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HOME » ROADMAP » DECIDE ON COLLEGE » Ending and Beginning

Ending and Beginning

Each spring, I replace the winter pansies in my front yard with summer blooms, but one year I had an unusually hectic May and didn’t get around to my seasonal gardening until the beginning of June. Fortunately, it was not too late to find healthy specimens, and I purchased two sets of flowers—vinca and New Guinea impatiens - both with dark, glossy leaves and vibrant pink blooms. I planted them in my front yard and watered them thoroughly. By the next afternoon the vinca were standing tall, craning their necks to the sun, while the impatiens looked like heaps of steamed spinach. Seeing this, I was struck by the extent to which we biological creatures are affected by our environment. The same hot sun that energized the vinca wilted the impatiens.

Children are a lot like those plants; they thrive in some environments and languish in others. For the first eighteen years of life, a child’s geography is her destiny. She is fated to grow up in a particular environment, whether it suits her or not, and the best we parents can do is to help her bloom where she is planted. When an adolescent leaves home for college, however, she is able, for the first time, to begin seeking an environment that truly suits her – to plant herself where she will bloom. By supporting that opportunity, both materially and emotionally, we are giving her one of life’s greatest gifts.

What About Mom and Dad?

Notwithstanding the satisfaction that accompanies seeing a child successfully complete high school and prepare for college, it’s only natural for a parent to feel sad at the prospect of his leaving home.  You won’t be the first person he tells about the penalty kick he scored in the last minutes of his soccer scrimmage, or about the calculus test he aced. On the other hand, you also won’t be the one arguing with him about why he can’t stay out until 3 o’clock Sunday morning, or nagging him to get started on his history paper later that day. In short, while you will undeniably lose some of the closeness you’ve grown accustomed to, that’s not all bad.

Even though you will not be seeing your son on a daily basis, you still have an important role to play. While some people believe that the parenting role in college should be pretty much confined to cutting tuition checks, I am not among them.  While I agree that it’s healthy for parents to substantially rein in their day-to-day management of a student’s life, I strongly recommend that they remain involved with their college aged child in a variety of ways. Academic choices such as which math course to begin with and how and when to fulfill general education and major requirements can significantly affect the likelihood that a student will graduate on time, and are appropriate areas for parents to weigh in on. In addition, simply moving into a freshman dorm does not suddenly enable an 18 year old to wisely navigate the many social challenges he will face his first year away from home, so I urge parents to continue to monitor his progress, but to do so from a distance.

The College Years Are Fun

I don’t have any scientific data to support this, but my informal impression is that most parents find the college years to be very rewarding.  Colleges are typically in session for two semesters, each of which runs about 15 weeks. This leaves a whopping 22 weeks when your daughter won’t be in school, so you’ll still see a lot of her, and the best part is that when you do, she’ll always be on break instead of brushing past you on the stairs en route from lacrosse practice to her room to start her homework. So while the quantity of time you spend with her is reduced, the quality is much improved. Indeed, many parents find that once students have been on their own for awhile, much of the conflict that is common during the turbulent teens disappears.

Even the shrinking of your family has its benefits. As one after another of my own children left for college, our family morphed from a group of six to five, four, three, and finally two, and although I sorely missed each child who left, I discovered distinct benefits to each configuration. A family of six makes for a lively dinner conversation, but a family of four has a much easier job of finding a time when everyone can go out for a meal – and getting a table.  I can honestly say that I genuinely enjoyed each phase of my family. Most of all, though, I’ve treasured the gift of seeing my babies grow into happy, independent adults. I wish you the same.


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