My youngest child is preparing to go away to university in a few short months. I’m not sure either of us are ready. While she is getting excited to find a roommate and pick courses, my anxiety level is rising. I feel like I’m not done yet.
Do I still have time to jam in all the parenting I wanted to impart? How will she survive being responsible for herself? How will I survive not being responsible for her? Parenting university-aged children, as I’m starting to find out, is a challenge.
In her recent book, Don’t Leave, Please Go, fellow Jewish mother, psychologist and author Sara Dimerman chronicles her experiences during her youngest daughter’s first year away from home. “There is a push/pull of emotions that parents and their teens experience as dynamics shift between them and within the family when living apart,” says Dimerman.
Tell me about it.
One minute my daughter and I are best buddies as we make a shopping list for her dorm room, the next she’ll barely grunt in my direction. One minute I am close to tears as I realize I won’t be able to sit on her bed and chat with her every night, the next I’m checking the earliest date available for her to move into her residence. She is testing me and, I guess, I am testing her, too.
On the practical side, there are a lot of questions your child might have about things like laundry, grocery shopping and cooking (I knew she wasn’t listening!). Dimerman says to expect sporadic, brief phone calls or texts, like, “What temperature do I cook chicken at?” (350 F), or “What does permanent press mean?” (still don’t know). There may also be trickier concerns like feelings of anxiety, loneliness and of being overwhelmed. (And your kid may feel that way, too.)
Triage can be the answer. You don’t want to let your child down by not answering every little query that comes your way, but resist the urgency, says Dimerman. They will probably figure it out by themselves. For the bigger problems, encouraging your child to seek out counselling and other resources on campus helps them learn to help themselves. One of the most important things to remember, according to Dimerman, is to avoid being triggered and “to respond in a way that promotes open communication and encourages discussion and problem solving.” Don’t judge. Don’t criticize. Just acknowledge and encourage.
And here’s the really tough one: don’t give unsolicited advice. Dimerman says, “The mantra is encourage, encourage, encourage. Find ways to prop them up, remind them of successes and that you believe in their ability.” Try not to tell them what to do, rather be available to help them problem solve.
When she was 13, my daughter wanted to wear high heels. I thought she was much too young for the stilettos, but nothing I could say would convince her otherwise. Several hours of wearing the new shoes and a few blisters later, she realized running shoes might be better the next time. We all want our children to succeed, but are often conflicted between wanting to help and letting them learn from natural consequences.
There is a comfort in knowing I am not alone in my anxiety. There is also a strange comfort in knowing that while my daughter may be excited, she also has anxiety about going away to university. Yes, she will miss me, too. I know she will be home again soon enough and we will continue with the push/pull of emotions, until one day when she will be gone forever.
I hope there’s a book on how to deal with that, too.