Recently my dad and I had a heart to heart conversation reliving some of the details of my freshman year of college. In his words, it was one of the hardest years of his and my mom’s life. For me, it was probably the most confusing year of my life.
To give you just a bit of backstory: I was a “good kid” growing up. Pretty smart. Room stayed clean and organized. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I didn’t do a lot of the normal stupid teenage stuff. I wouldn’t say my parents were strict, but they had pretty specific expectations for me and my brother.
So I moved away to college and experienced my first taste of true freedom. I didn’t go to class like I should. I rarely went to church that year. My grades were AWFUL! I didn’t come home to visit and called less frequently than they would have hoped. I made other VERY poor decisions.
I realize in the greater scheme of things there are still worse things I could have done, or that others have experienced. However, within our context it was a very trying year.
From over a decade working in Student Ministry and another 5 years or so walking with families that are making similar transitions I believe there are several reasons parents and children struggle in the “off to college/moving out” phase.
For most, it is the first extended period of time that distance is created between parent and child. Whether they are moving across the country, going to backpack around the world, or moving into the dorm across town, the physical separation is a huge adjustment for both parties.
Again, this is perhaps the first time that decisions are being made completely autonomous from parents. These are no longer petty decisions. They are choosing majors, potential life-long relationships, and financial decisions with long-term effects. Which leads us to…
Often, parents are, wholly or partly, invested financially in the decisions their kids are making in this college season. They are paying tuition, co-signed on the student loan, or sending living money. So when they see their kids making poor decisions or not honoring the time and resource being invested in them it creates stress and strain on the relationship.
So, if you are a parent (or child) who is trying to navigate “the first year away from home” transition season I would offer the following advice. I am a parent of 4 kids not yet in high school, so I offer the advice as someone who lived on the “child” side of this equation and as a “spy” in a foreign land through my years in ministry to students and families.
Try to maintain proper perspective
I once read a quote that was attributed to John Maxwell. I haven’t been able to corroborate that it was actually him, but I’ll attribute it to him nonetheless. He said, “If someone overreacts in a situation involving someone else they are saying they value the situation more than they value the person.”
Now please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I realize some things need a reaction, maybe even a big one. However, if you can maintain a proper perspective you might be able to correct a wrong and still convey your love for the other person without overreacting. If you overreact you run the risk of losing the relationship over something that may or may not be important 5 years from now.
The reality for a lot of parents is that they are reacting out of a desire to help their children avoid some of the mistakes they made themselves. I heard a parent say not too long ago, “Walking through some dark days and living with the consequence of my poor decisions made me the person I am today. But I want my children to just become those kinds of people while avoiding the things I didn’t avoid. I’m not sure how that’s possible.”
While we want the best for our children there are various stages in their lives where we have to let them live with their decisions and the consequences. As long as their life isn’t in jeopardy and their future is still possible, it may require parents to step back for a season. On the flip side the son or daughter has to realize that mom and dad really are trying to help. They aren’t trying to rob you of fun experiences or get in your business, they just see with a little more clarity the possible repercussions of the things you are doing.
When I do premarital counseling I probably say the word communication 25-30 times an hour. It is that important. Well the same could be said for parents and young adults during this season of their lives. Keep talking. Communication is the key.
Some conversations will be better than others. Some conversations will end with one or both of you hanging up angry. Just keep talking. Maintaining the relationship and open lines of communication now will help to have a relationship in the next season.
Take the long view
While this may seem like it fits within “Maintaining proper perspective”, it’s somewhat different. The difference here is realizing that this season won’t last forever. Yes, I know, some students may take the 10 year plan toward graduation. But it won’t last forever.
Ultimately you want to be sitting in the crowd cheering at their graduation. You want to be standing beside them or sitting on the front row when they get married. And you want them to want you there.
Try to remember those future moments in the present moments you’re not sure you can live through.
Every situation is different and I realize you could read this and say, “Well you just don’t know our set of circumstances.” And you’d be right. But I lived through this season in my life. And my dad and I were able to talk about it and laugh the other day. I pray you can too one day!
Keep going. You can make it!
What advice would you offer to others in this season? Comment below.