Friday, April 4, 2014

Your Job as Parent.... ongoing!

I remember thinking, when my kids went through middle school, how different it was parenting.
Yes, it was physically busy, transporting them from here to there. Being "on them" about doing their homework. Running around gathering their supplies, their sporting equipment. Going to their games, their performances, attending their science fairs, volunteering on their field trips, chaperoning their dances....the list went on. Very busy. But the shift really was in the emotional quotient piece of parenting. These young people were experiencing real life stuff. Hurt feelings, emotional highs and lows (which usually involved their friends), not making teams, receiving grades for the first time (no longer the "need strengthening stuff", the VG's, etc.)... and all of this stuff would eventually end up at home in some form or other. I remember feeling that I wish I could take on some of their pain, some of their emotions, so they wouldn't have to suffer. I also felt like that, if one of my kids ended up in the emergency room from some injury and they were in pain. Crazy I know.
Well, this role of emotional supporter sure does continue long past middle school, all through high school, through college and long after they've graduated. If you think your role as parent is "done" when they go off to school...wrong! Their "problems" or emotional experiences take on a considerably different ability in parenting. I've found that I've really had to hone my listening skills and I can't take on their pain and upset. The "voice of reason" comes to mind as I'm writing this. No one tells you that as a parent of young adults you're really a jack of all trades: counselor, consultant, psychiatrist, cheerleader, spiritual advisor... there are a million adjectives to use for parenting skills.
It's a big transition to college, and the rest of the college years! This time can bring about big changes in a student's life! It can be the first time they are dealing with a lot of issues: depression, displacement, eating disorders, self confidence issues, friends with problems, divorcing parents, roommates, etc. Even if your child showed no signs of issues with these problems in high school, a lot of times these things pop up in the 4 years of college: more often than you think. So, as a parent, be looking for changes in patterns with your child. It can be anything from changes in voice tone, sleeping schedules, calling home (or not)... it could manifest in any way, you know your child best, and you know what is normal/ not normal for them, so listen and pay attention! If you notice changes, then encourage your kid to talk to someone: use the college counselors, it is not embarrassing, more students use the counselors than you would think, for a wide, wide range of issues, both large and small: anything from feeling homesick, to being stressed, to being worried about a friend, frustrated with a roommate, or just wanting a third party to talk to, they've got support, they've got resources. Encourage your kid to ask.
This is tough stuff, and as a parent of Gey Yers, it's a balancing act too. You have to realize when you're hovering and there too much, and when you have to let them make their own decisions and choices on things. You need to encourage them to use their resources. You're not always going to be there, nor are they going to want you, so they need to know where to seek help and advice if you're not. I'll admit that I have an underlying assumption that as parents, we've laid the foundation. We've been talking to our kids all along, about loads of different stuff. Our kids are used to us asking them how their day was, or "tell me about the game," so as they get older we should be able to talk to them about the tougher stuff too, like sex, drugs, their feelings... We have to have confidence that our kids will make good decisions, based on that foundation; the value system you've helped them establish, will inform those choices, those decisions.
Will there be mistakes, "98 and 3/4% guaranteed", but they'll learn from those (you hope). Just remember, you did!

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