New College Parents, Just Remember Three Simple Words

When you send your first child off to college, a whole new parenting ballgame begins.

The act of physically walking away from them, whether it’s in a dorm lobby, an airport security area, or in your own driveway as they head down the street in an overloaded car, is a momentous metaphorical corner in your life — and in theirs.

College bound
Because taking a teen to college is full of big emotions, we all react in different ways. (@chefaniesteng via Twenty20)


For many of us, this parenting pivot is accompanied by tears and some deep feelings of loss. For some of us, it’s a huge exhale and recognition of a gigantic parenting win. But for practically every parent, it’s a complicated mixture of joy, excitement, anxiety, and forfeiture.

It also happens to be a major occasion in our parenting lives where there is a profusion of advice. Because compared to the first day of pre-school or Kindergarten, when you know you’ll see your precious child again in a matter of hours, the beginning of college is the mother of all Back to School handovers.

And because it’s full of big emotions, we all react in different ways. Many parents seek out advice from friends and family members, hoping to secure the best tips. Others simply want validation for the choices they and their child have made, and those desires often result in the dispensing of unsolicited opinions and declarations of how to do things the Right or the Wrong way.

If you’ve been busy preparing to send your child to college, you may have already begun to experience an avalanche of advice from well-meaning people. And chances are, that chunk of icy instruction will continue to snowball until you are buried up to your neck.

Advice for new college parents

So, while I can still see your frostily frustrated face, I will whisper just three little words to help you weather this storm:

You do you.

Because there will be parents telling you to text your kid a little encouragement every night that first week after drop off. And others counseling you to ignore them entirely for a week and let them adjust.

You do you.

And someone will advise you to send them off with every single textbook already purchased. And others will warn you to wait and see what their professors say.

You do you.

And there will be friends telling you to forbid them from taking a gaming system to college. And others will tell you it’s the best stress relief they can have.

You do you.

Your cousin will announce that a tracking app is the safest thing to do for kids away at school. Your neighbor will say it’s a complete violation of your kid’s privacy.

You do you.

There will be a co-worker telling you that joining the Greek system was the best thing her daughter ever did. An hour later there will be a woman in the Target check-out line telling you that recruitment was the worst thing her daughter ever endured.

You do you.

Another parent you know with older kids will tell you that your student needs to change their major immediately if they get a couple of C’s, because all chances for a good internship disappear with a low GPA. Someone else will advise you to have them stay the course, no matter what.

You do you.

A friend will try to prove to you that studying abroad is a waste of money and time. Another will say that it was a positively life-changing experience for her college son.

You do you.

Because NO ONE knows your child better than you do. Full stop.

You have had the ultimate backstage pass experience to their entire life. Everyone else has had the standard stadium view.

You recognize their strengths and weaknesses. You know when they need a push or when you need to sit back and observe. You know how they tolerate adversity and uncertainty. The only input that should guide your decision-making process during the college years is that of your child.

And now is when that process truly should be in the early stages of becoming completely theirs, with the endgame in sight. Choose your favorite cliché, but the time has come to start to hand over the reins, let them drive the train, or steer the boat that is their life.

Over the next few years, you, and they, will feel pressure to do things someone else’s way, but self-knowledge should be the definitive guide. They will mature and transform, in their own time.

The point is not to completely shun all the advice and tips that are out there surrounding the college experience. There are fantastic resources no matter where you turn — books, websites, blogs, and knowledgeable experts. We should be sharing information and lessons learned.

But as we intellectually know, parenting is not a one size fits all endeavor. We should listen to others, but only consider advice that makes sense for our child, and within honest conversations with our children.

When we encourage our kids to stay true to themselves, we honor their unique traits and talents, and we lessen the chances that they will feel undue pressure to conform to unrealistic standards.

No child does college perfectly. They will struggle at times, make mistakes, and some days will be difficult. But when they know their parents have their back and want them to succeed in a way that is true to who they are, they can persevere through any setback.

When “you do you,” with love and respect for who your child is at their core, you are doing the best parenting you can ever do.

You’ll Also Love Reading:

6 Things You Should Not Do as a College Parent

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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