In coming weeks thousands of local parents of recent high school graduates will be loading up cars and SUVs like small Conestoga wagons.
Destination: Colleges in every direction imaginable.
Five years ago we hitched the horses to a borrowed Chevy Yukon and headed south with our first-born to the University of Alabama. On the ride back home my eyes were so blurry with the tears that had been pushing against the levy
during the move-in and the goodbyes that I didn’t realize that one of the lens in my glasses had popped out until we stopped in Huntsville.
Parents Cramming for Finals
The irony is that the week leading up to you dropping off your freshman son or daughter at University XYZ where they’ll soon walk into their first-ever college classroom and receive a syllabus, you as a parent are cramming for finals. And your internal flurry has little to do with last-minute paperwork, supply shopping, or packing strategy.
Instead, you’re reviewing 18 years of material, 18 years of parenting and apprenticeship, and wondering if you’ve passed the test. Your new college student is excited or stressed about college life, meeting new people and making new friends, exploring new freedoms, taking classes, pursuing a major, pledging a fraternity or sorority, and decorating a dorm room.
Parents Reviewing the Years
They’re driving toward a new life looking out the front windshield of opportunity. And you, the parent, are driving with your foot on the brake, desperately wanting this all to slow down, your eyes in the rear view mirror which offers a panoramic shot from giving birth to graduating this child from high school, and every major milestone and every minor but memorable pebble in between.
A parent’s mind is a warehouse of stored film and now you’re re-winding and re-playing the epic movie marathon of scene after scene of a child’s development.
You re-live the first awareness of developing personality and giftedness. You hear the giggles, laughter and sobs. You watch the parade of accomplishments and setbacks, cute early crushes and recent painful heartbreaks.
You remember vacations, sporting events, and arguments over chores, curfews, and homework. You smile recalling the sale of that first lost tooth to the Tooth Fairy and then grimace remembering feeling rather lost yourself several years later while you anxiously waited for x-rays or a lab report.
Parents Doubting Themselves
And then the camera shifts and you’re watching your acting role in your child’s drama. And there is a tendency to zoom in on doubts and regrets about your parenting.
You wish you could completely edit some scenes when you were not at your best, or re-do a scene fresh from the vantage point of current perspective. You have regrets about missed opportunities, unrecognized needs, and unseized moments. If parenting were golf, you’d play a hundred mulligans.
You are being harsh and too hard on yourself and you wish someone would tell you that you really have been a good parent. So, look at me; I’m telling you. You are being harsh and too hard on yourself and you truly have been a good parent.
And you still are, because your job isn’t done yet. You will always be a parent.
Parents Preparing for The Next Act
Notice that the floor beneath your feet is still a stage because this was only Act 1 you just completed.
Parenting a college student and young adult is Act 2.
Being an involved but not interfering parent to your married son or daughter, being a goofy grandparent to their children is Act 3. So, your role in the grand play is not over yet.
Your daughter still needs you and wants a relationship with you. Your son still wants you present and engaged in his life. He/she just needs you to go backstage for a quick wardrobe change before the curtain rises for Act 2.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in
Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several
books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.