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Category Archives: College
(Thank you, sweet Maddie, for saying, “This is good!” after reading and allowing me to share a bit of your story)
We are getting ready to send our third and last child to college in a week. She is struggling with a mixture of excitement and anxiety about what is to come.
A year ago this independent, feisty, challenge-accepting child of ours would have sent my husband and me packing as soon as we set the last box in her dorm room. But sometimes life brings unexpected changes that alter how we show up, and for Maddie, this last year has been a tough one. She persevered through two intense hip surgeries and a recovery that lasted months longer than anticipated. In pain and unable to walk the halls of her large high school, she finished her classes online instead of in the classroom with her friends. She struggled with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear of not getting better. The ability for her body’s health to so radically alter her world caused persistent feelings of anxiety to surface, along with questions of her capacity to succeed at a large University after the trials of this last year.
Last night she crawled in bed with me, just wanting to spend a few more hours close to familiar security. The anxiety is knocking harder as move-in-day approaches.
And also, she is bravely pushing through her fears and packing, doing virtual sorority meetings, and snapchatting her new roommate.
I am so proud of her because I know how hard she’s fighting for peace.
If you have a child with anxiety you know that peace is a precious and rare commodity, but we can help and support them in finding it.
Here are some of the questions that cause anxiety for most college-bound kids:
- Will I get along with my roommate?
- Will I find my way around this large campus?
- Will I belong?
- What if I didn’t choose the right school?
- What if I am lonely?
- What if my classes are too hard?
- How will I deal with homesickness?
- What if I don’t make any new friends?
- What if I’m unhappy?
- What if….
These are all very real, very valid fears that most kids heading to college have to work through. Freshman year in college is daunting for almost EVERY eighteen year-old whether or not they struggle with anxiety. And if they do, their inner coping mechanisms may not be enough to calm the anxious noise.
The truth is, parents, it is not easy when we have an anxious child. There is no magic formula to “fix” it for them, and no perfectly worded answer for their valid questions. Anxiety does not turn on and off with a switch. It is often a long and winding journey to learn how to live with it. But, it is absolutely possible for our child to thrive in this new journey if we can learn how to show up for them and support them in the healthiest way.
Having launched a couple offspring (and one more here in a week), my husband and I have learned some things on the parenting end that has helped us and our children make this transition.
FIRST, WHAT DOESN’T HELP
Anxiety is contagious. Did you know that? If an anxious person walks into a room full of non-anxious people, like a virus, it spreads around the room. Our children can do this to us (and vice versa). We may already have our own anxiety swirling around that we are trying to manage and then when our child begins to express their stress to us it can cause us to react in dysfunctional, non-helpful ways.
This can look like oversharing about our worries to our kids (more like a friend role than a parent), helicopter parenting (being overprotective), controlling (not letting them make their own decisions), or “fixing” them (trying to solve every problem instead of letting them figure it out). We may even find ourselves encouraging them to stay in state so we can “manage” their anxiety for them (yep, considered that).
On the opposite end, we can minimize their feelings and tell them they shouldn’t worry because that is what we are telling ourselves forty-two times a day.
Why do all these non-helpful behaviors all come so darn naturally!? Because it is really really hard to watch our children struggle. I sometimes feel a physical pain in my chest with worry. I want to make it all go away for them.
The reality is that you and I can’t make it all go away. But we can help our child learn to manage their anxiety with some tools.
TOOL #1: PUT ON A BRAVE FACE
Parents (mainly mamas), we need to “stay off the rollercoaster” with our kids. When we find ourselves getting emotionally wrapped up in our child’s situation we need to pause and take a step back. That is not helpful to them. Instead, we can be a strong, calm presence, assuring them they can do this, even if we are a mess inside. They don’t need to feel our stress…they need to know we are stable and can come to us for sound advice and comfort.
I was feeling fairly anxious the other day about Maddie leaving and then we had a video call with her doctor who manages her ADHD and anxiety medication. This blessing of a woman sat on the other side of the screen and cheer-led my daughter right back into a place of confidence and hope. Here are some of the phrases she used (take note):
“You’ve GOT THIS!”
