Last week, we took our older son to college for the first time. As an incoming freshman moving out of the family home, he was a big ball of uncertainty, anxiety, and, of course, excitement. Coincidentally, his dad and I were the same.
Dropping him off was the easy part for me; I had been randomly emotional for months before, in anticipation of this major milestone that would remove our firstborn from our daily lives. Helping him take care of details like buying dorm supplies and navigating the various discussions he needed to have with college personnel like his admissions counselor and his academic advisor was bittersweet, but a natural part of what I like to call Parenting: Phase One.
When does Parenting: Phase One end? My husband and I believe that it ends at some point around the time your child turns eighteen and/or when he goes away to college. At that point in your “child’s” life, you’ve done pretty much all you can do to build their foundation of morals and values. They already have firm ideas of what is right and wrong; the little voice that parents work hard to install in their kids’ brain (to speak to them in the absence of said parents) is working, hopefully, and the act of parenting becomes much more passive than active.
Parenting: Phase Two, though at first thought would seem much easier, is a little harder depending on the situation. Sure, you don’t have to make their breakfast or put Band Aids on their boo-boos. You don’t have to ground them because they went to a friend’s house without telling you where they were going, leaving you to worry about them for three hours. Nagging them to make their bed? That’s over. Parenting: Phase Two is more complex. It involves standing by and staying out of day-to-day action, mainly being there to give (hopefully solicited) advice.
Since our son has been away at college (for only five days and counting), he has already had to deal up close and personal with several situations involving alcohol (fellow students offered it to him–he turned it down: yay!–and he has run into boys that were “totally wasted”), tiffs with his now-long-distance girlfriend, food plan snafus, forgotten (at home) bath towels, and several other minor events. All of these things are part of the college experience but, naturally, they caught him completely off-guard.
Luckily, he communicates with us regularly, and that’s where Parenting: Phase Two has come into practice. Rather than jumping right in to fix all of his issues like we did when he was little (Well, except for the towel thing. I put those in the mail right away!), we just listen. And when he asks us for advice? We give a little bit of it, but only after asking him to tell us what he thinks he should do.
Naturally it would be quicker and “easier” to continue parenting him in Phase One style, but that wouldn’t be doing anybody any favors. Even though it’s sometimes difficult to stand off to the side and watch him struggle through, we do it with confidence in his abilities, which in turn gives him confidence in his own abilities. Although Parenting: Phase Two began more explosively than gradually, we look forward to this new relationship with our son and can’t wait to watch him succeed–on his own, with our support–again and again.