Dear Newfound College Parents, Do Not Rescue Your Children

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“OK parents of brand new college students, there is a thing that might happen and I need us to be prepared.

Roughly 8 ½ out of 10 of us will get a phone call from a super miserable college kid.

Like, flat out miserable.

They will be friendless, homesick, overwhelmed by the work, unsure of their every decision and will be quite certain things will never get better.

Every molecule in your body will scream, ‘Baby don’t worry! Mama’s here! I AM COMING TO SAVE YOU FROM THIS CRUEL COLD WORLD AND ALSO I WILL BAKE YOU COOKIES AND WHEN CAN I BOOK YOUR FLIGHT HOME?’

You must under no circumstances do the very thing you feel you need to do in your soul…rescue them.

Your child is on the Hot Mess Express and it is a ride they have to take to get to This-New-Place-Feels-Like-Home Junction.

Do not pull them off the train.

Also do not get on with them and lament that yes everything is horrible because that is a straight shot to Sad Sack City.

Instead, you need to run alongside that train waving your hat saying things like, ‘You’ve got this it’ll all be OK!,’ ‘It’ll be a short ride and you’ll be so happy when you get there!’ or ‘Keep your dorm room open so people can see you are home!’ or ‘Look straight ahead so you don’t get train sick!’

That is it.

Listen to them.

Validate their feelings because the adjustment can be hard and long and feel not so great.

It’s OK for them to struggle and they might just need to talk about how crappy it all is.

But they also need us to believe in them.

They won’t always believe they can do it so we need to step it up and tell them they indeed can.

Remind them they are a gift from God to the world and that they’ve had friends before and they will again and their little brother still thinks they’re the coolest.

And I know what you are thinking, What if they are not OK?

What if this all is a disaster and the right thing to do is to bring them home?

I hear you, and on the off chance that is the case you need them to tell you when that time is.

And it isn’t on weekend two when they still don’t have a friend.

It isn’t even on weekend four when they are still sitting in their dorm room.

A good rule is to make them stay put for at least six to eight weeks, especially if they are having a hard time.

Yes this will basically feel like forever to both you and your miserable child.

But something happens around the 6 week mark.

They make friends, or at least one friend.

They connect with a professor.

They break down and join something, anything.

They realize they know the way to all their classes and have a new favorite coffee at the coffee shop.

Someone invites them to a party and they go and it isn’t a nightmare.

The cafeteria staff starts to recognize them and lets them know when they’re going to make more potstickers.

And they have made connections all on their own.

Of course the conversations you have had and the bazillion prayers you have prayed have helped but basically they own this.

They have carved out a new home without anyone else and it will feel amazing.

Do not steal this from them.

Sit with them, coach them, pray for them, but make them stay on that train.

It will be one of the hardest things you have ever done.

I know, I have done it once and I have four more in line to allow me to experience this joy of parenting again, and again, and again and again.

Unless they choose to just stay with me forever which at least one of them still promises to do. #liar

Surround yourself with support because you will need it too.

You will see pictures online and think all the other kids in the land are happy but yours.

But if you ask a parent or two you may find they are right there with you.

At least 8 1/2 of them.

We’ve got this friends and so do they.

teen posing in doorway
Courtesy of Amy Betters-Midtvedt

Update to add: Of course If your student is struggling with mental health issues help them connect with support on their campus and then know when to fold them. You know your child best and you’ll want to watch for all the red flags. But most of our kids just need time.”

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