CHARLESTON, S.C. (courtesy charlestonsouthern.edu) — Senior vs freshman, age 17 vs 18. Do these sound familiar? This time is both exciting and scary for our young adults and us as parents. They want the freedom to be away from us, but they also are looking for our support. Now is when things become different in the world of parenting as we begin to teach them to fly on their own.
As a mother of three adult children, two of which are attending college, I can attest to the fact that guiding adult children is much harder than raising them when they were younger. They are no longer in a controlled environment where you can make the decisions for them. Classes are skipped; assignments are started at the last minute; your advice becomes secondary at best. Information about classes, exams, events, and so on become secondhand and not always accurate. How are our children possibly surviving without us to guide their every step?
Many look to Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse can seem overused, but should not be overlooked. While this is an exciting time for them, and us, it is scary for them, and us. Our children run off into this new adventure, and we are no longer at the forefront. Gone are the days where we decided everything for them: what they ate, what they wore, where they went to school, and so on. Rest assured though, that although they have this newfound freedom, they do seek your support and approval.
While we have made all these decisions for them in the past, let us remember that these children are not ours, but have been given to us by God to assist in taking care of them according to His will. It is now time for them to take what we have taught them and apply it to their lives. As they begin flying on their own, let’s look at a few things that, as parents, we can do for them.
1. PRAY. Pray for them daily. Pray for them whenever God lays it on your heart. Pray for them whenever you think of them. College is fun and exciting but also can be lonely and trying. You may not know all the details of their day anymore, but God does.
2. LISTEN AND ENCOURAGE THEM WHEN THEY TALK TO YOU. As parents, we have probably told them to listen to us when we are talking to them. Now it is our turn. College is trying: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When they turn to you, listen. When they call devastated because they made their first low grade (it will happen), listen. When they are upset because they are dealing with roommate troubles, listen. When they are stressed about finals, listen. Also, encourage them with your actions. Send them their favorite snacks via a care package, send a meal to their dorm, even if your student is a commuter – slide a gift card in their bag or car. This will prepare you for the next step.
3. HELP THEM TO ADULT. When did the word adult become a verb? Our kids are now signing official documents. They may not be quite ready for life outside of college though. What can we do about that? I wrote previously that we should listen. Now we act, but from behind the scenes. We have spent so many years solving their problems, but now they need to solve them on their own, with a little guidance. Comfort them when they are hurting. Don’t judge those they are in conflict with. Guide them to make smart decisions on their own. Don’t give them the answers outright, let them work for it so they remember the next time. Also, let them start doing things for themselves. From opening a checking account to scheduling a doctor’s appointment to cooking a meal for the family while they are home on break (they may not want to, but with a recipe and a little help – you and your student will be amazed), give them the freedom to make decisions for the future.
4. FORGIVE. They are going to mess up. Mistakes will be made. Our children are not perfect. How we respond is very important. Let us remember that God forgives us on our worst days. We need to do the same with our children as they start making their own mistakes, guiding them toward how they can use that mistake to keep from making future ones.
As our little birds leave the nest, let them fly. It will be shaky at first, but soon they will soar. College will lead to graduation, and careers, and families, and the cycle will continue as their children reach this age. They, like us, will fall from time to time – that is God’s gentle reminder to keep our eyes on Him, and He will provide our needs while on the ground or in the sky soaring. We can rest in knowing that the God who chose us to raise them is continuing to care for them as they embark on adulthood.
Anna Greg, the author, is the mother of two college students at Charleston Southern University and is a member of the CSU Parents Program.