When your college kid is away from home, you might often wonder and worry about how they are doing. Are they eating healthy and getting enough sleep? Are they enjoying their classes and completing their schoolwork? Are they getting along with their roommates and meeting new friends? Are they taking care of themselves? And most of all, all moms want to know if their kids are safe, happy, and healthy. And as time goes on, the questions and concerns keep piling up and never end, no matter how old they are and how long they’ve been gone. I still wonder and worry the same things about my new college graduate!
You will probably wait anxiously to hear from your college kid so you can find out the answers to all your questions and put your wondering and worrying at ease. Depending on your kid, they may text, call, or Facetime you often, or you might not hear from them much at all. Some kids need a lot of guidance and support, while others are so independent they hardly need help. All of our relationships are different, as well as each of our college kids, so many factors come into play in how we communicate.
But there are successful ways to have positive conversations with your college kid. I finally figured out some things that worked with my college kid over the years that I’d love to share with you in hopes the same hard lessons I learned will help you, too. We all parent in our own ways so you know your kids best and how to interact with them. I felt that way too, and yet, what surprised me most was how hard it was to put my own needs aside in order to have productive talks that were helpful and supportive so my kid would know I was not doubting her abilities or potential. Sometimes, our questions and concerns might come across as us not trusting our kids can do things for themselves. Consequently, this sends them the wrong message, which lowers their self-confidence. We certainly want our college kids to feel encouraged and empowered, not insecure and defensive.
If our conversations are positive, uplifting, helpful, and encouraging, our kids will WANT to keep communicating with us. If our talks are constantly frustrating, interrogating, and demeaning, our kids will most definitely shut down. We all want our kids to reach out to us because they want to communicate with us, not out of dutiful obligation. The best way to nourish our relationships with our grown kids is to let them take the lead and respect their independence. We must be careful with our words and how we present our questions and guidance and support them each time we have any conversation. The most important result of having positive communication is that our college kids will be motivated and encouraged to do things successfully on their own!
Here are 3 tips on how to have positive conversations with your college kid.
As much as you will want to know about every detail of their lives, the last thing they want is their mom drilling them with questions or instructions.
It’s so hard not to begin every conversation with all the questions you’ve been storing in your mind, so anxious to find out the details of their lives. All your worrying and wondering pours out when they contact you because you care about them more than anyone else, and you worry about their health and well-being and whether they are safe and secure in their new environment. You have a right to know if they’re eating and getting enough sleep! You need to know if they feel safe and secure where they’re living! These are legitimate concerns every mom has! YOU RAISED YOUR KIDS FOR 18 YEARS.
But here’s the thing, Mama- As much as you desperately want to know and feel like you deserve to know allthethings, you need to sit back and let your college kid take the lead in the conversations. This means you don’t grill them with your questions right at the start but instead allow them to share with you what matters to them. Your job is listening, supporting, guiding, and encouraging in response. This is SO HARD to do. But I promise, this will set the stage for ongoing communication with your college kid because if they expect to be micromanaged every time they reach out to you, the less likely they’ll want to contact you. Your college kid doesn’t need or want your interrogations, but they do need and want your love and encouragement.
When you can ask your college kid questions, ask them positively, implying you are confident in them and their abilities.
AFTER your college kid shares what they want to share with you, you can offer just a few of your questions, but make sure to word them gently and positively (not condescending and punitive). For example, you really want to know if they are eating well and getting enough sleep, so instead of saying, “Are you eating well and getting enough sleep?” (This can seem like you are questioning their ability to do both.) You might say, “Is the cafeteria food any good? What’s your favorite meal?” Or “Are the dorm beds comfortable?” Or, “How is it going with sleeping with your roommates? Do they snore?” You want to know if their classes are going well and if they are keeping up with their studies. So maybe ask, “Have you found enough time to study with all your other great activities?” You wonder if they are spending a lot of time at parties, so you might ask, “Have you been to any fun college events or parties?”
We moms must know certain things, and I call these my “Mom checks.” I still do this when I talk to my grown kid. AFTER she shares the updates of her life that matter most to her, I ask if I could run through a few quick “mom checks” for my own peace of mind. She often says, “Sure!” because she knows I’m a worrier, and I also like to stay on top of the functional tasks that need to be done, but I always remind her that it’s more for ME, than for her. (But you and I know it’s also to confirm that she’s done what she needs to do.) I’ll throw out a few of my questions with a positive tone, saying things like, “I just wanted to check and see if you were able to/ how you were doing with…” Or “I’ve been wondering if you had time to…” etc. This way, there’s a category for my concerns that doesn’t interrupt her agenda when we talk. She also knows I’m not questioning her abilities. I’m merely satisfying my own concerns. She also expects that our conversations focus on her and not on me interrogating her- which is how it’s supposed to be.
Stay positive, hopeful, and supportive when your college kid is struggling.
When our kids are hurting in any way, we naturally get upset, worried, or even angry- depending on the circumstances surrounding their pain. We want to dive into the rubble and save our kids from harm’s way, but we can’t and shouldn’t anyway. This is the best opportunity for our kids to learn how to manage difficult experiences and find their own strength and skills to overcome adversity. As hard as it is to watch our kids stumble or suffer in any way, we must believe in their abilities to navigate their challenging experiences.
This doesn’t mean we can’t help, support, guide, and encourage them through their hardships! But Moms, try really hard to control your emotions because your kids do not need added drama to their stressful situations. What they need most from you is a calm, cool, mom who believes their big kid can solve their difficult problem, whatever that might be. They need someone to tell them they can do this hard thing they are facing. They need someone who reminds them they are strong, wise, and can figure things out for themselves. They need their mom to offer unconditional love and support, unwavering affirmation, and complete confidence in their coping abilities.
Moms, when our college kids are falling apart and going through hard things, be a safe place for them to let it out and express their emotions freely without worrying about your reactions. Our big kids need to feel our stability and security when they come to us with their problems. If we add more stress, they won’t come to us. Listen to your kids carefully and compassionately without interrupting. Affirm their challenges and empathize with their feelings. Tell them how proud you are of how they are coping through this really hard experience. Then, ask if there is anything you can do to help them. Do this on repeat, over and over again.
There are many ways moms can have positive conversations with their college kids. These are just a few suggestions that have worked for me and helped cultivate ongoing communication that is productive and nourishing and less stressful and frustrating. (Believe me, there was a lot of trial and error!) There will be times when you don’t get the answers to your concerns that you wanted to hear, and there will be times you will be thrilled with great news about how they are doing. No one ever gets this parenting thing right. Your kid is still learning how to live their life on their own, and you, mom, are learning right along with them.