Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week in a college apartment building. Our son and his roommates were at training camp; so we were able to stay at his apartment. While we were there, many students were moving into the off-campus apartment which is really on campus but not university owned. So proud parents were busing moving in their sons and daughters into the new building. These were’t freshmen or sophomore students. These were mostly juniors and up, students who have been around and knew the ropes.
So with pride, parents moved their kids in during the day, but at night, those kids became people I’m sure their parents didn’t raise. There’s only one elevator in the building; so I got to see and observe a lot of behaviors that will make parents cringe. For example, one evening I stood waiting for the elevator when three female students stood and waited with me. They started talking when one asked the other, “What’s that guy’s name again?” “I don’t know.” “How do you not know his name. You just hooked up with him.” “I know it. But I don’t know when you put me on the spot.” I’m sure this young woman’s parents didn’t raise her to hook up with a guy whose name she cannot even recall. This isn’t about passing judgment. This is about making an evaluation. So for parents, how do you reconcile the kid you raised with the person they become in college or away from home?
During the day, parents gleefully moved in their kids to college to prepare for a great future. At night, those same kids become complete drunks not lucid enough to walk without running to walls. If you’re a parent, how do you respond or reconcile that? I’m sure when we were kids, we did things that our parents didn’t know about and if they did, they wouldn’t have been happy. But we live in different times, and thanks to social media, today’s bad behaviors can haunt your college kids for years to come.
So how much do you know about the private lives of your college kids, and do you even want to know? How do you come to grips with that kid in college versus the one you raised for 18 years? The following are five ways to reconcile the kid you raised with the one who acts like a fool in college…
1. Know you did your best
Your college age children’s bad choices are in no way an indictment of your parenting skills, unless you were drinking and doing drugs with them in high school or promoted drugs and alcohol; even so, adult kids should know better and aim to do better even if their parents weren’t and didn’t. Your college kids’ life choices have to be their responsibility. But if you’ve been a good parent, taught them right from wrong and held them accountable for their actions, you’ve done all you can. Yes, you’d like them to listen to your wisdom and insights and make better choices, but the choice is theirs. Trust that you did your best and that one day, they will return to what they’ve been taught.
2. Don’t internalize their mistakes
There are good parents whose kids make bad choices. The key to dealing with your kids’ bad behavior at college or away from home is not to internalize their bad choices and actions. Your college kids’ choices are their choices. Good or bad, they must own it. You cannot internalize their choices. It’s not about you. It’s about them, their choices, decisions, and actions. At some points, their lives have to become their responsibility. So let it.
3. Be an encourger, not an enabler
I know you want to protect your kids from the bad choices they make, but by not holding them accountable, you become part of the problem. If you keep enabling their bad behaviors and rescuing them when they make bad choices, they’ll never learn and you’re only stifling their growth and maturation. Encourage them when they make good decisions and achieve. Hold them countable when they mess up and squander opportunities. Don’t be so quick to rescue them when they get themselves in trouble. Let them feel the heat. Let them feel the consequences and repercussions of their choices and actions. If you’re always running to their rescue, how will they ever learn to do better or be better?
4. Feel no guilt
Don’t lose sleep or peace over your college kids’ bad choices and behaviors. You have spent 18 plus years sacrificing and doing the best you can. This is your time to enjoy your life. Feel no guilt about that. Yes, you probably could’ve done a lot of things better or differently, but your college kids have to now take responsibility for their actions, choices and habits. Don’t let your adult kids’ drama bring you down. Keep your peace. Live your life. Embrace joy and enjoy each day. Don’t make their troubles yours and don’t blame yourself. Plus blaming yourself won’t make your badly behaving college kids’ lives better. Better choices by your college kids is the only thing that can improve their lives. Plus worrying about what you can’t control will bring your life pain, stress and eventually death.
5. Remember, you’re not God
You are not God. Trust God to help them, but you cannot become their savior. You are their parents. With your kids being adults, your job as a parent is really more of a consultant. You can give advice and recommendations, but the choices are theirs; so the consequences must be theirs as well. Pray for them. Give them over to God. That’s the most important and effective thing you can do for them.