This is the first in what I hope is many guest appearances on the blog. She’s a pretty cool chick who I’m lucky enough to have as a daughter. She is in her second year at college and we’ve gone through A LOT of changes and adjustments this previous year as we find a new “normal” having a mostly grown adult as part of the family. I’ll go first and explain the changes I’ve found to be challenging, rewarding, scary, etc. as we’ve navigated her first experience really away from home.
Let’s start with a little humor before we really jump into it….
I think both of our expectations of what college would be like varied for both of us. I attended a trade school immediately out of high school, entered the work force for a few years, and then attended a community college for a few years. It was a commuter school so I didn’t experience the dorm life and a “typical” college life that awaited her. I had NO idea what any of it would be like so we spent a lot of time what we thought was preparing her for what society says is normal college life. Parties, late nights, no rules, shenanigans, etc.
Here’s my best advice to those of you parenting a kid who is headed off: Strap in, throw your hands and prayers up and hope for the best. Seriously.
Well, not really. While my husband and I were anticipating distractions and evil and temptation lurking around every dorm corner, we neglected to think about the real things she’d be facing. Time management, phone and meeting skills with professors, taking care of financial obligations (housing, checking meal plans, etc.), making and keeping appointments both at school and organizing them when she was scheduled to be at home… We have come to realize that we did her a huge disservice growing up by handling those kinds of things for her instead of teaching her along the way how to do them herself. I think this is because of being a parent of a special needs child (her sister), we always tried to anticipate and intercept problems before they occurred so they didn’t become one more thing we had to deal with down the line or a mess we didn’t have to clean up if we could head it off before it happened. While that may work for Madie, it didn’t teach Paige all the skills she would need on her own. Things like needing to go pay a housing bill or just calling an office when she’d rather stay and watch one more mindless episode of Archer on Netflix. Advice: Make sure they are prepared for these things – time management is KEY! That’s easier said than done for me as well as Paige. I struggle with procrastination and getting overwhelmed when there is so many things to remember as does she so I tried to prepare her to break tasks down into manageable chunks and make lists.
Perhaps my most challenging adjustment I needed to make in myself was judging her decisions and choices. Let’s be honest – how many of us as adults make bad choices ourselves? My hand is raised and waving in the air here at my house. Your kid is not the same person as you are. They are still learning. Yes, age wise they can vote. However, being their first taste of freedom is scary and exciting both and who doesn’t want to experience it all at once. Yes, there are temptations lurking around every corner like we tried to lecture her before she left home. We were forgetting that temptations also were everywhere even while she lived at home and for the most part, she handled them well so why did we assume it would be different? We tried to teach responsibility and safety as number one concern and I believe she learned that well. Does that mean she sits in her dorm room studying at all times like we think she should? Ummmm, have you met her? For those who haven’t, I assure you, this isn’t her and we shouldn’t have expected that. However, we’ve found that although she’s places we would rather her not be, we have to trust that we taught her well.
Through really honest conversation with both myself, her dad, and her, we sat with her and discussed what was the worst that could happen if she procrastinated too much and didn’t take care of things like meetings, phone calls, appointments, bills, etc. It was really freeing for us and her to discover that life would go on. Noone would physically get hurt. None of these things were life or death. While the outcome was not one she’d enjoy (having to move back home, leave college, work a few jobs to pay off loans, etc.), it was up to her to decide to take care of obligations or not. Which outcome did she want? It was up to her. I believe when we put it that way, and came to realize it ourselves, it became more enjoyable and exciting to view opportunities as a means to an outcome she truly wanted. I stopped checking up on her (as much ) and handed over responsibility to her and watched her become proud of herself when she handled things on her own. She has always been fiercely independent – to a fault sometimes, I tell her…and things became a power struggle when we tried to micro manage her. Why did we think we could do that from so far away?
