The transition from high school to college can be as difficult for parents as it is for the students leaving the house.
“For parents, there may be some challenges in the adjustment to a new role in their lives analogous to the adjustment that was navigated at the time of first becoming a parent,” said Becky Scott, M.S.W., lecturer in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.
Scott has practiced child and family therapy for 15 years, and she offered four tips to help parents adjust when their children transition to college.
1. Know that there is no “right” way to cope.
The transition from full-time to long-distance parent may leave parents feeling simultaneously sad and hopeful, regretful and proud, Scott said. It is important to remember that there is not a specific way parents should feel during this transition. Placing expectations of feeling on themselves can make the transition even more difficult.
“Parents must live into the new role and be compassionate with themselves no matter how they respond,” Scott said. “No two parents and no two couples, if the parent is in a co-parenting relationship, will respond to this role transition exactly the same way.”
2. Talk with your children and spouse about expectations.
Setting clear expectations of parental and children’s needs throughout the transition from high school to college can help “cultivate healthy adjustment to this change,” Scott said. Parents should maintain communication with their children and each other.
“If you find yourself unsure how much your college-bound students want to hear from you by phone or by text – ask,” Scott said. “If you know you need to have a weekly date with your spouse to cope with the gaping hole in your new, child-free schedule, then speak up. If your college student finds they need to feel OK about coming home once per month to re-connect, let them. “
3. Address and resolve conflicts immediately.
The transition from high school to college will be stressful for students and parents as both parties attempt to settle into their new roles. Scott said parents and children need to take the time to resolve any conflicts that arise so that they do not continue to grow.
“Familial role transitions are great opportunities for family members to further illuminate what is already healthy and good about their relationships,” Scott said. “However, that also means that whatever is already a challenge within a family’s relationships — these will be highlighted during this transition too. The conflict or hurt that may emerge during launching your adult children is almost always not new conflict, but that which is brought to the surface by change. Take time to resolve it and address it.”
4. Find the balance between supporting your children and letting them learn on their own.
Moving from the role of provider to the role of supporter and watching your children become self-sufficient is one of the many challenges of parenting, and it is important to find the balance between letting children learn and helping them succeed, Scott said.
“The delicate balance of allowing your child to become a self-sufficient adult while still supporting them can be challenging,” Scott said. “We want to teach young adults to be interdependent, and this interdependency should include their family of origin, their support structure at their college and new friends.”