College moms and college dads, as your student’s first semester on campus draws to a close, at the end of this somewhat normal — but not really — time period, I want to share in a little (admittedly one-sided) discussion with you. Think of it as a gentle heads-up about what may be in store when your student comes home for winter break.
This year, with almost half of college students being “new” to campus, there’s been a lot of adjustments going on. Our kids ventured out into the world from which they had withdrawn to varying degrees. And along with re-immersion, there have been many kids who’ve been challenged and have been struggling. Some of this may have already been addressed in your family.
Over the last few months, you may have experienced tearful or frustrating phone calls home. You may have visited campus and heard about or seen what your child has been dealing with. But there are also kids who may have been suffering in silence or haven’t wanted to admit they are struggling. They may have been “taking things one week at a time” or “sticking it out until the end of the semester” to see if their situation improved.
Students are coming home and families will face new realities
But there are going to be some of you who may be surprised when your student comes home, and reality fully sinks in and needs to be faced. Those of us who have walked this path before and have come through it, need you to understand that no matter what you may face, it’s going to be OK.
There will be students who got all A’s in high school who come home to find they’ve ended up failing a course. They may have worked really hard. They may have slacked off a bit. They may have struggled with newfound freedom and missed classes. Perhaps they didn’t take the initiative to reach out to their professor or to find a study partner.
It will be OK.
There will be students who started out loving their roommates and end up desperately wanting to find a new roommate or another place to live. Eighteen-year-olds and nineteen-year-olds are still maturing and their brains are still developing. They aren’t the best communicators or compromisers. Some lack empathy and excel at apathy.
It will be OK.
There will be students who want to transfer to a different college. Maybe they endured an entire semester not feeling like they truly fit in. Or they desperately miss their friends who went to a different school. Some felt homesickness that never fully went away, or they’ve discovered an academic major that their school doesn’t offer. Sometimes a place just isn’t the right fit, and it took some soul-searching for them to figure that out.
It will be OK.
There will be students who have made the decision that college is just not the right path for them right now, or maybe forever. College can seem so alluring, especially when everyone around you is starting down that path. But it is truly not for everyone, and some kids hate to break that news to parents who they think will be so disappointed.
It will be OK.
There will be students who speak up about mental health issues that they never experienced before and are struggling with. Living on your own for the first time can be scary. And after months of pandemic life, with so much more time spent at home, it was a shock to the system for so many students.
Anxiety and depression have become struggles for countless college students. When undiagnosed and ignored, they can lead to addictions, eating disorders, and social withdrawal. These problems may only come to light when your student is back home, and you have eyes on them for an extended period.
It will be OK.
For us parents, revelations such as these can cause feelings of despair, anger, and confusion. We may question our parenting and get overwhelmed thinking about who or what is to blame for these “failures” and dashed dreams. It’s natural and normal to focus on things like money lost, or substantial inconvenience, or even what family and friends will think about what has happened with your student.
Important things to remember if you feel like your student’s college experience blew up this year
Let your child talk, talk, and talk some more. And actively listen with love and empathy, and plenty of deep breathing. Imagine how you would react to a dear friend if they were coming to you with a similar issue. Think of this problem, roadblock, or resignation as an opportunity to grow closer to your child, through a partnership of working together on something significant in their life.
Practically every parent of older kids has been through something similar in their past if they are honest enough to admit it. There is no shame in your child being human, and in finding out what genuinely makes them unhappy or happy, and what makes them well and whole.
“Everything is figureoutable”
I recently saw a brilliant phrase on social media (and have since discovered it’s the title of a bestselling book) Everything is Figureoutable.
No matter what your student and you may be faced with, there is always a next step, an action to start down a new path, and someone to offer direction or somewhere to go for assistance.
Keep the endgame in sight. Your goal as a parent is to have a loving relationship with your child for the rest of your life. This is a bump in the road, and they are still so young. We want to instill in our kids the belief that life is about progress, not perfection. They will figure things out.
Becoming an adult is hard. We cannot expect our child’s experiences to be like ours. It’s simply a different world. If they end up with a different major, or a different roommate, or at a different school, or in a different career, it’s really OK.
They can regroup and recover, and you can be there offering support, guidance, and grace.
It will all end up OK. I promise.
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