Launching your child to college sadly means change. As parents, we prepare for these changes the best we can but let’s be honest, we are never fully prepared for all that lies ahead. It’s just like when you have your first born—you’re prepared for what you think will happen or change, but there are so many things unexpected things coming down the pipe that you have no idea what you’re really in for. From start to finish, parenting is a journey of blind faith.
My oldest son was blessed to grow up in a semi-small town that was safe and wholesome. And this meant that I was blessed to know the parents of most of his friends, from elementary school to high school. I knew where his buddies lived, who their siblings were, where their parents worked and who their neighbors were.
I don’t like the word “stalker”, I prefer pro-active interested parent. It’s the kind of town where news travels fast and people watch out for each other’s kids. We tell our three kids often: if you do something stupid (and what kid doesn’t), we may not be there to see it, but we will know someone who will, and eventually we will find out.
One of the things that woke me up from a dead sleep with hot sweats (besides hormones) during his senior year of high school was not knowing who his new friends at college would be. I mean, what IF… he got randomly roomed with Charlie Manson’s son or the group he befriended were all LSD dealers or he suddenly vanished because his new friends talked him into joining a cult and going on a pilgrimage to find the Holy Grail?
What IF he picked people who would change the trajectory of his path or be a bad influence on him? What IF he decided to quit college and play the tambourine while chanting at the airport? What IF he suddenly decided he didn’t like us because his new friends didn’t like their parents and then we would be ousted from his life? I’m not saying my thoughts were rational, but they the what IF’s made sense to me. I own my crazy.
Thank heavens my son chose a college that’s just one hour away. We are lucky to be able to visit him for short trips that don’t involve airplanes or hotels. Yesterday I felt especially lucky to make the trek to join him on his 20th birthday. What started as a simple “invite a friend or two to join us for dinner” turned into my son responding with a text that confirmed “Me plus eight friends”. My wallet winced but my heart leaped.
What I observed at the table during his birthday dinner silenced all the fears and left my heart full. I was at complete peace with him no longer calling my home his home because I met the people he now considers “family”.
Here’s what quieted my anxious what IF heart: my son has a great “picker” for those he surrounds himself with. Every young man that came to join us at dinner shook my hand to say “Hello” and every young man gave me a hug at the end of the night to say, “Thank you.”
For a group of 19-22-year old’s, they had amazing manners and represented themselves with great respect. I watched three boys (yes… I know they are men but they will always be boys to me) get their food first and wait until everyone was served. While that may not seem to be important or expected because it’s “the right thing to do,” it was delightful to watch because it was so natural and there was no one poking them in the ribs to remind them to pause on their instinct to devour the food placed in front of them. My grandmother (an Emily-Post-kinda-gal) once told me that “Good manners are the icing on the cake” and I knew somewhere, there are eight set of parents who can check the box: Job well done√.
I sat and listened with great joy to the conversations about their rec softball team (my little angel is a trash talker?!), summer plans and hard classes they were taking. I challenge anyone to use the phrase “dumb jock” with the student-athletes sitting at my table. Yes, they are all football players, but they were intelligent, well spoken, achievement-driven college students.
Each boy came from a different background and different home town, a melting pot of diversity. And yet, none of that mattered. They shared, laughed, ate, laughed some more… just like families do. My heart was full because I knew my son has found a tribe and a supportive home at his college. What more can a mom ask for?
Change is inevitable, but growth and happiness are optional. College means change in our role as parents and change in their role as adults. The friends my son has cultivated at his new home are people he chooses- not because their mom is a friend of mine or because they live on our street or belong to our play group- but because he has an internal compass that directs him to like-minded friends.
I’m so grateful for that compass and I’m grateful I got to spend time with his friends and get to know them a little better. I’m grateful he landed where he did and I grateful he is happy. I’m grateful he has included me in his new life and I’m grateful I got to see him with his new family. And I’m truly grateful none referenced their favorite “Uncle Charlie”.
This journey of blind faith never ends as a parent. There is love in holding and there is love in letting go, and it takes courage to do both. But the more I see my son grow and the more I see his choices, the more I’m okay with letting go of his hand and releasing him to the world.
Letting go isn’t always easy, but it is necessary to be able to move forward. While I’m not sure about what the future holds for either of us, I am certain that this little boy has become a man that will make a difference in the world. If it’s true and we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with, my son is going to be just fine.
Kelly Richardson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Folsom, California. She lives with her husband who is a high school football coach and has two teenagers at home and one away at college. For 16 years she wrote a syndicated advice column called “Teen Talk”. She is now a weekly blogger and you can find her blogs at Thera-Mom.com.