The Long Good-Bye: Five Lessons for Parents of College-Bound Children

John Mark Reynolds, The Torrey Honors Institute

The Long Good-Bye: Five Lessons for Parents of College-Bound Children


Children are born and then, for parents, the long good-bye begins. Every year I have been a parent has marked not just firsts, but lasts. This year our youngest will turn thirteen, becoming a teenager for the first time, but marking the end of children in the Reynolds house.

We have watched hundreds of parents drop their kids off at camp or college and have learned a few things in the process. As parental mistakes were made we came to recognize those parents: the ones who made growing up much harder for their adult children. Of course, there is nothing like living a situation . . . recently Hope and I realized that under pressure we easily become those parents.

We see some parents forced to realize their kids are headed in destructive directions. These kids are not just growing up, they are going bad. This is sad to see. Dealing with that situation requires special grace. Some kids' biggest assets are their parents and their problems are self-induced.

Those parents, however, have basically decent adult children whose biggest problem is Mom or Dad! That is an entirely different situation.

Whenever we find ourselves becoming those parents, we try to remember five things.

First, those parents do nothing to prepare themselves or their children for the transition to adulthood. They let it fall on their kids in one huge change.

How can you make the transition smoother?

Send your son or daughter to "college camp" to get them used to the experience. Treat it as if they were actually leaving for good. Next week our oldest daughter will go to Wheatstone, a first-rate academic summer camp, as preparation for college.

Between ages seventeen and eighteen transition family governance from "obey" to "honor." Small children obey their parents, while older children honor them. In our household, by the time our children leave the house, they are making all their own decisions. Of course, if they live in our house, they must be respectful, but in the way any adult would be.

We reach an agreement with our adult children about house responsibilities (or rent!) and then honor their autonomy.  We want our children to grow to be decision making adults. My Dad and Mom are excellent examples of this as they have gladly moved from "authority figures" to wise mentors and guides.

Dad would give me counsel in college, but not "orders."

Of course, the most extreme sort of those parents try to treat their adult children as little kids. You can use money or guilt for a short time to "win" struggles with your adult children, but this is surely folly. A wise parent knows that short term victories only lead to long term defeat. Time is on the side of your child!

Besides, turning the loving relationship between parents and children into a matter of winning or losing is a bad idea in any case.

Second, those parents think it no longer matters what they do. The kids are "raised" so parents can cut loose.

Mature adults remember that "parenting" is done, but you are still a parent.  Many parents of my college students go mad. In extreme cases, Dad will abandon his family because "the kids are grown."  In less extreme cases, the parents become unavailable or think that their example no longer matters.

While we no longer rule over our children's lives, we still reign as heads of the family. Adult children are no longer our subjects to give orders, but we can still lead by example. Hope and I want to show our adult children how to age well and that it is possible to be middle-aged, virtuous, and happy!

Third, those parents believe they always know best. They react to increased knowledge on the part of their children by diminishing the importance of whatever their child is learning.


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