The Last Leg of Parenting: How to Know if We Have Prepared Them for College

My daughter is wrapping up her sophomore year in high school and things are changing rapidly. I’ve gradually become aware that my parenting ways are changing, shifting into preparing my kid for independence, and the more I think about, the scarier it gets and the more frantic I feel. She wants to go to a college in Florida, which is roughly 1300 miles away and the thought of this distance catapults me into a fitful frenzy of fear.

It’s like the sea is parting and all her future possibilities and realities are lurking out there on the horizon while our boat is revved at top speed to get her there. It all doesn’t really happen in an instant, but rather, there’s a slight shift that slowly seeps into our parenting during the later high school years.

One day you are in the moment, focused on doing life with your kid, and the next, you aren’t thinking of this very moment, but instead you’re transfixed on the nearing precipice your kid will jump from and begin to fly. And that reality of their impending flight begins to jerk us awake with an urgency to ensure they know how to do life productively, responsibly, and safely without us.

Preparing teens for college
Have I done enough to prepare my teen for college? The answer is probably “yes.” (@klovestorun via Twenty20)

Have I Prepared My Teen for College?

There’s SAT’s and ACT’s and college plans beginning to emerge. For others, there’s the constant questioning of what our kids might do if they don’t go to college and hoping a definitive plan begins to form soon. Then there’s the newly birthed freedom given to them with their ability to drive anywhere they choose to go, which is the monstrous rite of passage into uncharted territory we cannot control. The transition feels harsh and scary, as we are forced to relinquish our almost-grown-up babies who have so much yet to learn.

The idea of us not being right by their side to help them do life starts to sink in and sometimes, sink us. There comes a time during these high school years, where something transpires in our naïve perspective and we begin to recognize the profound and surprising truth that our time is running out. It’s amazing how it happens, really. We all know our kids are going to grow up, but how did this happen so quickly? It’s the age-old story of every parent and the longing of time to slow down.

During this last leg of the parenting journey, we judiciously evaluate what we have done to prepare our teens for their upcoming flight during the past 15-18 years of raising them. Then we feel dumbfounded, jerking our heads with a shake of disbelief that we still have so much to do with so little time to do it.

Our thoughts become more erratic and fearful and our imagination spirals into worst-case scenarios. We begin to put a voice to our thoughts and our parenting looks more like this:

The Worst-Case Scenarios I Fear for My Teen

My kid forgets to eat breakfast before heading off to school:

“Will you actually remember to eat breakfast every day when you’re gone? I could see you getting up too late to eat and going all day completely depleted and starving. What if you only eat donuts for breakfast? Have I taught you enough about nutrition and the need for healthy nourishment? Hopefully whatever college you attend, the cafeteria will have healthy food options for you.

Will you choose the healthy food or go for the junk? If you eat only junk food, you will be nutritionally depleted and get sick! And what about staying hydrated? Will you remember to drink enough water when you get too busy? I’ve literally pushed this habit on you every day of your life and you still forget. Please be responsible with your water intake! Water is literally the key to your health. Really, it is!”

After a night of shopping, my girl asks me to drive because she’s too tired. 

“How will you drive when you’re too tired and on your own? What if you have to drive a long way and you’re exhausted? Will you be able to stay alert? Do you know how many accidents happen because people fall asleep at the wheel? You’re probably going to be tired 90% of the time! Please, please be safe and get some coffee in you before you drive when you’re tired, okay? Or better yet, get the sleep your body needs!

Please don’t run yourself down and ignore your body’s need for rest. I know you love to go go go, and I worry you will be too exhausted to not only drive safely, but do anything responsibly!

And of course, you BETTER NOT drive if you’ve been drinking. You’re not going to do that, right? Are you going to be drinking? NO DRUGS, right? It only takes one sample of ANY drug and you could die. Do you get that? And if you drink, don’t you dare drink anything given to you at a party! It could be laced with something and I don’t care if someone you know gives it to you. Do NOT drink anything that is given to you, promise? These days it’s just so dangerous out there. Please, please be smart about it all. You can’t trust anyone. Okay?”

When my kid asks for cold medicine:

“Do you know the difference between Nighttime cold medicine and Daytime cold medicine, because my gosh, what if you take the Nighttime right before you have a huge test or worse yet, get in your car? I keep telling you the difference in the color of the packages and to read them carefully, but when the gel pills are out of the packages it’s nearly impossible to tell. You must be careful with this medicine!

And do you read the dosage on cold meds? Do you read the dosage on any medications you take? We really need to go over that. Taking incorrect dosages could kill you! You think I’m being dramatic, but seriously, please believe me! And don’t take any new medicine without talking to a doctor or nurse, okay? Just because your friend might be taking something that doesn’t mean you can. Medicine is serious business, and that means over the counter meds too.

And while we’re talking about medicine, you MUST go to the doctor if you’re sick. I know you always think you’ll be fine, but if you have worsening symptoms, you can’t ignore them! Please promise me you will take care of yourself when you’re sick!”

These little parenting tidbits only give you my side, because I can wrap up my daughter’s response with these general phrases and behaviors on repeat:

“I know mom. I get it. Got it mom. Okay, mom. Sigh. Ugh. *Eye roll* Can we talk about something else now?”

I foresee the next two years with countless conversations just like these.

It’s a scary world out there and we only have a few years left to equip our kids with everything they could possibly need to survive. I’m feeling the weight of it all with my girl, but I’ll keep reminding myself that in the end, I’ve really been preparing her all her life.

You Might Also Enjoy Reading: 

The Wallet Years: The Worse Stage of Parenting?

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About Christine Carter

Christine Carter writes at, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. You can also find her work on Your Teen for Parents, Moms of Tweens and Teens, Parenting Teens and Tweens, Scary Mommy, Motherly, For Every Mom, Grown and Flown, and Her View from Home. She is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” And “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World.” Both sold on Amazon.

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