First Year Lessons Through the Rearview Mirror (Part 2)

Finger pointing
You can’t tell me what to do! (Or can you?)

After you’ve given your last hug good-bye and your child begins to stretch his/her wings, there can be confusion over the rules and roles of both parent and child.  Can you or should you ask about last weekend’s party?  What about that tattoo or piercing? Should you ask to see a grade report or if they are studying? What about friends or that new relationship?  When you do, your child will likely balk at your inquiries and tempers can escalate quickly making the miles apart feel even longer.

Parents and children are often left hurt or angry when parents try to maintain the same level of control over their (almost) adult child, yet children are still, in many ways, dependent on their parent’s support. Yesterday, I shared 3 of the lessons I learned during my daughter’s first two years in college. Today, I talk about balancing parenting with your child’s increasing freedom.

You have the right to ask about grades, so do it.

◾If you are, in any way, helping your child financially with their schooling, you are investing in them. By “in any way”, that includes flights home, care packages, etc. in addition to tuition, books, and housing fees. Even if they aren’t going away to school but are living under your roof while they attend college, you are making an investment in their education and future. You don’t hand money over to a financial advisor and never look at the return on your investments; grades are a way of checking up on your ROI.
◾Don’t nag; not every call should be or include inquiries about grades. And, don’t fret if your perfect 4.o student gets their fist B or C or, heaven forbid, even below. College is a big transition for many, if not all, students. They will likely go through some tough times as they figure out the necessary study skills and self-discipline.
◾That said, let them know what you expect while they are in school. We have communicated to our daughter that her #1 job while in school is to study and do her best. Yes, we want her to have the balance of a good social life, but she also knows that if she gets below a C, we will not pay for the class or books (not to mention the fact that she puts her academic scholarships at risk.)
◾Asking your child about their grades helps keep them on track. If no one is watching, it’s easy to 1) let grades slip 2) feel no one cares 3) get blindsided when it’s too late to impact the final grade. Additionally, we, as parents, can offer guidance (not fixes) in advance of disaster if our child is struggling with a class. But, parents, please don’t call your student’s professors and try to fix a grade. EVER!!

Don’t kiss every boo-boo or fix their mistakes.
◾They need to figure things out. By themselves. This is the time in life they will learn to negotiate battles with roommates and make decisions about frat parties versus studying. Sometimes, things will work with ease and other times, they’ll stumble. Just as we did, they’ll grow their wings on the way down and then discover how far they can soar when they’ve solved their own problems.
◾You set the stage for insecurities and grow a dependent child if you fix every problem. By reaching out and in to solve every conflict, challenge, or missed deadline, parents re-enforce the idea they don’t believe in their child’s abilities to problem solve. And, it sets a dangerous precedent. By indulging every whimper about a professor that’s “a jerk” or a boss that doesn’t understand their finals schedule, children learn to blame others before examining their own behavior.
◾It fosters resentment. In the long run, you’ll alienate your child and they’ll be making their biggest decisions without ANY counsel from you if you’ve interfered on every misstep. It’s tough to allow our children to stumble and fall, but if they believe we trust in their abilities to make good decisions, they’ll trust our ability to counsel wisely.
◾It’s OK if they have bad days; they’ll be OK. They’ll feel homesick, be mad at professors and roommates, fail tests, and hate the food. That’s normal, however, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for signs of depression. That’s the time to step in and help. (More on this in Part 3.)

Allow them to try on different skins, regardless of how certain you are they don’t fit.
◾This is a critical time for self-discovery. Your son or daughter will interact with entirely new personalities and belief systems, and they will have their belief systems challenged. College gives young people an opportunity to thoughtfully (hopefully) consider differing views as well as their own.
◾During their time away, they will likely modify the person you waved goodbye to one hot August afternoon; the little girl or boy we once rocked may be displaced by someone who sounds an awful lot like a roommate or new best friend. We’ve all picked up good and bad traits from siblings, friends, and spouses. Again, it’s how we grow.
◾If they know you object to: the new hair color, clothing choices, study habits, etc., they will withdraw. Choose your battles wisely, comment sparingly, and avoid stalking their social media accounts as they explore, unless you want tenuous communication and lots of omission.
◾ Don’t fret. These changes are usually temporary. Your child, the one with the big heart and never ending curiosity is still in there. Mine reappeared around by the end of her first week home for the summer. Trust they will measure the new skin against the old and will only keep what really fits. Let them explore and discover who they are outside the shadow of their family –so long as they are not in harm’s way or violating your family values/morals/boundaries while under your roof and/or financial support. And, if/when they buck against your inquiries and rules (as they will), reassure yourself this as part of the growth experience.

Please join me tomorrow for Part 3 of 3 in my series of “First Year Lessons in the Rearview Mirror.” And, please share the lessons you have learned from looking in the review mirror.

21 thoughts on “First Year Lessons Through the Rearview Mirror (Part 2)”

  1. I will definitely keep all of this in mind next year… right now I’m just trying to adjust to the fact that she’ll be 6 hours away come next week. 🙂 I know it will be fine, though. I do. I know that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It will. Really, it will. Those first few weeks, she’ll stay close (likely via text), but then she’ll begin her soar, and you will too. 🙂 (But fair warning, those first few trips past an empty bed will make you catch your breath.)


  2. This is the best time to introduce the “This, too, shall pass” wisdom. They’re old enough to understand their mistakes, and need to learn that all things change, in one way or another. Too many young adults hold on to things they need to let go, and don’t learn how to move on. Firstborn is learning this lesson right now. And while it’s not easy, it’s necessary.

    Thanks for sharing your lessons, T-Mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I will be thinking about that third one, “Allow them to try on different skins” for a while.
    That’s an interesting way to put it.
    I’ve been thinking of it as “opening my hands”.
    While you can’t NOT allow them to try on different skins, (because they’re going to do what they’re going to do!), you can decide to “let it be”. 🙂 You can decide to accept – to not fight, or attempt to manipulate their process of discovering who they will become.


  4. OK… I still stink at the not kissing all the boo-boos thing and my son is well beyond his first years in college! I think our generation has tried to pave the way and smooth the road, almost to a fault. I am soooo guilty and admit it. Hard habit to break too! Great advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such great advice – and so hard to do! Especially the not kissing every boo boo and fixing every mistake. That’s probably the most important tip to helping them become independent but my tongue still has the scars from biting it so much.


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