Posts Tagged college freshman

Dear Parent About to Send Your New High School Graduate Away

It’s been more than a year since my wife and I sent our firstborn to a university 500 miles away. As expected, it’s been a year of adjustment, and though we still haven’t quite figured things out, we’re learning.

Despite my sophomore status, a couple months ago, at her son’s graduation reception, a mother of a new graduate asked me if I had any advice for someone about to send her new graduate away to college. This wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I didn’t.

Be glad the kid is gone. I’m pretty sure that my parents don’t want me living in their basement. After my first and only college summer at home, I was really sure that my dad was glad when August came around. Be thankful that your kid has the ambition to leave the security of home. It’s the first step toward true independence.

Speaking of my dad, have some perspective. When my grandparents saw my dad leave for Vietnam, the best that they could hope for was to see him home and healthy in a year. During that year, they couldn’t send him a text or check his Twitter feed to see how he was doing. And since they couldn’t even talk over the phone, they never heard his voice. Thinking about that makes the 500 miles between me and my son seem somewhat trivial.

Take advantage of technology. If you have a kid graduating from high school, you’re old enough to remember limited communication technology from your own early adulthood years – calling cards and making your long-distance calls when the rates were lowest. E-mail and social media weren’t even options. Don’t act like it’s still the 80’s or early 90’s. You’ll want to give him some space, but a funny, unexpected text from home can brighten his day. Encourage him to do the same thing. Modern communication condenses miles.

Realize that he isn’t your clone. Hopefully, you’ve raised a better version of yourself. I’m forever grateful that my children weren’t set on building wisdom through ill-advised decision-making, like I was. Just because you struggled to avoid temptations in college doesn’t mean that your children will.

Assume the positive. Most of things we worry about never happen, and we waste time and energy thinking about them. Very rarely will you know where your college kid is, who he’s with or what he’s doing. Don’t allow your imagination to fill in those gaps with your worries. Assume that he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

Understand that now is the time to reap the rewards of your parenting. Raising children is a tough, but rewarding job. If you’ve done it correctly, by the time your kid graduates, the hard parts will be behind you. Leave them behind you. Constantly trying to control and guide your children is an unnecessary use of energy that can be better directed elsewhere.

Lastly, see #1. This is a time to celebrate and to congratulate yourself on getting this far as a parent. Though you’re likely going to miss your kid more than you can imagine, be happy that he’s at this exciting stage in his life. This is when many things come together. He’ll likely meet his future wife very soon. He’ll add to his list of life-long friends, and he’ll start to zero in on a career. None of that is possible without letting him go.


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New Chapter, New Lesson – When the First One Leaves

My wife and I left our first child at college this weekend. We’re not alone – thousands of parents will do the same thing in the coming months, and millions more have done it before us – but it feels like we’re alone. It especially felt like that on the eight-hour drive back.

Eighteen and a half years ago, we brought a newborn home from the hospital. We felt alone then too. Though we had months to prepare, it was like we were called to the stage to deliver an important speech, and we had nothing to say. Diapers, bottles, teething – sometimes my wife and I would look at each other with helpless stares, hoping the other had a magic solution. It was too chaotic to ponder the future back then. Our biggest goal was a good night’s sleep.

As the days and years passed, we enjoyed guiding this little brown-haired boy toward his destiny – whatever that was. We were still young and trying to find our own destinies, but we had so much hope for his. Like all parents, we wanted to open up his world, and to help him find and develop his strengths. We weren’t trained for this stage any better than we were trained for the sleepless nights, but we learned on the job and made many mistakes along the way.

There were days when our home was closer to a bad MTV reality show than The Waltons or some other idyllic family-based drama, but those days were few and far between. We emphasized love and appreciation for each other, and you can kill a lot of demons that way. We just had to remember love and appreciation when frustration and anger became overwhelming. Again, most days, we were successful. Even if we lost a day, we were usually able to recover the next.

As he found his path, we slowly circled behind him and started pushing more than pulling him along that path. Eventually, pushing turned into gentle prodding, and before long, we hardly needed to do that any more. He knew where he was going and had a general idea of how to get there. That’s when bittersweet reality set in – we had worked ourselves out of our most cherished and rewarding job. I wasn’t ready to turn in my keys on that job, but I had no choice. It was time to go.

As Laramie faded in my rearview mirror, I thought about that trip home with a newborn back in 1998. None of us slept a wink that night, and we felt completely incompetent as parents. I wasn’t sure if I could do 18 days back then, let alone 18 years. We’ve come a long way since then, but now, just as I start to feel like I have a pretty good grip on parenthood, I must learn something new.

I have to learn to parent at a distance and only when needed. I have to learn to focus on the tremendous opportunities and bright future that I believe lies ahead for him, rather than the loneliness of the empty spot at the dinner table. I have to learn to stifle my urge to pry and prod, and instead rely on my faith that God is watching over him and that he’s prepared for life’s challenges.

None of this feels natural now, just like it didn’t feel natural to hold a screaming newborn 18 years ago, but I learned how to adapt then, and I’ll do the same now.

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