College Bound? A Parent’s Growing Pains

Posted on September 21, 2017

“I see my daughter packing to leave next week. She’ll be leaving home for the first time, and my stomach is churning.”

“I’m a little nervous for Oliver. He’s off to college, and he still looks like he’s 15. I hope he doesn’t get bullied. How will he handle living on his own?”

“Anila is going to college. Oh, my God. I’m totally stressed out. She’s always attracted to the wrong crowd, and now I’ll have no control over that.”

“Liam is off to college. I know he’ll be fine, but my heart hurts.”

“We are dropping Jay off at USC tomorrow. He’s ready but I’m not.”

What is this strange connection we have with our kids? Either we seem to take on their anxiety or we have our own. Why is the parenting ride full of moments like these?

For one thing, there’s always a little angst attached to entering the unknown, no matter what stage of life we’re entering. That’s human nature. Facing something new, we get the jitters, and fear creeps up on us. And we all know how fear can snowball into anxiety, stress, and nervousness. But there are some things you can do:

Cultivate your Emotional Intelligence. By definition, EI is the ability to recognize and understand your feelings and those of others. So manage your feelings intelligently. If you are the one who is stressed, sit with the emotion and break it down by Dealing with the Feeling:

  • Spot it (spot the feeling—anxiety, stress, fear).
  • Say it out loud in a full sentence—I am feeling stressed, nervous, or anxious because my son is going off to college, and I feel he is still irresponsible, or because I will be lonely (whatever the case may be).
  • Okay it—It’s ok for me to feel this way, because I’m entering unknown territory, and it’s human nature to be anxious when we begin new phases or stages of life.

The only way to deal with feelings is to embrace the discomfort. Don’t distract yourself or drown yourself in it. Take the middle road. Let the feeling come through, and then watch it pass through your body. Jill Bolte Taylor states that it takes 90 seconds for the chemical reaction behind a feeling to work its way through your system. Make time for that to happen. Sit in silence, and observe the discomfort lose its power over you.

If your fear is for your child, for example, because they are irresponsible, well, you knew that last year, six months ago, last month, and last week. Being anxious about that now is not going to change anything. Many kids learn best when they are in the line of fire. Let them fall and learn. Failure and mistakes are the best fertilizers for growth. And we all want our kids to grow. So focus on staying connected and communicating. Have a little faith—or a lot of faith. Then…

Trust and surrender. It’s time to give up control. Control is the antithesis of growth and development. The more we control our kids, the more out of control they get. If you don’t give up control, you are doing a disservice to your kids and preparing them for failure not success.

I’ll point to the ending of my book, The “Perfect” Parent . In the last tool, Enjoyable and Memorable Parenting, I note: “We spend the prime years of our lives grooming our children for their grand, independent entry into the real world. This is the moment we have prepared for all these years. And when it arrives, we want to feel that this truly is just the beginning of a different phase of our relationship with our perfect precious ones. We want to be confident that we have done well, and to trust that they will do well. That’s really all that every parent wants for their kids.”

So trust your kids and yourself. If you are an involved parent who is present and mindful, you will be there to help them when they fall. And if they don’t call upon you, even better. Bravo! You’ve taught them how to make mistakes and figure it out on their own.

As hard as it may sound, the best thing we can do for our kids as they embark on adulthood is to let go. That does not mean you should not keep in touch with them but rather you should guide and step aside. Surely you have guided them well thus far, to the doorstep of their next phase of growth. Now it’s time to step aside so that they may get to know themselves out of your shadow, consciously and mindfully, in their own light.