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College Daze - Family Edition

Just like skating, college flips the script - image courtesy of iStock

When it comes to the passage of time, summer is a deceptive season. The weather gets hot and the days are long, yet they actually start getting shorter on June 21st each year. This means that “Back to School” sneaks up quite stealthily on students and parents alike.

Just Google “College Back to School” and you get over 351,000,000 results with the top one hundred or so being related to the stuff that college students will need to survive. Clicking on College School Supplies on Pinterest provides some “Life Hacks” (aka strategies/tactics) that will take you beyond the list of supplies that various retailers are so happy to sell to you. But what you don’t find in those first few pages of searches is information on the tremendous life changes that families are going through. This is what I have come to call the College Daze referenced in the title.

A friend of mine just took his daughter across the country so she can start her freshmen year at a school in the Pacific Northwest. The pictures he shared show a young woman excited for the beginning of a new phase of a life filled with possibilities. What you cannot see is the perspective of the photographer, my buddy.

These were moments filled with great pride for the achievements of his once little girl as she begins independently pursuing her dreams. And yet there were profound feelings of loss as he contemplated his return to a home filled with extraordinary quiet. “No more Ed Sheeran and no more soundtrack of Hamilton playing” in a seemingly endless loop—to go with a long list of changes in his home life. What is a parent to do? And how will each of the players deal with the struggles that are sure to come?

It may sound cliché due to overuse, but the most important element from my perspective is communication. From the time she was around 8 or 9 years-old, I always told my now college-aged daughter this:

“You don’t have to tell me everything, but you can tell me anything.”

Doting Dad and College Aged Daughter - image courtesy of iStock

I said this with the full knowledge that as a Dad, there were elements of her life that would be closed to me no matter how tight we are as father and daughter, and that is as it should be. What I wanted her to understand is that I would always be there for her and would be open to hearing whatever it was that she needed to share, in good times or during a crisis. This is critically important because managing all of the challenges and opportunities attached to college life—and beyond—is a tough drill for anyone, even under the best of circumstances.

When that college window opens, the parent/child dynamic that governed the lives of the family unit for almost two decades is going to be very different. The parent(s) will surely have the desire to maintain control at the same time that the child is seeking to spread their wings so they can learn to fly. This is a Big Deal!

For example: managing money. The credit card companies love college students because they know that the temptation of using plastic to purchase items large and small is extremely difficult to ignore. Shucks, with both Apple and Google getting into the act, they just have to wave their Smartphone over a terminal at the store. Isn’t that convenient? Sure…at least until the bills come in. Parents need to talk about such things early and often, but without judgement as much as possible.

On the personal side, parents must shift from being the Final Authority to becoming a beloved and trusted advisor. This doesn’t mean shirking responsibility in favor of BFF (Best Friend Forever) status. Instead, understand that one must loosen the reins a bit so your daughters and sons can learn how to make decisions that are in their own best interests. Listen carefully and profoundly to what the next generation of your family is saying to you. And if you can, learn to read between the lines. Chances are there is a great deal of important information to be gleaned there, too.

Finally, be patient. Be patient with your blossoming adult child, and be patient with yourself. This life is filled with unknown twists and turns, yet Blessings Abound!

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