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Advice For Moms Sending Their Kids To College (From a Mom Who’s Been There)

Dear moms sending your kids to college,

I’m sure you can’t believe the time has come to send your kid off to college. I know how that feels because I’ve been there with my own college kid. You might be thinking how fast the years have flown by, and you might be struggling to let your big kid go. You’re probably worried about so many things and wondering if your college kid will be okay out there on their own. You may have thought through all the worst-case scenarios, talked to your kid about drinking and college parties, and implored them to be safe and make smart decisions. By now, you’ve probably counseled them on how to manage their time well and take good care of their mental and physical health. And you’ve shopped for all the dorm essentials, helped them pack their bags with all their things, and stocked them up with all they need. You might have running lists of things to do and additional items to buy once you get to the school. If you’re anything like me, you might feel frantic and frazzled, sad and excited all at the same time. This is an emotional time for us moms as we forge a new season with our (almost) grown kids.

Since I’ve traveled this hard road before, I have learned a few things that helped my college kid feel empowered to live independently away from me. I’ve also figured out my new role as a parent, which can be tricky and uncomfortable for us moms who are used to the roles we had when our kids were living at home. Once we drop our kids off at college, everything changes. We have officially begun an entirely new phase of parenting, and it’s so important we adjust according to our kid’s needs- not ours. I made many mistakes along this challenging journey that taught me how parenting our kids can be an incredibly sacrificial experience. The biggest lesson I learned is that our parenting from this point on is all about them, not us. We have to focus on what they need and push our own needs aside- and that’s really hard to do.

Here’s some advice for moms sending their kids off to college that I hope will help you all. Although every kid has unique needs and all our relationships are different, too, I hope these insights will help you be the best parent you can be for your college kid.

Let your college kid take control as they prepare to leave for school.

I know you will want to remind your college kid about everything, and you might have an all-hands-on-deck stance trying to help with packing and moving in, among so many other things. You might feel like your kid doesn’t know what’s best for them, so you are stepping in to make decisions and doing things for them that need to get done. Here’s the thing- it’s time to pull back and let them take over. Yes, they may forget something. Yes, they will undoubtedly make mistakes. And oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, it will be painful for you to give up all your control and allow your big kid to do everything for themselves. 

They need to take control to feel empowered and confident in their ability to live independently. When you do everything for them, you are fostering their dependence on you and sending the message that you don’t trust they can do things successfully for themselves. This keeps them from developing their own life skills to live on their own. Yes, there are many things they still need to learn, but I promise they will learn so much more if they figure things out without you doing it for them. It can be very hard for you to watch them falter, procrastinate, or fail. This isn’t about you throwing your hands up in the air or pushing your kid off the cliff into adulthood. It’s about the process of allowing our kids to discover for themselves how to make important decisions about their lives. It’s about showing your kids that you trust them to be responsible instead of fueling their insecurities by doing everything for them.

Yes, you can remind them about certain essential things that need to get done. But don’t do those things for them.

Yes, you can help them pack the necessary school items, but let them choose what to bring.

Yes, you can review some important responsibilities they need to follow through on, but then let them do it- and trust that they will. If they don’t- they will learn far more with the consequences.

Instead of telling them what you will do, what they need, or how to do things, you are officially their helper, not their director. Have that mindset and offer all your support while letting them take control because now, more than ever, they need to feel empowered and confident in themselves. At this point, you might want to ask, “How can I help you?” Or “What do you need from me?” Or  “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Your college kid needs positive encouragement and nothing negative. 

This is a critical time in your kid’s life, and the last thing they need is to see you anxious and worrying about how they will do. They also don’t need you to remind them of their weaknesses or mistakes or times in the past that they’ve failed. This only brings discouragement, defeat, and negativity when you want to impart the opposite on your kid before they leave.

No matter how terrified you are or how nervous you might be about their college experience, please try really hard not to project those feelings on your college kid. They are already terrified, anxious, and worried- no matter how confident, brave, and excited they might be for the next phase of their lives. Believe me; every new college kid will have fears, insecurity, confusion, and doubts about how they will do in this new world they will be living in. Don’t add to their stress by joining them in those feelings- because everything you do and say will have an impact on their emotional and mental health in a big way. They may shrug off your concerns, but they are internalizing your voice, and it will play out when they face hard things on their own.

