The next two weekends will be bittersweet for many area families. They will be taking their 17- and 18-year-olds off to college. For some it will be their oldest or only child, for others it will be an event they have been through before. It will be easy for none of them.
For the kids — who are really adults — there may be anxiety but there is also eager anticipation for what they see as newfound freedom. No one checking up on whether they’ve done homework, no one nagging them to get up to go to school, no one checking out their new friends, no one setting a curfew. And that’s just what parents are worried about.
All that worry counters the sense of pride felt as their children embark on the next leg in their life’s journey. This is when their children will pass or fail countless academic and social tests from the inconsequential to some that will have a profound bearing on the rest of their lives.
This day seemed so far away from the first day they got on that big yellow school bus, but it is the day parents and children have been preparing for ever since. Presumably they know how to do laundry, understand basic finances, and how to eat a balanced diet and keep themselves healthy.
Those are the mundane things, but what about the more personal, meaningful, profound things? If things are too stressful right now and you can’t say what you want to say out loud or think your child will tune out, write a letter and tuck it into their suitcase. They will read it.
Tell them how important it is to take college seriously, to make smart choices about balancing their academic and possibly work and athletic responsibilities with social opportunities. Remind them they are adults and will be viewed as such if they get into legal trouble. Encourage them to take advantage of as many opportunities in terms of classes, clubs, and extracurricular activities as they can. Tell them, above all, to stay safe. This isn’t the last time parents will get a chance to offer advice and guidance but it is one of the most momentous times and you should take the opportunity to tell them what is most important in your mind — what you hope they get out of the next four years. Of course, remind them how much you love them.
When you’ve said goodbye, shed as many tears as necessary, but remember, this is validation of successful parenting.
After all of that, all parents can do is bank on the 18 years they have spent molding their child’s character, teaching them how to navigate the world, how to embrace success and learn from failure, how to think for themselves, and then wait for the phone call that says, “Hi, I’m not sure what to do …”