Post-College Parenting: Now What?

It’s unusual timing but in just five short weeks my daughter will be presenting her final project to graduate from college.  It feels like we dropped her off for her first semester just yesterday and I couldn’t be prouder of the woman she’s become in the process of pursuing her education.  I’m moved beyond words at the opportunities her college has provided her, and, I think, might continue to provide her beyond graduation.  Without question, this was the right school for her and the right environment to nurture her potential and encourage her growth.

Now that I’m older, transitions make me uncomfortable and I go through them thinking to myself “change is good, change is good” in an attempt to calm myself.  But I can remember being fresh out of college and eager for change, ready to take risks, and launch into the world.  I see that excitement in the faces of my clients who are ready to start or end college, just as I see it in my daughter.  This is the age of fearless exploration and boundless self-confidence.  This is the age where the brain is still like a thirsty sponge, capable of learning multiple things quickly, but with the depth of maturity to be able to learn them deeply, to analyze data from various perspectives and then come to one’s own conclusion, and with incredible creativity.  In case you’ve forgotten, people this age also have incredible amounts of energy, which is good because they are doing a lot of things!

My daughter’s graduation feels to me like another level of letting go.  Launching into the relative containment of college feels and is very different from launching into the big, wide world.  She could go anywhere and do anything, she’s about to cut the purse strings and really be her own person – well, she always was but, like I said, this feels different.

At this age, our kids aren’t kids anymore.  They are becoming the captains of their ships and, if we’re lucky, have everything they need to determine their direction and follow their dreams.  And yet in so many ways they still need to develop and grow, all at the same time.  It’s so exciting for them and it’s breathtaking to watch.  

So how do we parents go through this transition in a gracious and generous way?  I’ve come up with a few ideas.

  1.  Be respectful – Although many recent graduates aren’t quite sure what they want to do next, it’s our job as parents to be respectful of their process and their choices.  They may skyrocket to the top of their field very quickly and they may stumble at the gate.  Either way, it’s time for us to step back and let them take their chances.
  2. Be supportive –  As parents, we’ve been our kids’ cheerleaders.  I think that’s a life-long stance and it requires some finesse based on the age and stage of our children.  At this point, it’s about conveying confidence in our child’s ability to find their way and keeping our concerns and criticisms about their choices to ourselves. If help is requested, our job is to help our adult children strategize, to hear their pros and cons and  other thoughts about their situation in an attempt to elicit their own clarity.  It’s also our job not to be married to the outcome.  This is their life, not ours.
  3. Don’t Be a Drama Mama or Papa – This isn’t about you.  It’s a tall order to suddenly make it in the world and not everyone knows exactly what they will do or where they will go when they finish school.  One pressure we can take off our kids is our lamentations when they make a choice we don’t like.  Maybe they are taking a job across the country (or the world), maybe they are planning to wait tables while they await their big break into show biz.  Whatever their decision is, it doesn’t help (and it’s not supportive or respectful) when we parents react as though their decision is a big disappointment to us.  It’s time to be interactive and not reactive!
  4. I’m being a hypocrite here but Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice!  Remember The Graduate?  Great flick.  Poor Dustin Hoffman floats around in his parents’ pool wondering what the heck to do with his life.  “Plastics!” Says a well-meaning friend.  In other words, go for the money and not something personally meaningful.  It’s hard to keep mouths shut when we feel our years of wisdom would smooth someone else’s path – especially our own kids’ path.  But think about how much you appreciate unsolicited advice and then act accordingly.  If you manage to keep the doors of communication open, your advice might just be requested s0 be ready!

I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes in this phase of parenting, just like I did in all the others.  But I’m on a learning curve.  I’m open to direction from my kids and I’m fairly certain if I cross a line, they will let me know.  I have five weeks, and most of the rest of you have at least until May.  I’ll keep you posted!