Our college kids need our full support and positive encouragement now more than ever. Feed and fuel them with life-giving words of your belief in them so they can replay those messages that will empower and guide them. Tell them how prepared they are for this adventure and how proud you are of all they have done to get here. Tell them you are confident they will make great choices and that you trust that they will take good care of themselves because they are wise and mature and ready for this stage of their lives. Remind them that you see so many strengths and talents and traits in them that will enable their success. Pour your praise over them with FULL assurance, whether you believe what you say or not. 

And you must do this with genuine authenticity and with all of your heart- and hopefully, you’ll start believing the same about your big kid for yourself. What you claim about who they are and what they will do, they will inherently remember and treasure deep within who they are. This is the voice you want them to play out in their minds when making decisions independently.

Let go. I know this is the hardest part. But do it for the sake of your college kid.

You have officially started a new parenting journey once you drop your kid off at college. This doesn’t mean you no longer have an integral role in their lives, just the opposite! It does, however, mean that you will not be physically present for much of their life from this point on. This is how it’s supposed to go. Repeat that statement over and over again. You can weep while saying it because it’s sooo hard to say goodbye to those younger years and move forward into this unknown and scary territory of your kid’s older years. But rest assured, I promise you that this new parenting season is even more rewarding and exciting than you can imagine! Yes, you will miss your kid with an ache you can’t bear, and there might be some missteps and hard falls along the way. But you will watch your college kid grow in ways they never could if they didn’t leave home. They will experience incredible opportunities on their own, and your new role is to hear about it all and cheer them on.

Letting go requires an incredible sacrifice of our hearts because we mamas want to hold on and never let go of our babies. You must be intentional, strong, and brave enough to let go of your needs and replace them with your kid’s needs.

You will want to check in on them every day to make sure they are okay. DON’T.

You will want to hear from them regularly, and you might want to set up a timely communication schedule, but I encourage you to let them set that up according to their schedule and need to communicate with you. Your college kid will be busy orienting to their new environment, trying to figure out their classes, and making new friends. The last thing they need is pressure to call or text you when they are trying so hard to focus on forging a new life in this scary new environment they just entered. I know some kids might need regular communication with their moms for encouragement, support, and guidance, so if that’s your kid-by all means, be there for them! But most college kids want to detach from their moms so they can figure things out for themselves. The last thing you want is for them to be stressed out about following through for you, and not taking care of themselves.

Your new job is to be available if or when your college kid needs you.

Your new role will shift from leading your kid to following them. You will be on call for anything they might need, but you are no longer their ship’s captain, dear Mama. Your college kid has set sail without you, and they are in charge of their direction and how to navigate the seas. Your new place stands strong on the shore where you are the lighthouse they can always see from afar. Your presence will always assure them that someone loves them, believes in who they are, and will be their guiding light in any storms.

If your college kid truly knows that you will always be ready and waiting for your child with enduring love, unwavering grace, and unchanging support- that truth will give them exactly what they need to keep their ship on course. Let them know you are here for them, you trust them, you love them, you believe in them, and you are so very proud of all they are doing and who they are growing up to be. Tell them you will always be here if they need anything. And most importantly, give them control over when and how they want to communicate with you.

Whenever I talk to my girl ever since she left for college, graduated, and now lives on her own, I tell her that I never want her to feel stressed out about calling me because that is not the role I want to have in her life. She can call when she has the time and energy and whenever she wants to share anything! This relieves her of the obligatory pressure to call her mom. I remind her of this every time we talk because I hate the thought of her feeling any added stress on account of me.

And the thrilling part about this is she calls me when she really wants to talk to me- not out of duty. She calls impulsively when something exciting happens, and when she’s exhausted and stressed and needs some counsel and encouragement from her mama. She calls on the way to big events she’s coordinating and when she needs me to pray for difficult situations. She calls with friends in the room who join in on the conversation, and when she’s alone, thinking through some serious personal issues. And I truly believe our relationship is special because I took the pressure off how or when she should communicate with me. In every aspect of her life, my role as her mom is to follow her lead. And my gosh, it’s the most fulfilling role I’ve ever had as a mom.

And dear mom sending your kid to college, there will come a day when you will say the same.

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