Explaining To Your Kids How The College Experience Changes You

It’s been almost 23 years since I’ve been a college student. In the time that’s passed I’ve changed quite a bit.

I’ve aged two decades, my style has been reinvented hundreds of times, I’ve developed mom-brain, I need nine hours of sleep a night, and get really excited about healthy Crock-Pot recipes. I love my life and make no apologies for what I find exhilarating now.

The thought of being up all night with the smell of stale beer in the air (and all over sticky floors) and sleeping wherever I landed, then throwing on a baseball cap the next day and sitting through a Shakespeare class, no longer appeals to me. Not even a little.

What I tell my kids about my college experience.
College friends are a big part of the college experience.

And yet, there’s a part of me that always wants to go back for a spell. Those years were a chunk of time in my life that I changed the most, and I keep going back to them over and over again. Not just because of the fun and freedom, but so much more than that.

I mean, college years are so much better than high school for a profusion of reasons: Good bye parents, and curfews, hello alcohol and signing up for classes that don’t start until 10 a.m., just to name a few.

After graduating, we are thrown into the real world and have to work full-time in order to get that apartment, car and food to eat. We often the daydream about going back to our college years. We daydream about going back to our college years when we are carving our way into the world, taking that first job, and realizing we have to buy toilet paper and pay the electric bill.

And we long for those carefree, college days even decades after we graduate.

One minute you are nailing your big important job, paying the mortgage, and signing permission slips, then something as small as a smell or a commercial can send you right back and leave you thinking, If I could go back to my college days for just a week, that’d be swell.

It’s in those moments we realize the change and growth we experienced in college didn’t solely come from the school work, being on our own and trying to make good choices (like staying in to study), when we’d rather make the bad ones (like go to the keg party after hosting a pre-party in our dorm room all while telling yourself you’ll wake early to study). It’s so much more than that.

When we are set free to make our own choices, we become more of ourselves. We begin to realize in those precious college years, the path we thought we’d take might go askew, and that’s okay.

In those classrooms, we have deep discussions that change our mind about how we view the world.

In those dorm rooms, we fall in love, get our hearts broken, and put ourselves in vulnerable situations that feel really uncomfortable only to do it again the following Friday night until we learn our lesson.

We teach others how to treat us.

We take care of each other when we get sick because let’s face it, when you’re away from home and hit with the stomach flu for the first time, you quickly find out which of your friends have true grit.

College years are a combination newfound of responsibility, passion, and recklessness and you are never really able to relive again. You find yourself straddling being on your own, while still being somewhat dependent on your parents–it’s the best of both worlds– too bad it’s fleeting.

And the thing is, you don’t realize until it’s all over and you’ve already thrown your cap in the air, how amazing it was, just how good you had it, and how much your college experience, no matter what that looked like, changed you.

My college years hold a huge part of my soul– it was only four years of my life but in so many ways, it’s sculpted who I am today. Not just the epic moments, like when I got an A on my Senior Thesis, but in the small moments, like the conversation I had with my adviser about that thesis. It was a short exchange, less than three minutes, but when she told me how inspiring and original my idea was, she changed the whole trajectory of my life.

In a few short years my son will be headed off on his college same journey if that’s what he chooses. I could try to explain to him the metamorphosis that he’s about to experience but there’s no way he’ll be able to understand it even if I explain it to him. I can only sit back, help him in any way I can, and let him do his thing even when it kills me.

And if I’m being honest, there will be a lot of living vicariously through my kids’ college experiences, but I will try not to overstep–I’ve already had my time; my metamorphosis. And as tempting as it will be to linger a little too long while visiting them, I’ll try my best not to.

But if someone starts passing out Zima and the Spice Girls, all bets are off.


Favorite Boots For Teens And College Students

The Importance Of Alone Time With My Teens

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

Read more posts by Katie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.