Remember when I told you all about our drop off for college kid #2 this year? (See: 1000 miles) Okay, it really was only two weeks ago. As I was sitting down to continue discussing parenting adult kids and actually answering the questions I posted last week, the phone dinged. As it has gone the last two weeks, I hear from Katie most mornings. It’s usually a quick chat as she goes to class or grabs breakfast. This was different. Whether it’s distance, change, loneliness or just plain not feeling well, she was more down. As with any time one of our kids call, we have options.
First, let me just go back to last weeks blog post. (See: Control or Influence) Did you catch last week how I really didn’t give any practical advice on parenting adult kids? I gave one of the keys that gives us the ability to parent them, influence and trust. You may have been left scratching your head and thinking, this wasn’t helpful at all! I believe a foundation is always necessary to build anything of substance. The beauty of relationships is it’s never too late to invest in them and to build or rebuild upon the foundation. Now before we get too much further into this story, let me just say, I have not gotten it all right. In fact I have missed the mark in parenting and how I’ve handled situations with my adult kids more times than I like to admit. It gives me though the first piece of advice I would give anyone for their kids.
Tell your kids how you’ve messed up or missed the mark.
I feel like I have built more credibility by admitting my shortcomings and failures and asking them for forgiveness. I don’t do it often enough and if our kids (and us) can’t learn from them, then what is the point? This requires sometimes we share with our kids the less flattering sides of ourselves. Now this doesn’t mean you dig up all the dirt you can and have a uncomfortable conversation but try to remember what it was like when you were their age and use your experiences to share in God given moments.
This brings me back to today and college kid #2. Following a few texts we got the phone call. If you have ever sent your kid to college you probably know the call I’m talking about. It’s not the “I can’t find my class” or “Where do I wash my clothes?”, it was the tone of her voice and what wasn’t said.
Immediately, I made myself pause and think twice.
More than anything, brains or beauty, I want and prayed my kids would love Jesus, follow His will for their lives and be kind. I want them to work hard and have compassion. I want them to be independent but humble enough to accept help. When Morgan went to college I knew I would need to back off and be quiet. Encourage her, yes, and even give her a nudge once in a while. She swam since she was 8 years old so her transition to college included being on the swim team. For me, that meant I knew she would have an instant group of friends. She would have routine and be busy enough to keep her going through the adjustment of going away. Or so I thought. She called crying over FaceTime several times a week. Who created that anyway? SOOOO painful to see her cry so much and watch her struggle. And that’s what we did. We didn’t call her, we waited. And when she did call, we watched and listened. Sure we would encourage her to hang in there and tell her it would be okay but we didn’t go rescue her. I always paused and thought twice before and during our conversations. Why? Because I am a fixer. I want to rescue you from danger (or anything perceived as such) and make things all better. There were even times (sorry Morgan) that I didn’t answer the phone and handed it to my husband Ryan. It was so hard on my momma heart.
Three years later and here I am again. Katie’s on the other side of the phone and I paused and thought twice. I suggested a walk and Starbucks (because doesn’t that make everything better?) but I held back asking leading questions like “are you unhappy” or “do you want to come home”.
My job now as a parent is to let my kids live their lives. Encouraging them while pausing long enough to think twice before I speak to them. Am I telling them what I want them to do or am I guiding them to help them make the best decisions for their lives?
Our kids know how we would answer most questions. Sometimes they are looking for an out and other times they need us to parent them in a way that encourages their independence and affirms what feels so daring to them in that moment.
Build a foundation of influence and trust, admitting and apologizing when you make mistakes, and pausing to think twice. For anyone sending off their kids to college, these are the lessons I’ve learned and things that have helped me to along the way.
Living day to day-
Parenting adult kids. Those three words together seems a little odd. Parenting kids, yeah, that makes total sense. Parenting adults, not so much. I mean, how much can you really control when your child turns 18 and goes off into the world?
I’m in this in between season of having two kids leave the nest, so to speak, and two who I’m still buckling up for the teenage years. There is a little bit of common sense in parenting adult kids and then there is a whole lot of questions that begin with “how much”.
How much to do you call them once you’ve dropped them off at college? How much advice do you give them? How much do you still ask where they are and if they are making good choices?
I had so many of these when my first, Morgan, went to school. Bless her, she’s the firstborn and who I called our experimental child. Everything we did first and right, we did with her. Everything we did first and wrong……we did with her. So as I found myself navigating questions like, “Did we do enough to prepare her?” and “Is she ready?”, what I really was saying, was, I don’t feel like I did enough and I’m not ready. Can anyone else relate?
I asked the question at the beginning, how much can you really control when your child goes off into the world? Let’s just clear something up, it’s not really about control. I’ve learned this year in a big way, I have control issues. In January I did a 30 day fast and focused my prayer on what I felt God needed me to work on that was keeping me from him. Funny thing about God, if you ask and listen, he will answer. Over and over, he said I needed to work on control. What I have learned is it’s an illusion. The more I try to grasp control, the more I realize it’s not something I can attain. There’s not an end to the hunt and pursuit. The more I tried to gain control in my marriage, my parenting and even launching my adult kids, the more I realized it was crippling me with anxiety and fear.
