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Parenting: Two Types of College Students

Right now I have two girls that are college students.  And I love it.

OK, I don’t love everything about it — it makes me feel old, for one thing (no snide comments from the peanut gallery, please), and it’s really tough to say goodbye to them after break, for another.  And sometimes the house seems really quiet… sigh.  But I DO love the excitement of watching my girls grow and learn and figure out life on their own.  I love hearing about what they’re doing, and about the friends they are making, and about the opportunities they are being given.  I love seeing their personalities develop more fully as they are stretched and challenged.

As we parent our college students, we must adapt to their level of need.As has been true since we knew our family of three would become a family of four, they are as different as night and day.  Isn’t it amazing how unique children can be?  And just like when they were running around in pigtails, we can’t parent them exactly the same now that they are in college, either.

Our eldest is the “I’ve got this covered; leave me alone” type.  She took to college like a duck to water. She quickly became good friends with her roommate and the other girls on her hall, she got herself out of bed to go to early classes, she bought herself a planner and organized her work load, she worked ahead on assignments, etc. She even made an appointment with the librarian to be shown how to use the library before she started working on her first research paper — without parental prompting.  Now, in her junior year, she is still sailing along.

Parenting her is pretty much just making a point of checking in regularly.  She can get so busy or involved in her own life, and handling it well enough, that she doesn’t think of calling home. So we take the initiative and are sure to call or email or text on a regular basis. When talking with her, we concentrate on being cheerful and interested.  We try to give advice only when asked (that’s always a tough one for me, lol).  The point is to keep the relationship close, to not let her drift away.  We want her to know we are there and aren’t going anywhere — so that if she ever does need us, she won’t hesitate to come to us for help.

#2, a freshman this year, is more of a “Help! I’m not sure I can handle this!” type. The transition to college has not gone as smoothly for her.  She is having to learn organization and study skills, and her grades, um, reflect that.  It takes her awhile to feel comfortable with people; she calls home often.  It’s not that she’s unhappy there, just that she needs some time to get acclimated and find her footing.

To parent her, we have been in more of a coaching role.  She has needed a little more help, and we have been providing advice and counsel — but she is the one who has to go out and play the game.  We have been encouraging her to try new things and meet new people.  We urge her to handle her own administrative tasks, such as making phone calls or sending emails.  We have not been quick to step in when she hits a roadblock, but have talked through with her what her options are.  We have given her room to fail a little bit, so that she will have the motivation needed to improve her organizational habits.  However, when the work has become overly burdensome, we have been flexible to modify the basic plan, allowing her to withdraw from a course that was not going well.  After this first year is up, if she decides that college is not her thing, we will be willing to consider Plan B.

The two girls are very different individuals with very different skill sets.  To expect them to perform the same at college would be unreasonable.  The only goals that we hold for both of them during this time are to develop maturity in the area of life skills and to find and pursue a career that they enjoy.  The paths they take to fulfill those goals may vary greatly.

Parenting during the college years is definitely a more hands-off approach. We need to be cheerleaders, encouraging our children in their successes; and we need to be safety nets, there to provide support in their failures. We need to tread the delicate balance between being involved but not being invasive. Each child will have an individual response to their new situation; we need to adapt our parenting — and our expectations — to meet their unique needs.

Further Reading on Parenting College Students:

Go Ahead, Call Your College Freshman

Launching Conversations:  Tips for Parents of College-Bound Kids

A Mom’s Advice for Parents of College Freshmen

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  • This article was really helpful for me. I have a 21 year old daughter who just isn’t right for college at all, but is considering technical school. I have an 18 year old daughter who had a free year of college at her fingertips, but announced that she is going to take a gap year. Now she may be traveling to Japan, China and Cambodia and there may be wedding bells in the future. I have a 17 year old son who is super excited about college, but has decided to wait a year to graduate high school so he can take time to study extra classes and volunteer at home. As for my 13 year old, we just quit trying to make plans because he has so many interests. We are just going to wait and see. When my second daughter decided to take a gap year, it really threw me for a loop. I was so conflicted about it. But I have learned to calm down and trust God, trust them, and trust myself that I have equipped them good enough to go out in the world and hopefully survive.

Hi! I’m glad you’re here!


I’m Ann (aka Annie), a veteran homeschool mom of five who HATES complicated!
more about me >>

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