At our semi-annual visit to our dentist last week, I got some time to talk to our hygienist Wendy. Well, as much as a conversation as you can carry on while your teeth are being cleaned. Wendy was doing most of the talking, and I would throw in an occasional grunt. But what she had to say brought back memories.
Wendy’s oldest daughter has just started freshman year at the University of Iowa. Wendy and her daughter are very close, and this is the first time they have been apart since her daughter was born. Wendy said that they had spoken the night before, and the conversation had been a little teary-eyed for both of them. First year of college is always a big adjustment for both parent and child.
As a parent, you still think of your college freshman as a child. But they are no longer children. The schools make a point of reminding you of that fact. Most universities offer orientation sessions for parents now, which are sometimes called a parent odyssey, that provide information on financial aid, school safety, letting go and dealing with separation.
The schools tell parents that their children are adults now, and as adults they have privacy rights, which means parents no longer have any right to know what their son’s or daughter’s grades are or whether their children are on academic probation. The purpose of these orientations is to help transition the parents to a reduced, but still-important role in the lives of their adult children. The “helicopter parent” type, one who wants to make academic decisions for their child or who is in constant contact with school administration and/or their children, is discouraged. Parents are also told that their children are responsible for their own academic success or failure. It’s not an easy transition for parents or child.
We sent our only son off to the University of Illinois 15 years ago. I suppose it’s easier with boys. At least everyone says so. But Brian was our only child, and it was a big change in our lives. You tell yourself that it is a good thing and that the whole idea of raising children is to prepare them to go off into the world on their own eventually. You tell yourself that you should be grateful that they’ve reached this age and that they were not taken from you tragically. But it still hurts when you walk past that empty room and you remember tucking him in at night after reading a bedtime story or holding him when he’d had a bad dream or even nagging him to clean that now dark and silent room.
So I understand what Wendy is going through. And I know she’ll make it and her daughter will make it, just as we have and countless parents before us have. A part of your life and your child’s life is ending, but a whole new, wonderful phase is about to begin. Your relationship will change dramatically in many ways, but your lives will remain intertwined even though you are apart. You won’t be there as you once were to bandage bruised knees and wipe away the tears, but your moral support and understanding will still be a great source of comfort. Your children are now in control of their lives as it was always meant to be. And hopefully you will realize a parent’s greatest joy in seeing your child succeed and become the kind of person who helps make the world a better place.