Tips for Parents Navigating the Transition to College with your Child

In the last few weeks, many parents have taken their “babies” off to college, which can bring with it a flood of emotions. It seems that no matter how many times a parent goes through the experience of dropping their child off at the dorm, most still cry on the drive home. It seems that the feelings are the same, and equally intense no matter how many times you live it. Leaving your child (well, let’s be honest, your young adult) to fend for themselves is a frightening and sad experience for most parents. If you have already lived through it, you know that the feelings will gradually subside and you will be able to join your college student in the joy of their new found independence. If you are still in the phase of some fears and negative thoughts surrounding this transition, here are a few tips on dispelling those fears and thoughts! 

  1. If my “young adult” doesn’t call or visit, does it mean I did a “bad” job raising him/her? 

Not necessarily, most are probably just caught up in the excitement of being at college.  Your young adult has many things to do in the first few weeks of classes. They need to make friends, which requires quite a bit of socializing and hanging out. They need to figure out where their classes will be, and once classes start, make sure they have what they need for class. If your young adult doesn’t call you, feel free to call or video chat with them. It might be best to text first to make sure they are free, but sometimes, they need you to take the first step. One helpful tip is to plan to go up and visit your young adult shortly after the semester starts. It will help you to see them in their environment. It will help you to see how they have adjusted, that they have friends, that they know where the cafeteria is, and that they have food in their refrigerator. 

With regards to doing a “bad” job raising your child, beware of negative thoughts that label you or attribute some kind of character flaw to yourself. Sometimes our inner critic can seek out evidence to say we have failed at our duty, but in this case, we would be personalizing the child’s behavior. The fact that your young adult has not called or has not made plans to visit you could have little to do with your parenting proficiency and more to do with the young adult’s contentment in their new environment. 

  1. What if they stop going to Church? Does that mean I didn’t do a good job teaching them the faith?

For many Catholic parents, one of our main concerns is whether our young adults will go to Mass on Sundays. Will they keep up their life of faith, or will they be sucked down by popular culture. If your young adult does not seek out Sunday Mass, of course, you know your child, so encourage them as you know they might need, and pray for them as St. Monica did for St Augustine. But hold your horses on blaming yourself for not doing a good job teaching them the faith. A person can have all the head knowledge of the faith, and still not feel the pull to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. Each person will go through, in their lifetime, a journey of faith very particular to who they are as a person. It could be that your young adult just still needs to make their faith their own.  Encourage them to go on retreats, and pray for them. But make sure that you affirm them and remind them of your love for them no matter what. If we send our young adults the message that they must change for us to love them, we inevitably push them away. This does not mean that we condone immoral acts, but it does mean that we can love the person while not condoning their actions. 

  1. What if I miss him/her terribly?

If you miss your young adult, it is probably a good sign that you love them with all your heart. We miss people we love when we are not with them. The fact that you enjoy his/her company is a good thing. There are a couple ways to deal with these feelings of loss. First, allow yourself some time to grieve the loss. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. If you need to cry, cry. Expect yourself to be emotional for a few months, and cut yourself some slack when you find you are more emotional than usual. You are grieving a loss and grieving takes time. Second, when you find you are missing him/her, reach out. Text them to see if it’s a good time to call. If it’s not, then set up a later time to connect. I’ll mention it again, you can plan a trip out to visit them. Send them a care package. Most importantly, know that missing your child is healthy and normal, so be kind to yourself about it. 

  1. What if I worry about him/her constantly?

This is also normal. You have been protecting him/her from the time they were babies. You have a natural instinct to want to keep them from harm. Think about it, you have spent about 18 years focused on providing for his/her needs at every moment. You have woken up in the morning thinking of needing to wake him/her up. You have made breakfast thinking of what they might like to eat. You have packed them lunch or given them lunch money. You have reminded them to do their homework, and given them a little motivational push when their grades were slacking. You possibly enjoyed conversation with him/her at the dinner table and wondered throughout the day how their day was going. And you enforced bedtime until you were blue in the face. The habit you developed of thinking about your child from the day he/she was born doesn’t just disappear overnight because they are not sleeping under your roof. Now you worry, did they eat breakfast? Are they eating enough? Are they doing their homework? Are they drinking with friends or going to dangerous places? Whoa. Stop. Sometimes we have to literally imagine a stop sign and tell ourselves to stop. It is time to trust all the parenting you have done. Let it come to fruition. When you notice yourself worrying, say a Hail Mary or another prayer for them, and remind yourself that if they need you, they will call. It is a good time to use the old adage, “no news is good news.” 

We have reflected on some tools for navigating this life change and reminded you of how normal your feelings are. Don’t forget to take a more compassionate approach with yourself while you manage the waves of emotions that come with sending your “baby” off to college. If you find yourself or your young adult is having particular trouble navigating this transition, the Rejoice counseling team is equipped to work with you or your child to make this transition as easy as possible. Contact us here if you want additional support!