How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

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9 months have come and gone – and it’s time to move my B out of his freshman dorm. I wish you could see me now, typing and shaking my head in total disbelief! I just don’t know where the time went?

If you followed my journey through his senior year in high school, you know I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Honestly – I wrote so much I felt like I wasn’t just wearing my heart on my sleeve – but vomiting my every thought and feeling out into the world.  I may have gone to the other extreme this year, by writing very little about B’s freshman year.  But here we are, 9 months later – and I’m happy to announce that I SURVIVED!

If you read no further – I can leave you with the fact that this life changing transition IS survivable.  It’s not an overnight thing.  It’s a long, slow transition.  And while I can’t say I’ve gotten used to B not being home, I think I’ve learned to accept it.  Looking back, there were a few key things that helped me survive this past year…

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

 

Establish communication boundaries & expectations

About a week before B left for school I asked him to have a conversation with me about communicating while he was away at school. Then I burst into tears. Not an uncommon reaction for me at that time! I wanted to hear his thoughts on how often he thought he’d like to be in communication with me, and I of course needed to share with him what my expectations were.

I was beyond grateful when he volunteered the idea of talking on the phone once a week, since that completely matched my desire. When it came to texting, he only asked that I not blow him up (aka – text constantly, repeatedly and non stop). That was probably a smart request on his part, since I could have easily worn the skin on my thumb pads from over texting those first few days (weeks and months!).

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I told B that texting him would be a way for me to reach out when I was thinking of him (aka – missing him desperately!), and that it would actually help me move on in the moment, versus dwelling in my sadness.   So we came to the agreement that if my text contained a question, I would expect a response. But if I was just touching base, sharing a thought or letting him know I was thinking of him, he wasn’t required to reply (although he usually did anyway – because he’s just that kind of guy!).

Every family is different. Our plan may not fit you and your family. But I guarantee that having the conversation ahead of time, setting rules, boundaries and expectations that work for your relationship, will ease so much of the transition.

Be patient and listen

The first few weeks (and months) of B’s freshman year I felt like an addict in need of my drug.  Our planned talk day was Monday.  So on Saturdays, I was counting the hours until we spoke again. By the time I heard his deep voice say “Hi Mom”, my need for feeling connected had turned into this unbearable sense of urgency.  I would bombard him with questions, but never really give him enough time to answer fully, before I threw the next question at him.  My excitement (and need) for information caused me to break all the relationship rules I had previously lived by.

The conversations felt awkward at times. Probably because we needed to transition from a face to face relationship to a long distance phone relationship.  Without the visual cues we’ve come to rely on, we have to relearn how to have a conversation by phone.  Moments of silence go unnoticed when you are face to face. But on the phone, those quiet gaps are so loud!

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I’ve learned to be quiet and patient through those gaps. In fact – I’ve discovered that the magic happens on the other side of that silence.  As I stopped talking (duct tape helps), I found that B began to open up and share more, which in turn resulted in the ebb and flow of a real conversation versus the question and answer sessions of those first few calls.

With patience, comes the ability to really listen. When I say “listen”, I don’t mean to use your ears to hear their voice, nor do I mean to simply not talk.  What I mean is, LISTEN to the depth of what they are really saying, the emotions they are feeling and the meaning behind their words.

I didn’t just survive B’s freshman year this way – I think the two of us thrived in our communication skills and our relationship as a whole.

Learn how to parent – an adult child

There was a 48 hour time frame in August between when we arrived in Boulder as a family and when we departed as a 3-some, leaving B to his new life. It was during this time that I first began to experience this phenomena of needing to relearn how to parent…an adult child.  My mothering instincts wanted to take over; to plan, schedule, organize and control all the details of this physical transition. But I pulled back, not wanting to embarrass him.

However, each time I’ve been with B this year, I find myself parenting him like he was a child. I reminded him daily to take his antibiotic when he had strep throat over the holidays. I reviewed his packing list for our ski trip, making sure he had all the necessities. I even found myself sharing details of his shell fish allergy with a waitress, while he sat right next to me. When she left the table, he actually turned to me and said  (with a smile on his face)“I can order for myself Mom”.

Uugghh – stab me in the heart!

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Parenting an adult child is an art, and I feel like I’m coloring outside the lines with chunky crayons. We will always be our children’s parents. But the job of parenting transitions over time. We don’t communicate with a 2 year old the same way we do with a 9 year old.   An 11 year old needs different boundaries and conversations than a 16 year old. While our adult-child grows and develops, so must we, in our parenting. I know I’m right in the middle of this long transition.  I don’t think I will ever stop parenting – but perhaps I need to learn to stop mothering, at least unsolicited mothering.

You might have a fear – but it’s not reality

Fear can be paralyzing!  The more we think about the thing that scares us, the bigger the fear grows and the more power it has.  When B was a toddler, I was afraid he might choke on small toys, so I baby proofed the house. When he was 8, I was afraid he might get hurt riding his bike, so I made him wear a helmet and limited where he could ride. When he was 13, I was afraid he might get mixed up in the wrong crowd and make bad choices, so as his circle of friends grew, I made a point to meet each of them, as well as their parents. When he was 16, I was afraid of all that could go wrong with him being a new driver on the road.  So I set non-negotiable driving rules regarding texting, speeding, curfew and more.

