What Every Parent Ought to Know About Sending Your Child Off to College (Part 1)

With the approach of summer comes warmer weather, BBQ’s, season ending shows of our favorite TV series, and graduation announcements. Each year we receive many cards in the mail proudly announcing another high school graduation. In recent years those announcements have taken on new and more creative looks… but the message is the same, after twelve years of hard work a significant chapter of life is coming to a close. Of course we’ve sent out our share of those same announcements. In fact if you count the kids we’ve taken in over the years we’ve announced and hosted more than a dozen graduation parties. Uncharacteristically we get this year off, but I can’t help but reflect on things we’ve learned about graduation.

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All smiles as we celebrate Jordan’s graduation!

  • Graduation is called commencement for a reason; commence… to begin, to start. While it’s true our kids are ending a chapter in their life, just as true, a new chapter is beginning. The more we can help everyone, including the graduate, focus on that reality the better for everyone moving forward.
  • Everything changes and that’s a good thing… things will never be the same for you or your child but that’s something to celebrate. Even if your child isn’t heading off to college, graduation from high school changes the dynamics in the family.
  • Some things never change… one of Kelli’s favorite sayings is, “Whoever said just get them to 18 was high on drugs.” While everything changes, one thing stays the same; you will always be their parent. Only now instead of worrying about skinned knees or missing homework like you did when they were eight, the stakes get higher. This requires us to change how we parent our young adults. Hopefully this change has been happening gradually, but if it hasn’t, then life will force this relationship to change, especially if your kid is moving out. We become much more of a coach… they won’t be waking us up at night to let us know they are home… they won’t be checking with us before making a date with a friend… they won’t be eating the meals we put in front of them. Our best hope is to be a trusted source of counsel and wisdom. Say these words to your kids… “You can’t always trust what we say is right… you can’t always trust what we say is the best… but what you can trust is what we say is coming from the man/woman that loves you more than any other man/woman on earth.”
  • Ask lots of questions… in our role as coach, this is the season to ask questions rather than provide answers. Obviously there is a time for both, but work hard at asking questions… what made you decide to do that? How is that issue going to affect you? These should be questions of interest that help your child consider their options and thought processes… not questions of interrogation or mistrust. The goal is for your child to see you as the best place to come if they need help processing through a decision.

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Dani celebrating with some of her siblings!

Even if your child isn’t quite yet graduating, these principles begin taking shape much earlier in their life. Consider how you are engaging your teenage child. It’s best when this change from parent to coach happens gradually over time. When our kids are young we get good at addressing behavior. If they are biting kids, or being disobedient, or unkind to siblings, we correct the behavior. As our kids get older we move from simply engaging behavior to engaging their minds and their emotions… “What do you think about that?”…How does that make you feel?”… Our goal is to raise a self-governing child, but in order to do that we must address more than just behavior.

Next week, we’ll offer part 2 of “What Every Parent Ought to Know About Sending Your Child Off to College including tips for those of us left behind.