So if it’s not about control, you might be asking what it is about? It’s about influence. We can’t control our kids but we can have influence. We have 18 years to lay a foundation of trust with our kids. That foundation opens the door and gives us the ability to speak into our kids lives when they become adults. If you can build trust and grow your influence, you don’t need the illusion of control. Guide them, yes. Give them advice when they ask, yes, and continue to teach them when needed but not control. And while every child tests the waters (some more than others), some are known to test them when they launch. Listening to their parents may seem….optional for a season. Some do, some don’t and some will test their new independence by departing from you not just physically but emotionally. I wish I could say one size fits all but kids are not cookie cutter. They are each different in the way they respond and spread their wings no matter if you think you parented them in the same way. See what I said there? We want to believe we are parenting each child equally and the same but because our kids are different, often times we parent them accordingly. Our personalities either do or don’t mesh all the time and they will or won’t flourish how we think they should. While I can’t control my kids, I can pray for them, I can talk to them and more importantly listen to them. One of the biggest ways I learned how to parent adult kids and develop my influence with them was watching and learning from those who have gone before me.
I learned to listen to wise women but not listen to everyone.
I think that last sentence has shaped not only my parenting but every aspect of my life. You can read all the books, listen to all the podcasts and talk to every girlfriend but often end up as confused and frustrated as when you began. You only need to sit by the feet of those who have shown they are modeling what you are looking for. Pray for discernment and then use it when God gives it to you. Choose wisely whom you will glean from. While most people are very well intended they don’t know your child like you do. God loves relationship and puts people in our lives for a reason. They are there to help us walk this road and to show us what it’s like to live through the defeats and celebrate the victories. I believe we all need a few good women that allow us to come along for the ups as well as the downs in parenting.
Oh how I wish someone had told me years ago to work on parenting with the mindset of building trust and influence. There’s a window of time in your kids lives where you want to give them room to make mistakes but it be under your roof. You want to start letting go without giving up on them. You need to speak to them, and often but at the same time listen, with your heart. Parenting is not for the faint at heart and neither is sending them off into the world.
While I’m not an expert and still have two to launch, I am learning. I am also thankful for the wise women in my life whom have shaped my parenting and helped me build influence in my kids lives. If you are looking for and need women in your life to help shape your parenting and influence, I encourage you to start with one step. Pray. Ask God to put into your life those whom are the best for you to watch and learn.
Living day to day-
Three years ago we took a short drive three hours from our home and dropped off our oldest, Morgan, at college. Since this was pre-covid, there were plenty of college kids there to welcome, distract and immediately plug Morgan in. She was going to the university my husband and I met at so there was comfort in knowing the school, the town and even friends who still lived there. While it was hard to leave her, she was close and I knew her surroundings.
Jump forward three years and here I am again. The original plan for our second daughter Katie and her first choice school was to be five hours from home. This changed when God said, nope, not going to happen. I say it was God because we did all we could humanly possible to make it happen for her. So into this summer we found ourselves shifting……to 1000 miles away. Let me spell that our further. It’s a 17 hour drive. Two days of caravanning across the country with packed cars. This kid isn’t going to have the luxury of driving home on a weekend. She’s going to settling in for 12 weeks.
While in my mind I have known the distance, the length of how long she’ll be gone, it really didn’t hit me until the day before we left. As we were all sitting at church in one long row and eating lunch afterwards, I thought, this was it. All six of us together again won’t happen for a little while.
Each child is different in personally, resiliency and interests. Katie is no different. She’s strong, independent and knows what she likes and wants in life. All these traits made me think this was going to be easier than Morgan. While Morgan was ready, I wasn’t as confident as a parent. This time I thought it would be different.
Thanks to covid, everything feels “off”. Not only is Katie going far away, the day we moved her in her dorm this week was the first time we had been in the city or stepped foot on the campus. Ever. Everything is new, we didn’t know our way around and all I could think was, this is a big mistake. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud but I’m sure I’m not the first or last parent to have these emotions and thoughts. I kept thinking, what have we done? What are we doing? There’s still time to pack her back up and bring her home.
Don’t worry, we didn’t do that. Instead we decorated her room, made a trip to Walmart for all the things she needed/wanted and said “see ya soon”. Yes I cried but by then both Katie and I felt better about it. Her confidence was reassuring and her smile let me know it would all be okay.
I’m pretty sure going to college is harder on the parents in some ways than the kids. Have we done enough to prepare her? Is she going to be safe and okay?
Here’s the deal, she’s never been mine. At least not completely. She’s a gift. A gift from God that He allowed for me to take care these past 18 years. I dedicated her to Him and as much as I love her, there is someone who cares even more for her. Trusting in that is the only and best thing I can do right now. God has been teaching me lately that I am not in control. I try. Really hard. But ultimately when I surrender and let God lead the way, things always turn out the best. So today I am reminded that though 1000 miles seems far away, Katie is never without the Lord. He is with her always. To guide her, comfort her and direct her if she chooses herself to trust Him and give Him control.
Living day to day-
P.S. I may have already planned a trip to see Katie during parents weekend. 9 weeks and counting…