A College Lesson for Parents

When you dropped your kids off at college, were you the one dragging your heels? This generation of parents has been described as clinging, especially when they refuse to leave the campus. In fact, a number of college administrators have introduced blunt language into orientation schedules, including a specific time to say goodbye. The message is clear: release your anxieties and your adult children to this adventure, and enjoy the ride yourself. The lesson, not taught in the traditional curriculum, is about letting go.

Some colleges have developed parents-only workshops for those who are intensely involved in their child’s academic career. Liaisons give explicit advice on how to minimize the pain of separation and hovering behaviors. Does all this feel like a conspiracy to exclude you? After all, it’s almost as big a transition for you as for your kids. But as you say goodbye to your adult kids, here are tips about learning to say hello to yourself:

1. Recognize that you may feel ambivalent about this new chapter. Bond with friends as you discuss your situation with those who care about what you’re going through. You’ll discover that you have a lot in common and that they feel the same about their own experiences – this can be validating and comforting.

2. Give yourself an emotional break and watch what happens. Understand that you are still needed, although not in the same way. Stepping back from your parenting responsibilities means giving up the family role you’ve played so far. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. And breathe in deeply as you appreciate this opportunity to create different relationships within your family.

3. Practice letting go. Cry if it helps – it’s natural to feel plenty of emotion at this turning point. Try to visualize one door closing and another door opening. Relax into feeling more calm and carefree. Let yourself get excited by the possibility of exploring what you want to do with all the free time you now have.

4. Decide to write regularly in a journal. As you think about what’s happening in your life right now, realize that you, too, are on a more independent path. By identifying and dealing with what is going on for you emotionally, you’ll learn to take more control over this process of change. Make an inventory of your assets including what you have done and the value you have created in the past as a family member, co-worker and friend.

5. Engage in an active process of learning more about what you want to do. What nurtures your creative thinking? What stimulates your curiosity? Identify your natural talents. What comes so easily you often don’t notice it?  How about the acquired skills you have used successfully?  Think about what you consider to be your greatest personal strengths. These could encompass, among others, attributes as diverse as a love of learning, a sense of humor, loyalty to others.

6. Discover what you feel passionate about. What do you really value and care about? What are your dreams? What do you imagine is your life purpose now? Take advantage of the extra time and follow your dream of returning to school or changing jobs. Join a hiking group, volunteer program or exercise class. Take up bridge or yoga. Put yourself front and center for a change.

7. Consider how others view you and your contributions. Who uses you as a role model and why? What in your life experience has led you to wisdom? Honor these insights and find ways to share what you already know well with others who could benefit.

Now, finally, it’s about you. So decide to make a start – any start. Write out some specific goals and break them down into manageable short term objectives. Reflect on their purpose and what that means to you. Consider your character strengths and personal resources – and how they will help you achieve your goals. And when packing for Parents’ Weekend, don’t forget to take along your new attitude. It will help ease your kid’s mind about how you’re adjusting.

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