I learned a lot at my daughter’s college orientation.
I found out where the cafeterias are on campus. I learned how to navigate the bus schedule. I got a list of what each college student needs in his or her dorm room. From course registration to campus safety and health care, all the critical details were covered. This is what I expected.
What I didn’t expect was the information we were given about how to help your son or daughter transition smoothly into adulthood. The seminars were called things like “Pathways to Success in College,” and “The Emerging Adult Brain,” but the focus was the same — how do we get them to grow up?
At first, I thought, these seminars aren’t for me. I know all this stuff. After all, I’m a journalist. I’ve done stories for years on the missteps teenagers take on their way to becoming adults. I know their brains aren’t fully formed when it comes to understanding the consequences to their actions. What could I possibly learn from these talks — albeit from well-meaning administrators and faculty who clearly know their stuff?
Well, I did learn a few things.
I learned that we spend many years praising and rewarding our children for their academic prowess or their abilities in other areas like sports or the arts, but we don’t spend a lot of time working on their life skills. And now, at the eleventh hour, these are the skills they will need the most when they enter the independent world of college.
I’m not talking about things like don’t put foil in the microwave. I’m talking about time management, personal responsibility, problem-solving. For many students, including mine, college will be the first time in her life where she will have to handle these things on a daily basis without our assistance.
Sure, we will be just a phone call or a text away, but guess what the college orientation speakers told us we need to do? They told us to let them figure out things on their own, even if they fail.
Did you hear that, parents? We must give our adult children the space and permission to fail, to make mistakes, and then to be there to help them get back up, dust themselves off and try again. This is going to be hard. I’m a problem-solver, a fixer, the person who sees a crisis and immediately starts making lists and a plan to rectify the situation. No more, they tell me. We are moving on, cutting the cord, allowing them to sink or swim.
As a parent, this is one of the hardest things we will ever do.
“If you get a hysterical call about a problem with a class, with a teacher, with their curriculum, tell them to go to speak to their academic dean, tell them it’s in Monroe Hall,” one of the orientation speakers told us. “Don’t contact the dean yourself, make them handle the situation. Tell them you love them and look forward to hearing about the resolution.”
Sink or swim, sink or swim, sink or swim…
Because, eventually, they will swim. And we will be on the shoreline watching them in the distance, their beautiful, evolved, adult selves, gliding off into the world with the wisdom and maturity that only comes from taking in a little water here and there. They will be better for it, and so will we.
Amanda Lamb is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books, including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.