Four Reality Checks for Sending Your Child to College

By: Becky Post, Guest Blogger

If you are a parent of a junior or senior in high school, you probably find yourself muttering that persistent cliché, “Time flies.” Now that my nineteen-year-old daughter is in college, a few more clichés appear to be enduringly true, and foremost of all is this one: “It’s none of your business.” In fact, this realization has evolved into a few cold hard reality checks that my husband and I are learning to embrace.

Reality Check #1: Expect Minimal Communication from the College

Despite the fact that many parents of college students are responsible for covering various expenses of their college-age child—like health and car insurance, cell phone fees, and tuition costs—be prepared for minimal communication from the college once your child is enrolled. Because your child is beyond the age of 18, you will be not notified of your child’s grades or barely anything else that your child is up to--good, bad, or otherwise. How strange, that void of communication. After all, we once had so much to pay attention to! Parents of juniors and seniors in high school are harassed with reminders about all the requirements of both graduating from high school and preparing for college. We learn what all those confusing alphabet arrangements mean—ACT, SAT, PSEO, FAFSA—and why the associated deadlines matter. All along, there was that avalanche of college letters, inviting you visit and be on their team. So you visit--and wish time weren’t racing. Then your focus switches to helping your child apply to colleges. More deadlines. More acronyms. Finally, it’s time to actually choose a college and get your child enrolled. Yup, more deadlines and reminder letters. Come fall, you move your child to campus, mop up your tears, and somehow stumble to the car and drive away. Soon enough, you want to know: How’s it going? Here’s what the college will tell you: Not much.

Reality Check #2: You’re Still Responsible for Your Child’s Expenses, But Not Much Else

You will get sporadic reminders from the college: tuition is due, the FAFSA is due again, or care packages can be purchased to help your child survive final exams. Wait a minute, you may ask, How are my child’s grades? What about the paid-for meal plan that probably isn’t being used? Or that annoying roommate who is making my child miserable?

Guess what? These concerns are none of your business!

The academic, health, social, and emotional concerns that you once so responsibly embraced are now your child’s territory to negotiate. Because a college student is a legal adult, most aspects of his or her life are private, and that includes grades, medical issues, and legal matters.

Reality Check #3: Recognize that Your Baby Is an Adult

Young adults normally want their independence, and colleges expect them to conduct their lives in responsible ways. Fortunately, colleges provide students with many resources to help them make academic and career decisions and develop life skills—but those resources are for the student, not for the well-meaning parent. Bear in mind, 18-year-olds can legally marry and vote. They can join the military and fight in wars. So try not to freak out when your child must figure out how to use public transportation systems, fill out job applications, avoid problems with campus security, and separate lights from darks on laundry day.

Reality Check #4: It’s Time to Let Go

Some college students call their parents nearly every day, but many parents must make their peace with a once-a-week call or time-to-time texts. It can be tricky for parents, but it so important to find that balance between appropriate concern and letting go. Most parents truly do want their grown children to build lives of their own—and they began guiding their children to that end as soon as they were born. When my daughter was born, someone told me, “Remember, your child is only on loan to you.” That reminder has always stayed with me. Chances are, you have done all you can to help their children be ready to face adult challenges. When you’re struck by the fact that your grown child is still so young, remember yourself at age eighteen or nineteen. Did your lack of years or experience hold you back? Sometimes, perhaps, but mostly you and your equally young friends charged ahead with your plans and aspirations. Your child will do the same—and text you about it later. Now, go pay that cell phone bill.

Rebecca Post is the director of content development at Search Institute. She has worked as a book editor for most of her career. She and her husband are successfully surviving the empty nest, now that their only child is in college.

Join us for a free webinar about why parents matter when it comes to college readiness presented by Kent Pekel, President and CEO of Search Institute on Thursday, March 14 at 12PM, CST. Learn more >>

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