6 Tips for What Not to Do When Your Child Goes to College

collegeWhen my first born child went off to college in 2012, I must confess – I did NOT handle it well.

I was so excited for her, especially since she was attending the alma mater of my husband and I (Go Charlotte 49ers!) but I knew how much I would miss her and felt so sad she wouldn’t be living at home anymore. I couldn’t fathom her not coming home every day, and I also was extremely anxious about her safety and well-being.

So knowing that other moms probably struggle with these same emotions, I wanted to offer some tips about what not to do when your child goes off to college. Because avoiding these simple things can help us moms keep our stress at bay, and also avoid stressing out our kids.

Now trust me – I AM qualified to offer these “what not to do’s” — because unfortunately, I did them all. But thankfully, I learned some important lessons I hope to remember next week when my second baby girl leaves the nest, and when my son heads to college in a few years. And I’m sure they hope I remember them too. :)

If you are sending a child off to college this year for the first time, I hope these tips might help you avoid the stress that comes with this major life transition in your child’s life, and yours.

1. Don’t act like your child is leaving forever, and ever, and ever.

When we took my daughter to college, I managed to make it through the whole dorm move-in day without shedding a tear. But when it came time for us to head back home, I felt like I was leaving my baby on a doorstep in a basket and walking away, and the tears started pouring! Then for the next few days, tears seemed to make their presence a lot. In fact, I have no idea why my tear ducts didn’t dry up completely.

Not necessarily sad tears, just tears due to mixed emotions and the reality of my child growing up and entering the young adult world (Click here to read a post I wrote about this a couple years ago) Plus I missed her terribly. Then after about a week, my daughter Kaitlyn gave me a wake up call when she lovingly said “she didn’t die mom; she just went to college.” She was just joking of course, and I laughed too, but it helped me recognize that I needed to stop stressing out both of my daughters by being overly emotional, and begin trusting that God would take care of her and watch over her throughout the year – and He did. :) She had a fabulous Freshman year and made us proud. Now she is a Junior with an A-B average and on track for a wonderful career and life ahead of her.

2. Don’t assume your child is going to make the same mistakes you did in college.

This is a hard one. As moms, we want to protect our children and prevent them from getting into situations or making decisions that will negatively impact their faith, their lives or their futures. Since we probably all have some things we did in college or during our adolescent years that we regret, that knowledge fuels our desire to try to make sure our kids don’t do those same things. I know my mom wanted to protect me when I went off to college, yet the bad choices I made were my own. I do want to protect my kids from making the same mistakes and have tried to teach them and mold them over the years, but as much as we want to protect our children, we have to let them make their own choices and mistakes, and sometimes even live with the consequences.

We can’t control what happens after our child leaves home, but we can continually pray for the Holy Spirit to be their guide and to convict their hearts when they are headed down the wrong path. We can also trust that we have been the best moms we can be, guiding them to love the Lord, and faithfully entrust their future into God’s hands.

3. Don’t let their drama, be your drama.

Where ever you find girls, you find drama. But boys have their own styles of drama too. Although it would be nice if the drama would end in college, it doesn’t. Kids will always be kids, and sometimes young adults will act like kids! As moms, we are certainly not kids anymore,, yet it’s easy to get pulled into teenage drama, simply because we care about our children. When people are mean to them, we feel bad for them. When professors are unfair or uncaring, we want to make a few phone calls. When situations occur, we want to get involved, seeking resolution. When our child is hurt, we want to mend their hearts.

But the good news is that the drama somehow always works itself out and our kids typically get over it and move on – usually before us moms are able to! There were many days last year when my daughter would call me and be so upset about something that had happened. I would get so worked up about it on her behalf, and feel so bad for what she was going through (all the while feeling helpless) that it would ruin my whole day and make me feel stressed and anxious. Then she would call me later and say everything was fine! While I was still stressing over the issue all day, she had forgotten about it! So I’ve learned that it’s crucial for mom to be a safe sounding board and offer positive encouragement, but to try to avoid getting pulled too deep into the drama and the stress of college life.

4. Don’t assume your college kid won’t act like a college kid.

I would like to think that my children would be the perfect college kids, focusing only on studies and preparing for their future. Spending hours in the library, getting A’s in every class, never staying out past midnight, or hanging out with people or in places that I may not approve of. But let’s face it, that’s not reality! Full time studying certainly wasn’t my sole focus when I first started college, and it’s not realistic to think our children’s will be that either.

Although my husband and I do expect our children to study hard, make good grades, give it their best and live with high morals and integrity, we can’t expect them to not never have fun, never stay out too late, or always make the best decisions. Even kids raised in Christian homes can easily get pulled into the party scene or lose their way. So it’s important to keep in touch with your child as much as is reasonable, and try to continually let them know your expectations, without sounding like a tyrant or expecting perfection. The best thing we can do as parents is to make sure our kids know that they can call on us – for anything and everything, anytime night or day – and that no matter what, we will love them and support them unconditionally, even we don’t support their choices.

5. Don’t stalk your child on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine.

I’m not saying I stalked my daughter online when she first started college (that would be weird, right?), but I admit I liked the fact that I could get an idea of her whereabouts and activities by looking at her social media. While at times that was good, other times it made me anxious. So I realized that instead of trying to watch her behind the scenes, I needed to ask God to help me let go of the control I once had over her safety and well being, and to trust that she will follow her instincts and be guided by her faith in all that she does. She and I have a great relationship, and talked almost every day on the phone about friends, happenings, classes, worries, etc. These ongoing conversations allowed for open and honest communication, and I learned that it’s better to keep the communication door open and trust her to do what’s right, rather than try to catch her doing something not right in my eyes.

6. Don’t forget that although your college kid is out of the house, they still need the comfort of home, and mom- and some good home cooking.

Just a few days after Morgan moved into her dorm room, she appeared in our kitchen – right at dinner time. Her college is not far away which I am thankful for, and although she was happy to be out on her own and excited about college, she still needed the comfort of home, family – and some comfort food. And that made this mama’s heart smile bigtime. Remembering that our child will always need us and our love (and maybe our cooking) can soothe even the most stressed out heart.

So needless to say, I learned some hard lessons that year about wading through the college years of my children, and maybe you have too. Or maybe you are just getting your feet wet this year, or having your second or last child leave the nest. But looking back, I know God was molding my heart, and my daughter’s heart, every step of the way. So every tear and learning experience was worth it, and I’m sure lots of tears and learning opportunities lie ahead.

Sending a child off to college, or just out on their own for the first time, is never easy on a mom. But since we all have to go through it, it’s in our best interest to commit to managing our stress and dealing with our emotions before they start affecting us and everyone around us.

The best recipe there is to feed the heart of a stressed-out mom sending her child off into the world – is a little bit of patience, a big dose of trust, and a heaping cup of faith.

If you have experience sending a child off to college, what tips do you have for moms who are embarking on this new transition of life?

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