Reflections on Back to School

by

I planned and planned and planned. There were so many lists. I thought through everything. Except for the exact moment we had to leave her. The very second we had to walk away. I hadn’t thought about that at all. 

College campus with colourful folliage

It went against everything I knew as a parent. To leave her with a bunch of strangers. My mind immediately went to snacks – how would she have enough snacks? Of course, I sent her with a tote full of snacks, but I still worried about snacks.

In retrospect, I realize my mind wandered back to her first playgroup. I stepped away to give her space, to challenge her. I did it on purpose because she was so very shy that we had to set her up in social situations where she had to fend for herself. Someone gave her raisins, one of the few things she hated. They didn’t have an alternative. I watched as she looked all around for me. The desperation in her eyes. Frantic. Real fear. She didn’t know what to do as a true introvert at 2 ½. She sat there stunned with a tiny Dixie cup full of raisins. She looked so defenseless, so unable, so maxed out.

I wasn’t prepared for walking away from her at college. I couldn’t just step back and give her space while still being there. As we said goodbye, she looked exactly the same to me as she did at 2 ½ – desperate and unable. I had confidence in her ability to navigate college, and I was excited about her future. It wasn’t that I didn’t think she could handle things. I knew she had the skills. She was not 2 ½. I just didn’t want her to feel so very afraid when I wouldn’t be there to comfort her somehow – even if it was just with a reassuring smile and nod.

The university president said, “You raised them well. You did your job. Now, it’s time for you to step back and let us do ours.” With all due respect, that is a ridiculous statement. Trust is earned. Think about it. Hazing. Sexual assault. Binge drinking

Parent dropping child off at collegeOf course, we should be open and enthusiastic about all the amazing things college has to offer our children. But let’s not be foolish. I have always been, as a friend calls me, “a pathological truth-teller.” I live based on truth and prepare accordingly. Over the years, my daughter found faculty and staff she could trust. Both of my children had wonderful college experiences, but they also had challenges along the way, some of which were pretty darn scary. I would like to think that their pathological truth-telling mother helped them prepare for the inevitable “bad stuff” that no one tells you about during college visits. It isn’t an either/or situation – college is amazing, and it is terrible. There is a story that college admissions offices do not tell about the problems that almost all students will encounter. As a professional who has worked with college students for over thirty years, I know what is never marketed. I offer workshops to help parents prepare themselves and their children for the common challenges most students will experience.