The reality is that I can no longer control the situation in an effort to both protect him and ease my fears. There have been times during these past 9 months when the fear has risen like spit-up in my throat.  I hope and pray that I have done everything possible to raise him to make the right choices in his life. But I was a 19 year old college student once…that did a lot of things that would scare many parents.

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I survived my moments of fear this past year by acknowledging that I HAD my fear, but that it wasn’t a reality – and as simple as it sounds, just accepting that I had absolutely no control in the matter.  That instantly took me to a place of peace.  The most challenging part has been trying not to act on or make decisions from a place of fear.

So here I sit, 9 months later…

His dorm room has been packed and put into storage.  His freshman year has come to a close.  I might have just survived it – but thankfully B thrived in it!  Now, I am just hours from boarding a plane home…without him!

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While I fly back to Virginia, he will be heading to Argentina for 3 weeks of education, adventure and fun!  The fear is choking me.  My head knows how freaking amazing this opportunity is, but the mama bear in me (my heart) wants him to stay here, safe on U.S. soil.  I had to make the choice to not allow my fears to impede him living his most awesome life.

I survived his freshman year of college – I can survive 3 weeks of travel abroad.  It may not be a pretty 3 weeks – but I’m going to take all that I learned this year and put it into practice.

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

Spending My Time Being a Mom

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Yeah, I know.  It’s been a while!  I guess on my journey to awesomeness I got slightly sidetracked.  Isn’t that kind of how life works?  So I’m trying to stop feeling guilty about not writing my blog posts in a while.  But I can’t quite shake my sense of obligation to you.  I feel like I started a journey with you, like I grabbed your hand and said “come on, let’s go on this ride together”, and somewhere along the way I let go of your hand.  I feel like I let you down.

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So what have I been up to?  Some unexpected awesomeness!  This past year, with my oldest son living out his senior year in high school, has really, and I mean REALLY, taught me the meaning of living in the moment and being present.  I thought I had learned that lesson before.  Now I know I was just dabbling in the concept.

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As this year unfolded, I grabbed absolutely every opportunity I could to spend any amount of time with him.  Five minutes chatting in the kitchen as he passed from the garage to his bedroom.  An impromptu invitation to join me at Starbucks on his way home from school.  A thirty minute game of cribbage.  A two hour shopping trip for some new clothes.  A morning bike ride through the park.  Anytime he was willing and wanting to be with me, I seized the moment!

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I didn’t just seize it – I soaked it in, I embraced it and sometimes I held onto it for dear life.

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Thankfully I’m a good student and learned my lessons quickly.  My youngest is just a freshman in high school, but I already know how fast the next few years will go.  So while I was learning the truest meaning of being present with Ben, I was also practicing it with Peter.

I guess you could say I’ve been focused on being a mom.

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Regardless of what I may have thought this chapter of my journey should or would look like, the reality is that it’s all about being a mom – being the most awesome mom I possibly could be.  All that really means is taking the time to focus on my kids, to be present to them and to strengthen my relationship with them…so that they know, regardless of time or distance, I will always and forever be the president of their fan club, the voice of reason when their perception is distorted, their pillar of strength when they need something to lean on, and their soft place to land when they fall.

Having said all that, I guess there’s not too much to feel guilty about!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

Being an Imperfect Parent

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I had only been a mom for a few short months, but I was already over analyzing my every move, wondering if I was doing it right.  The thought of making a mistake filled me with fear as I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, knowing that I was responsible for this little infant’s future.

As though it were yesterday, I can still hear my aunt’s words of wisdom in my head.  She said ” You are going to make mistakes as  a mother.  Something you do or say, or don’t do and don’t say, will invariably send your child into therapy.  That’s the nature of parenting.  So don’t worry so much about it.  Just love your children and do the best you can.”

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Those words gave me the freedom to own my imperfections as a parent.  Instead of fearing my mistakes, I could embrace them as an opportunity, a teaching moment for both myself and my children.

I have over reacted, spoken harshly, said “No” before hearing the full request, only half listened as they talked to me, raised my voice in anger…..oh the list goes on.

It’s the list of being human.

Yet the look on their little faces when I unnecessarily yelled at them, or spoke in a way that made them feel less than how awesome they really are, that look in their eyes that says “you wounded my soul”, that made me feel more like a monster than a human.

The guilt that follows is tangible – it is heavy, heart wrenching guilt.

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Parenting is the hardest job in the world.  There is no instruction manual, no rule book, no recipe, no parenting mentor overseeing the job we do day in and day out.  Parenting is subjective, and at times a very lonely job.

But I can tell you with certainty, one of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to accept responsibility when we falter as parents.  When we apologize for our mistakes, we can heal the wound we created with our words and actions.  It teaches our children authenticity, responsibility, respect and forgiveness.

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You will make mistakes – that’s just the nature of parenting.

But remember, in the midst of your mistakes….

YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB!

Not a perfect job, but an awesome, impactful, loving job!

I LOVE this video!!  It demonstrates how skewed our perspective can be.  Who will you listen to?  The voice of your children, or that nagging voice in your head?

A New Perspective For Moms from Elevation Church on Vimeo.

We could all use a dose of reality, directly from our kids.  I plan to share this with my boys, and let them know how much I’d love to have my own “New Perspective” video from them!  I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

with Joy & Gratitude,