By Lucy Ewing
The ever-shifting nature of the parent’s role is never more obvious than when a son or daughter enters college. We don’t reinvent ourselves overnight, and the process isn’t always smooth, but usually the new dynamic is mutually positive.
Our students appreciate the chance to be independent; we learn to take the back seat and admire the transformation. Both parents and students find that relationships can become stronger during the college years.
You might notice the change playing out during the weekly telephone or Skype chat (initiated by the student — remember, we’re striving to provide more space). Parents begin to receive more than they give.
“Instead of leading him, I let my son take the CEO role while I’m more like a member of the board of directors,” one parent said. “I gradually moved away from being a caretaker with lots of advice to being a listener,” another agreed.
In high school, our students may have felt as if most of their interactions with us were characterized by power struggles and interrogations. Now, as we invite them to direct the dialogue, that perception disappears. “I confided in my mother much more once I started college,” one student recalled. “It’s more like my parents and I are having a conversation than that they’re trying to steer me one way or the other,” another said, with appreciation.
Situations will still arise where parents and students revert to earlier roles. When dealing with difficult roommates, unresponsive landlords, and serious breakups, students often seek out their parents’ expertise and intuition.
“Sometimes the roles can switch back in a period of stress, when you need your parent to still be the parent. It’s all about flexibility, with the student transitioning into adulthood and the parent being okay dealing with the swings,” a student observed.
Another student agreed: “I want my parents to be confident in my decision-making skills, and give me space for self discovery, but I still need them to be in-the-know in case of an emergency.”
It’s a balancing act…and also a matter of letting go. In college, my son and daughter learned they can do things for themselves that I probably was too involved with throughout their earlier years.
A friend, who is the parent of three college students, summed it up: “College is an incredibly maturing time for children and for parents. It’s time for parents to step back and not need to know everything that’s going on in their students’ lives. The kids need to be responsible for themselves…so down the road they can learn how to be responsible for others.”
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