Another thing I’ve tried to do is not to ask too many questions about social life things. The first year was SO hard not knowing who she was hanging out with, what were they doing, who was she crushing on, that sort of stuff. I asked ALL THE TIME. I got on her nerves. I hated myself for asking those questions. So sue me. I’m nosy. I live vicariously through her. It killed me to know she was having adventures I didn’t know about. Guess what? Did my parents know where I ate lunch and with who when I was on my own at first or even now years later? Did they know what time I went to bed, for heaven’s sake? Did I take my medicine this morning? Geesh, I was UNBEARABLE! Sorry Paige! Now, I try to be content with the info she gives me. When I ask less, she offers more – it’s pretty cool!
Last thing from me…trust that you taught them well. Trust them. Will they make great choices all the time? Do you?!? Will they be okay even if they make a bad choice? Probably. Hopefully they’ll learn and not repeat it. Hopefully they’ll ask for help when they need it or figure it out. I pray (A LOT) to put people in her path exactly when she needs them and God never fails at that. She’s a pretty cool kid. She’s come really far in a year. She’s *sigh* growing up and finding her way. I hate it and I love it. I’ll enjoy the time she gives me fiercely. I’ll enjoy her just being her and I’ll be alright if it’s different than what I THINK it should be.
Sorry in advance if I keep this short and sweet – I’m a college student, how much time do you think I have to sit and write a blog?? (Actually, it’s a lot. Thank God for syllabus week!)
Anyway, I think my parents did a good job of getting me to be able to adjust to the social part of being at school. Moving around a lot throughout my childhood made me incredibly easily adaptable and I’m pretty good at making new acquaintances, whether or not they end up being my good friends. I was a little worried at first about finding people to spend my time with, but throughout my almost two years here I’ve learned that doing things alone isn’t as bad as it’s made to seem. I spend a lot of time by myself now, and I don’t mind it at all! While I was terrified of doing so last year because I didn’t exactly have the greatest thoughts that I wanted to be alone with, I feel much better about my situation now and I’m content with being alone. So that aspect of college life isn’t too bad at all.
Moving on now to the academic parts. I’ll admit that I’m not the greatest student. In elementary and middle school and some of high school, I was just the “smart kid” and I didn’t really have to apply myself at all in order to get good grades. I’m naturally pretty intelligent (thanks mom and dad!) and I let myself slide by. However, that’s not applicable in college. At all. I struggled last year with making myself stay motivated and excited to learn. Especially during the winter, when walking from class to class is a NIGHTMARE. Especially with the snow on the ground. So I’ll admit that I didn’t get the best grades or do too well in general. As my mom said, I’m a HUGE procrastinator, so I would just sit around and wait until the day something was due to actually hurry and get it done. I like to say I work best under pressure, and while that may be true, I don’t want to put myself through that stress anymore, so this year I’ve been really working on that aspect of my life. Already I’ve been getting better grades and actually applying myself makes me feel super accomplished and great!
Finally, the “real world” aspect of college. This is the part that really terrifies me and makes me nervous. The real world is SO SCARY!!! Who knew?! I always thought that I could sit on my parents’ shoulders and they would carry me and kick down over all the roadblocks in my life, but now I’m learning that I have to crawl over them myself. Paying bills to make sure I have a place to live, making phone calls and having meetings with people who could make or break my future, and learning to save my money so I can budget it and not be poor and homeless is honestly really really hard for me. I don’t WANT to give 3,000 dollars away to housing, I want it for myself! I realize that I really have to work on that aspect of myself, otherwise I’ll end up living “in a box on the beach,” as my mom says (although she says she thinks I would be fine doing so!). I don’t want to be an adult and I don’t want to grow up and have real responsibilities, but then I guess nobody does. Sure I had a personal finance class in high school that taught me how to balance a checkbook and make a resume, but what the heck are taxes?! Who gets that money?! Why do I get some back??! I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. But I’m trying to learn and get things done as quickly and diligently as possible, and so far I haven’t been kicked out onto the street yet for not paying my housing bill. I guess I’ll just fake it till I make it, and by make it I mean know what on earth I’m doing.
I guess this actually got really lengthy and I don’t even really know what I talked about, because when I start to write it all just sort of flows out of me and I don’t even know if it really makes sense, but I think that my mom and I have gotten a lot closer as I have been at school and I think that we will continue to do so as I get more and more mature and work on myself and we continue to be honest with each other. I don’t really know how to end a blog post but I guess that that’s just me- for real!