Parent Blog

Parenting a college student is a different stage and requires different parenting skills and perspectives. Sarah Butler and occasional guest bloggers will share some insights to help you on the journey. You're not alone!


by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member

As a kid, I always thought it was an advantage to have a summer birthday. I was never expected to go to school on my special day but I still had the privilege of bringing treats to school on my half-birthday. So, as a parent, I thought I hit the birthday jackpot when my two were born in June and July. Planning backyard parties was a kick. My kids chose predictable favorites for their birthday meal and I invited them to help me plan activities, knowing the mess would stay outdoors. That made it easy for my kiddos to anticipate the fun and hard for them to be disappointed.
My strategy was born out of seeing anticipation outpace reality. I remember my sister often being disappointed on her birthday. When I was growing up, planning didn’t often involve kids, so it was easy for my sister to imagine something much grander than reality. When it was my turn, I had high hopes that I could avoid disappointment by engaging my kids in more discussion.
We are often victims of our own “hoped-fors” instead of masters of our “planned-fors” and birthdays are not the only time we are vulnerable. Fall Semester starts in short order. With our students in college countdown mode, it is easy for hopes to get ahead of plans. While we are busy packing in the last family picnic of the summer, getting the commuter car in shape, or shopping for the dorm room supplies, it is easy to be wrapped up in getting the semester started and forget to discuss what will happen next. How will we (or how often will we) communicate? Do we expect them to share their grades? When do we expect them to be home (or when do we expect them to stay on campus)? Who is footing the bill? In the business of the wrap-up and jump-off, have we forgotten the what-then?
I recently heard expectation defined as predictive disappointment. That certainly applies to my sister's experiences with birthdays. In order to avoid dashed hopes, we could try to eliminate expectations all together. Stephen Hawking once said, “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” Perhaps a birthday bash always exceeds your expectations if you didn’t recall it was your birthday. Then again, it is also true that raising expectations can help us achieve excellence—if goals are clear—and shared. Earning an A on an Organic Chemistry exam is unlikely if we thought we should study our Medieval History notes instead. When it comes to our college-bound kids, what are the hopes we didn’t plan for that could result in disappointment? How do we manage our expectations as we transition to a new chapter in our relationship so that we are helping them reach their potential? Acknowledge your "hoped fors” and let them steer you to planned conversations. Pick a topic or two. Ask for a discussion where parents and students can both share their expectations. For example:
COMMUNICATION: This is your first year with a college student. Your habit has been to text with your student throughout the day and you are looking forward to hearing the "blow-by-blow." Your student may need a longer tether and appreciate the discussion about how often you each hope to be in touch. It’s easier to reach a compromise if you understand each other's expectations.

GRADES: You might hope your son will readily share his grades. You know college requires a much greater level of self-discipline and are not certain he’s prepared. You expect he’ll need an accountability system to make sure solid habits are established from the start. Since the federal privacy act (FERPA), means parents do not receive a copy of student grades, you are pretty sure he won’t offer to share unless you have agreed on a system in advance and reasonable consequences if a course correction is needed.
TIME AT HOME: You might hope that your commuter student would have some meals with the family during the week but return to campus for weekend social opportunities. You might hope that your residential student is making campus their home and building meaningful relationships without coming home on the weekend. Commuter or resident--you may hope that they will do their own laundry! A discussion with your commuter establishes how their schedule fits in with family plans. Your resident student likely needs your affirmation that you know that there are activities EVERY weekend for them at UNW and you are not expecting them home until Thanksgiving. You may actually need to speak the words, "Laundry lives where you do and adults do their own.” 

FINANCES: You may want your daughter to have a job to pay for books and expenses or you may want her to prioritize for getting academics underway before she attempts balancing work and school. Your son might be expecting you to pay for gas money and take out loans without his help. This is a better now-than-later discussion!

I love how Proverbs 24:14 tells us, “Wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short” (ESV). Could it be that if we know and understand each other’s expectations our hopes might also be realized? Is it possible that talking about mutual expectations with our college students brings a greater likelihood of peace in our relationship? We aren’t talking about birthday parties, but being a college student is worth celebrating so it also deserves planful discussions to avoid disappointment and achieve satisfying results.



by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member

Two hundred and forty one years after Independence Day, we still celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, when our 13 colonies declared themselves a new nation, separate and distinct from the British Empire. Festivals, family gatherings, political speeches, and parades all mark the occasion, with many including fireworks finales.
This massive celebration of our historic emancipation from our motherland is well earned. The coming of age for us as a nation came only through deep struggle and suffering in a bloody war for our independence. The great minds that birthed our Declaration of Independence and Constitution gained a sober understanding that it would likely take more sacrifice and loss of life to preserve our ideals. Those profound lessons served as the foundation for our nation. The remembrance of the milestones are intended to help preserve our national values.

It strikes me that our transition from colonies to country is a nation-sized example of a rite of passage, marking the cultural transformation from struggling youth to growing maturity. Milestones that mark the coming of age for boys and girls becoming young men and women reinforce the views and values embedded in their cultural context. Across the world, some rites of passage also include great lessons through suffering. For example, young boys belonging to the indigenous Sateré-Mawé tribe in the Amazon mark the introduction to manhood at 13 in a jungle initiation that includes the toxic and excruciating stings of dozens of angry bullet ants. The boys accept the pain--and the temporary paralysis--without crying out, demonstrating their cultural value for men who are tough and resilient.

Historical practices in marking maturity may also look more civilized. For centuries, 13 has also represented the entry into adulthood in the Jewish culture. Many scholars attribute this milestone for young men to Abraham’s celebration of Isaac’s coming of age. Now, Jewish boys and girls around the world celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs in order to demonstrate their command of scripture, commitment to Jewish law, and readiness to participate in religious ceremonies reserved for adults. The preparation is a head and heart discipline, rather than a physical test of maturity, signifying an intentional training for a responsible life of faith. The name bar/bat mitzvah literally means son or daughter of the law, emphasizing mental and emotional growth as well as increasing responsibility and culpability. Ceremonies generally include both a reading from the Torah by the young adult and a reception as grand as a wedding to celebrate this milestone.
In our Christian communities, strong, brave, and resilient might look more like readiness to do battle with our culture. In Raising a Modern-Day Knight, Robert Lewis outlines an approach that equips boys to be men by teaching three essential elements that include a vision, a code of conduct, and a transcendent cause (Christianity) in which to invest his life. Similarly, Raising a Modern-Day Princess, by Pam Farrel and Doreen Hanna, emphasizes training and discipline that allows girls to model the attributes of a daughter of the King. Ultimately, both culminate in a celebration of Christian character and growth in independence with support from family and community. 

Our lesson learned might be that young men and women will not learn all they need to know for a smooth transition to adulthood without opportunities to exercise their maturity muscles. While we may not need a war for our territory, a contracted "declaration of independence," or a book of adult "laws," how are we schooling our sons and daughters in the skills they need for life? What battles are we allowing them to fight to secure their independence? When are we allowing their will and endurance to be tested? What are the marks of adulthood we are looking for in their lives--spiritually, emotionally, socially, and financially? How are we encouraging them to reach these milestones and how are we celebrating their accomplishments? 

I do believe that our job as parents centers on the tough goal of gaining grown-ups. It is likely that we have not reached all the milestones with our young adults by age 13, but we are still our children’s primary influencers and we can approach parenting with purpose and intentionality. We can still set goals for emancipation, identify milestones worth marking, and look forward to celebrating our children’s hard won independence. When we get there, I am thinking that it might just deserve fireworks!