part of this epidemic. Parent well, but don’t overparent. Let your child fail. Don’t rescue him when he has a hard test coming up. Don’t call his professors when he’s sick. Allow your child to grow up and grow into an adult. He can’t do that if you’re catering to his every need.

Allow your child to grow up and grow into an adult. He can’t do that if you’re catering to his every need.

Life as you know it is over, but that’s ok.

I still remember dropping off my youngest at college just a few years ago. As we drove the eight-hour trek, we talked about our 18 years together. Perhaps he was in a sentimental mood, but he insisted that I hadn’t traumatized him too much. In his boyish curt mannerism, he said, “Mom, I loved my childhood.” When he said this, I burst into tears that flowed for 48 hours.

What he was telling me was that life as we have always known it together was over. Sure, he would always be my only son, the one who was left behind with me when his older sisters went off to college. But now, I would stay behind and he would become absorbed in a whole new life.

This is exactly how parenting is supposed to go. We are not here to raise kids; we are here to raise kids who will become great adults. Ones who can go to college and leave their mothers behind. That is the goal, even if it is difficult. Embrace this new life stage and all of the new joys it will bring you.

We are not here to raise kids; we are here to raise kids who will become great adults.

Watching your child go away to college can be heart-wrenching, but it is natural and good for a child to leave her parents. Spend the rest of these weeks of summer being proactive, but not fearful. Resist the urge to helicopter parent and when you are waving goodbye, do so knowing that because you are saying goodbye to your child you can have confidence that you have done your best job as a parent.

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