I could feel my blood pressure rise and my heart sink with every word that came out of my daughter’s mouth. She wanted to drop out of college. A wave of fear followed my shock. Behind that, a cascade of dashed dreams. Mine, not hers.
We had been here before. Mid-semester. I told her the first semester is hard for everyone, convincing her to stick it out until Christmas break and reassess then. I was sure things would turn around. She just needed to give it a chance.
I could not convince my daughter to stay in school
This time, I wasn’t going to be able to persuade her to stay. I knew it right away.
She calmly reviewed her prepared list of reasons she was going to drop out. She was struggling with her anxiety. She didn’t like her roommate. She hadn’t found her people there and felt lonely. All true. I was aware. It didn’t help she had a boyfriend back home.
I knew her returning after Christmas would be difficult, but I also knew she had had some great moments in her first semester. She had been excited about her next semester’s classes and we even went apartment hunting. Her grades were good and she was proud of that.
She wrapped up her life-changing announcement with the fact that as she was 19, she was ready to make this adult decision.
She was very “adult” about her decision
A part of me wanted to roll my eyes at that statement (and I might have). Another part of me actually saw a glimpse of that young adult she spoke of in my daughter’s determination to answer all of my questions before I could ask them. She had already contacted the proper administrators regarding how to get the last tuition payment back and officially drop classes. She also inquired about the appropriate process for moving out of the dorm.
But adult decisions have adult consequences.
I told her she would have to get a full-time job while she figured out her next steps. Why anyone would trade three hours of classes for an 8 hour work day is beyond me.
My emotions were ripping through the seven stages of grief at a sprint. Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Testing. I needed time to process and plan before I reached the final stage. Acceptance.
I know college isn’t for everyone
Rationally, I know that college isn’t for everyone. Truth be told, I was a little surprised she applied in the first place. She’s never really liked school. I also know that you don’t need a college degree to be successful in life, but unless you are a highly driven personality type (which she is not), a college degree sure gives you a few more options.
I told her moving back home after being on your own, even for just one semester, wasn’t going to be the same. I pulled out all the stops. There would be no boyfriend sleepovers like in the dorm. She would have a curfew again (a reasonable one, but there would be one). She was going to have to start paying for her own stuff.
None of this changed her mind. She must be serious. She said she wanted to work on her mental health for a semester and then go back to school, just not there. I hope she means it. Statistically, most college dropouts don’t go back.
But what if my daughter really just needs a break? College is hard and at least she doesn’t want to just throw a semester away. What if her tribe is somewhere else and all the time in the world at that school wouldn’t make her feel less lonely?
What if she really does need to work on her mental health? I should be proud of her for speaking her truth and doing something about it.
I had a full fledged freak out about my daughter’s decision
Still, I struggled with this news for days, formulating new rules for living at home, crying, praying, and venting to friends over a glass of wine. I was in a full-fledged freak-out.
Part of it wasn’t even about her. It was about me, though I hate to admit it. I’m a single mom, and I’ve got to say I was ready to be an empty nester. My daughter has always lived with me full-time, so the bulk of parenting fell on my shoulders except for the occasional dinner or shopping with her dad. It’s ok. That’s what I signed up for when I became a mom. It’s not her fault I didn’t have someone to share the load with. But I’m tired.
For years, I mistakenly told myself it would be easier once I got her through high school. Older kids are just a different kind of hard. They have real issues you can’t fix by kissing a scraped knee.
When an older child makes a mistake in the real world, there are more severe consequences than a low grade for a late assignment. One thing that doesn’t change is wanting to belong. That same feeling they had in the middle school lunchroom is as strong as that feeling walking across a college campus.
I wanted my fear for my child to be a force for good not destruction
A mother’s fear for her child is a double-edged sword. This maternal apprehension is a profound force capable of fueling determination, resilience, and unwavering strength. When harnessed positively, it can empower moms to accomplish what seems impossible, manifesting a fierce protective instinct to secure their child’s well-being. However, if consumed by overwhelming anxiety, it can also spiral into a destructive force, clouding judgment, fostering excessive control, and potentially suffocating the very essence of the child’s growth and independence.
Uh, I don’t want to be THAT mom. The 3am revelation was enough to talk me off the ledge.
I’ve learned to surrender to the belief that God orchestrates our lives for the better, even in moments that challenge our expectations. Wouldn’t God extend the same grace to guide my daughter’s path as He does for me?
Sometimes the best a mom can do is to release control and have faith that things will unfold as they’re meant to. There will come a day when I will happily be an empty nester. But for now, I’ll keep doing what I’ve done for the first 19 years of her life. I’ll be there.
I may not support her decision, but I will always support her.
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