The College Conversation: Parents: it's OK to let them go

Editor's note: Lisa McLaughlin's colleague Ellen Gaddie is mother of a University of Oregon freshman and wrote this week's College Conversation.

Sunday marked the date when students in the class of 2011 must officially commit to the university of their choice, declaring their intent to register in the fall. On the one hand, congratulatory high fives take place on that annual date between parents of college-bound seniors, sending the message "Finally, our kids did it!" On the other hand, it is a bittersweet moment because the reality that your beloved offspring will soon be leading a life separate from your own has officially hit. But isn't that what we've always wanted?

According to authors Barbara K. Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore in "The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up" (Free Press), our college students want us involved in their day-to-day college lives.

I know you are thinking, "Wait a minute. Did I read that right?" Ten years ago, according to Hofer and Moore's research, college students communicated with their parents once or twice a week. Now, that interaction has increased to almost 15 times a week! We have the technological solutions and our own behavior to thank for that. We're the first generation of parents who have the ability to communicate with their child 24-7. Is this really a good thing?

What is truly surprising is that these are the same kids who have spent the last several years pretending we parents didn't exist!

"Aw, Mom, why do you have to talk to my friends? Can't you just drive our carpool and be, well, invisible?" "Dad, don't park where anyone can see you. I'll find you after the dance and whatever you do, don't come anywhere near me!"

Wow. Now they want to talk to us while they are at college? You mean, they actually miss us or just want us to continue to be their personal wake-up call service, essay editor and on-call personal counselor?

I must be in the minority. I was more than ready to let go and am ready to be the voice for others who are afraid of doing so.

I've been in the process of letting my son go since his acceptance to the college of his choice came in the mail last spring. All of a sudden, there was a change in our house, as if the home itself knew we'd be one less in a matter of months. So as a dutiful parent, I went to the freshman orientation and attended the "parent only" seminars and learned a lot about how to cut him loose.

I learned parents should let their young adult set the rules of engagement in determining by what means (Skype, cell, text), how often and when communication will occur. He'll be leading a life separate from mine and should figure out what makes sense for him, as our family schedule is fairly predictable. After all, he abided by it for 18 years.

I also learned that immediately redoing my child's room into my dream craft or fitness room is not recommended (though cleaning out 18 years of sports memorabilia and high school clutter is OK). The opinion of the student representatives at my orientation was they needed to know that some things didn't immediately change in their lives. That not having a place — their room — to return to during first-year visits was more than they could handle.

I thought that was reasonable. These kids have to adjust to some of the most stressful events — all at once. Most adults wouldn't dream of that undertaking: moving to a new place, living with individuals they have never met before and starting a higher education career. So I've delayed the contractor a bit and will make do with walking by the empty, unlived-in, but neat bedroom belonging to my son.

Our generation has been referred to as the helicopter parents. I have to say this is disheartening. Yet, I am hopeful that today's "Velcro parents," my peers, moms in particular, will be able to begin doing the right thing and cut the apron strings, allowing their baby bird to fly the coop, even if that baby still wants you to be their wake-up call or term paper proofreader. Resist. Remember that it's not about us. It's about them. And it's about allowing them to use all the lessons we've taught them to navigate their own lives.

ELLEN GADDIE graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism radio/TV broadcasting from San Jose State University with a minor in marketing. She switched gears to focusing on education issues when her children started school, holding several leadership positions at both the school and council level. She works at EDvantage College Consulting. Send questions and comments to Ellen@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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