Surviving Your Kid’s First Year of College: A Control Freak’s Perspective

ImageMy oldest is just about to finish her first year of college. She comes home in about a week. Almost everyone adapted well to her first year way. She’s in the right place with great friends and fulfilling activities. My husband made the transition relatively smoothly, as did my younger daughter. For the most part, with a few bumps, they did well.

Not me.

If you told me last year that I would be the problem parent in transitioning a child into college, I would not have believed it. I was sure she was ready to go (she was) and I was sure I was ready for it too (I was not). My husband, who was her stay-at-home dad until she was two and is generally regarded as a hell of a father, was sad last summer about her leaving. I just kept saying, “But she’s ready! And that’s great!” I guess I didn’t believe what I preached.

It’s a real learning year, that first year when you send a child off to college. You’ve moved out of that parenting sweet spot, where kids have small problems and parents know the answers, to a letting-go, coaching phase of parenting where you not only don’t know all the answers, those answers are not always what you are supposed to be supplying. It’s time to let them fall, maybe even fail. It’s the time when control freak parents have to metaphorically sit on their hands while college kids make their way through their first year of freedom.

Here are a few random insights on the experience, from a control freak’s point of view:

1. I did less sitting on my hands than I should have. Oddly, I did fairly well the first semester, but when the second rolled around, and I accepted that she was really an adult, I was a bit up in her business. Granted, sometimes I needed to be and it was welcomed. But sometimes it was annoying. You know it’s bad when you can hear yourself annoying your family members and you can’t seem to stop it. And then you remember how your mom acted. And then you want to bang your head on the wall because, oh no, you are acting like your mother. And then you feel empathy for her, because you realize how hard it must have been for her, too.

2. Your ability to adapt to a kid going to college is inversely proportional to your own junk. If you had easy-going parents and a seamless transition to college, you will probably adapt well. If you had a rougher transition to college, because of dysfunction at home, bad relationships you tried to sustain, or your own deep feelings of inadequacy (not that this sentence is autobiographical, mind you), then you are going to transfer some of that to the present. The hard part is you won’t know you are doing it until you’ve done it. If you are lucky, some nice yet firm person kindly tells you what you are doing and to STOP IT. And then tells you again when you utterly fail.

Bottom line–your hang ups about your child’s first year of college are most often about you. And it’s not about you.

3. It’s really hard to move from the parent of a child to the coach of an adult. This might be easier for those out there who don’t do things like write items on a to-do list that are already completed simply for the sheer joy of crossing them off. But for the parents who get that weird statement without question, please prepare yourself for how hard this transition is going to be. At the same time, know that you can’t be completely prepared, and that you need a spouse or friend to remind you that this transition must take place. And hit you over the head when you ignore this.

4. You have to look at how self-centered you have been. Yep, I said it. Sometimes when you think you have been a concerned parent, you really have been a parent who doesn’t like that you are not at the center of the decisions your child is making. You want input that you can’t have. You want information that you won’t get. It’s time to look in the mirror.

This past year has been a huge learning experience for me. I never realized how much my identity was wrapped up in being a mother (not a bad thing, but it can’t be your only thing or even your main thing, at least in my world view).

And now I get to enter Surviving Your Kid’s First Summer at Home after College Freedom.

I guess I’ll start sitting on my hands now.


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