If You Make a Mess of Things in College it Will Be Your Mess Not Mine

Dear Son,

You have a few more years living under my roof full-time until you go to college and are out on your own. I know this will always be home in some way to you– after all, you’ve lived here your entire life and you know I will always welcome you with open arms.

And lately I know I’ve been trying to prepare you for something that may seem harsh, but I think it’s for the best: When you move out, go off to college and find yourself, you are on your own. I will always be here for you, yes, I will be your biggest cheerleader and support system. When you come home I’ll make your favorite dishes, and perhaps do your laundry if I’m feeling super nostalgic.

I will always offer advice and chime in even when you don’t want to hear what I have to say. I will send you care packages and tell you to study for your test and treat people with kindness. I will always be your mother, and love you more than I can ever express, but there are somethings I won’t do for you no matter how much I want to, even if I desperately want to get involved, which I’m sure I will.

Mom's letter to son about taking responsibility for his actions in college

Just so you know now, son, I won’t bail you out of a tough situation if you knowingly brought it on yourself by breaking the law or the rules your college campus. I’m not talking about a crisis situation, I’m talking about self-induced hardships.

I’m hoping I’ve taught you well, and by making your take things on things like this yourself, should they happen, I’m telling you I believe in you enough to fix your mistakes and make them right.

I also know it’s easy to get caught up and tempted to do things we shouldn’t and think nothing bad will come out of it, but I know you have a strong inner-voice. I know you will know better. I know if you do screw up, you will be going into it knowing exactly what you are doing, and that you will be the one who is going to clean it up.

If you get a bad grade on a paper, or fail out of a class because you didn’t try hard enough, I’m not that mom who will be calling your professors to get them to change their mind or give you another chance. You will have to do that yourself. I know you can handle it, too. I’ve watched you state your case for something you really want, and work hard to earn my trust when it’s been broken— you can do this for yourself much better than I can.

It will be hard for me to sit on the sidelines and watch if you screw up, but I will.

It’s not cruel, and I couldn’t care less if outsiders view it as such. I think it’s the best thing for you. What would happen if I start fighting your battles while you are entering into adulthood? What would it feel like for you to have your mother come to the rescue? I’m sure you want to learn how to rescue yourself, instead.

We all make mistakes in life and don’t learn a damn thing if someone comes in to make it better for us. We must do the work– mistakes have purpose, and that purpose is lost if we aren’t taking ownership and turning the situation around for ourselves.

I’m trying to put in the hard work now so you will see how capable you are and have confidence in yourself just as I have confidence in you. I find it very hard not to correct everything for you now, and you are living with me– I see you every day and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want things peaceful and perfect. It’s hard to watch you mess up and not run and fix it whether it’s with schoolwork, a teacher, or a friend.

And I think about what it will be like for me when you are gone. Since you are the oldest, this will be another first we are going to have to navigate together. I already know it’s going to be hard not to see and talk to you every day. I can’t imagine if something happens and I’m not there to help you, the thought rips me apart and we aren’t even there yet.

But I hope you know, you are capable and strong and you can make things right if you aren’t able to avoid screwing up. Because let’s face it, we all screw up some of the time. In big ways and in small. And I believe in you to navigate your way through and live your best life– I have to believe that. I’ve put a lot of sweat and tears into trying to raise a decent human being.

So please, always know how much you are loved and never doubt that. But also know if you mess up, it’s your mess, not mine. It will be your job to do your best and stay on track. While you are in college, you are still in many ways just a kid, but you will be old enough to know better and be responsible for your actions.

It’s your time to start your life and gain some autonomy, and I believe in you.



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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 .

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