Going to college and getting married have a lot in common. Both take nerve. Both cost absurd amounts of money. Neither comes with a guarantee. And both commence with the hallmarks of serious milestoneslists, boxes, and breathless parents. Of course, parents of the bride and groom pray fervently for happily ever after. But parents of freshmen usually set a much lower bar. Theyre just hoping their new collegian will make it to Christmas.
Most do, of course, if making it means simply staying in school. But when making it means not only staying in school but flourishing there as well, its easy to fall short. The jump from high school to college isnt easy for students or parents. It means breaking old habits and ties. It means saying good-bye. And it requires saying hello.
The move from high school to college is not just a step. It is a leap. Making it well is a bit like mastering a trapeze. While it takes courage just to climb the pole and swing out into space, thats only half the trick. Sooner or later, getting to the other side requires a leap of faith. Letting go of a secure handhold is always scary, but its the only way to reach out for whats coming next.
Letting go is a two-way deal. Try shaking hands with someone who wont let go at the appropriate moment, and youll see what I mean. College students need to let go of their roles as dependent children to become independent young adults. And we parents have to be brave enough to make sure that happens. The temptation is to hold them close. But the responsibility is to set them free.
Its common for parents to spend sleepless nights worrying that Johnny or Susie is miserable at college, pining away the lonely hours, homesick in a cold dorm room. Its also a complete waste of quality parental worrying time. More likely than not, Johnny and Susie are actually eyeing each other at one of several thousand Iowa City venues, on or off campus. They may be in class, in the library, in a dorm, in a funk, or in love. They may well be in three or four of these at any given time. But thats OK. Thats normal. Thats exactly how life should be for college kids. The whole idea of college is for young people to learn and grow up in a world that is bigger, faster, more tempting, less forgiving, and far more difficult than the world they came from. And the whole idea for parents is to stay out of the way so it can happen.
Theres nothing more we can teach our children once they turn 18, but there is much we need to teach our new young adults. The most important and difficult lesson is that they have grown up. They may always be our babies, but they are no longer children. They have new roles, new rights, and new responsibilities. And so, as parents, do we. We have the new role of mentoring our students, adult to adult. We have the right to expect our college students to treat us with the same adult respect they now deserve from us. And we have one final responsibility, hard as it is to do, as they leave home. College is their time, their future, their new life. We parents must let them go.
Jim and Carol Waterbury are parents of UI senior Libby and UI freshman Dan. Their dog, Murphy, wanted to be a Hawkeye this fall, too, but she really does get homesick.