When my son left home for college, I resolved not to be That Helicopter Mom. You know, the one who texts multiple times daily, calls every afternoon, and drives down every weekend to visit her college student. After we returned from dropping him off and I finally managed to pick my quivering, weepy self up from the kitchen floor, I resolved not to call him. That resolution lasted about 13 hours.
I wasn’t sure what my new mom role should look like. It was time to let go, yet our son would also need encouragement and support from his parents while he tried out his new, independent wings.
How could I encourage my son, yet give him space?
During the college years, we enter a new phase in parenting. As we continue preparing our kids for the responsibilities of adulthood, we still need to remember this wisdom from Scripture: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Yet at the same time, the way we train our children changes as we release them to gradual independence.
Our role of cheering on our kids will never change, but now instead of caretakers, we become coaches, offering support and encouragement from afar as they grow their adulting skills.
How can we encourage and build up our new college student?
1. Take an Interest in Their Lives
The first year of college, our kids encounter many new experiences and may be more excited now than they ever will be again to tell us about them. Let’s take advantage of this stage to ask about their new friends, their studies, favorite teachers, or extra-curricular activities. Then let’s listen. Our relationship and involvement in our young adult children’s lives will change, but let’s keep learning about their interests.
2. Give Your Child Space
When your child can’t talk or doesn’t have time to come home for the weekend, don’t take it personally! It’s probably a good sign; she’s working on growing her own independent interests and responsibilities, right where she is.
During my son’s freshman year, my heart was initially crushed when he decided to go camping with friends during spring break. After I got over myself, I was thrilled at his opportunity to go on a bonding adventure with friends. Later, I enjoyed seeing photos and hearing his stories.
3. Offer Support When They Need It (But Don’t Freak Out)
During my son’s first year at college, a young man in his dorm committed suicide, and more recently, he helped take a friend with a serious alcohol problem to the emergency room.
As we see our kids encounter life’s tragedies and challenges, it’s tempting to freak out, but they need us to stay calm and listen. When your child is facing situations like these, he may need you to call him more often to listen first, then offer a word of hope or encouragement.
4. Encourage Independence
Now is the time for control freak moms like me to let go of micromanaging. My husband is so much better at this than I am. For example, he encourages the kids to fill out their own financial aid forms, instead of handling everything himself.
I keep reminding myself, “Don’t do anything for them that they can do for themselves. You already have enough to do, and they need to learn it anyway.” Let’s help our children grow into adulthood by taking responsibility for themselves.
5. Give Them Permission to Grow Through Failure
Our children will make mistakes, and sometimes they need space to learn things for themselves in the school of hard knocks, just like we do. If your child overdrafts her bank account, don’t overreact. Stay positive and let her know you’re confident she’ll learn how to manage her money better in the future. But make her responsible to pay the banking fees. Having less money to spend the following month is a valuable lesson about real life.
Our child’s first year in college is a growing time, not only for him, but also for us. We’re learning to walk in a new parenting role, as coach instead of caretaker. Sometimes we’ll be tempted to worry or micromanage. We’ll make mistakes and fall into Helicopter Mom tendencies. But as we ask God to help us trust Him, He’ll give us the wisdom we need to be the parents our new college student needs.
This piece originally appeared on faithspillingover.com, published with permission.