“You are smart, beautiful, funny, and have so much to offer to this world.”
“I am so excited for you! You are going to love college, it is so much fun!”
“You have a whole team of us who will support you, we are only a Facetime away.”
“I can’t wait to talk with you in a couple of weeks so I can say, “I told you so!” 🙂
“You are going to be just fine. I have no doubt.”
I literally teared up and wanted to jump through the phone and hug this woman. I think her words spoke to me more than Maddie! I took serious note of the deliberate language this knowledgeable and experienced doctor of mental health was using with my daughter.
We need to speak confidence and hope into our children.
And also, it is just as important to validate our child’s feelings by saying, “I totally get how this is making you anxious. What support do you need from us?
TOOL #2 : TAKE OUR “FEELS” ELSEWHERE
If we can’t ride the rollercoaster with our kids, then what do we do with our very real feelings? We need to take them to our friends, our support groups in our lives, our spouse, and most importantly to God.
For me, God is the only person in my life that can truly calm my parenting worries.
You may already have a relationship with God, and if not, now is a great time to start if you are fighting this worry battle on your own. God is real, and he has an amazing unexplainable ability to calm our fears when we invite him into our lives and our circumstances.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
Let’s first lean on God ourselves, and then help our kids do the same. They need His strength and comfort. They need to know they are not alone and they don’t have to carry the weight of worry all by themselves far away in a dorm room in a new city. God is with them wherever they go.
One thing that continues to ground me is going to God’s word, and our anxious child can find so much grace and hope around anxiety in the pages of the bible. I created a PRINTABLE to send with Maddie to school, reminding her of God’s constant love over her (she’s thinking about cutting them apart and hanging with clothespins on a piece of twine, or for bookmarks)
I have also found that taking my mom-worries to God in prayer brings peace that is hard to find in my own hand wringing. God is good and he sees our child. He will not let them fall.
For children with anxiety, prayer can be an important tool that is always with them at school. I created these PRAYER JOURNALS that might be a great gift to send with your child.
TOOL #3 TEACH ABOUT CHOICES
Did you know that many times we have a choice about our circumstances in life? We get stuck, however, because it feels scary to make a change or choose something unknown just to move forward from a situation that is not the best for us. Often we are stuck because we just don’t realize there are other options.
Jon and I are all about teaching our kids to stick it out–whether it is with a teacher they don’t like or a difficult boss at work, quitting is not a quick answer.
However, when your child suffers from anxiety, sticking it out indefinitely and feeling trapped in a bad situation only ramps up anxious feelings. In those cases, we can empower our kids by asking them questions.
“What choices do you have in this situation?”
“How could you problem-solve?”
“What is the worst case scenario and can you handle that?”
The feeling of being out of control or stuck is something that triggers anxiety, and asking these questions helps our children realize they are more in control than they thought.
I have always been fond of worst-case scenario thinking (yep, sounds quite dark). I have found that if I can play out the worst case scenario in a situation, ALMOST every time I realize it’s not as bad as I thought, or I realize I can handle it, even if it is not ideal. Anxiety causes us to “steal from the future” worrying about things that probably will never happen. When we shine some light on those fears we often realize they are not as daunting as we thought. This may be a tool that helps your child work through anxiety associated with the questions I listed earlier in this post.
Sometimes just knowing they have choices is all our kids need to push through difficult circumstances. They often choose to persevere through the harder situation because they don’t feel trapped there.
There is a lot more to unpack around our kids heading to college, but for now I hope these three pieces of advice will make the transition smoother.
- Stay strong and be a calm presence for your kids.
- Go to God with your anxiety and help your kids do the same
- Teach our kids they are able to process choices when they feel anxious or stuck
Remember, we are sending our capable, smart, adaptable kids off with support and tools for managing their anxiety–they can do this! And so can we.
P.S We can rest in the fact that God knows our child’s path and walks it with them. He loves them even more than we do, and he has a purpose and plan for their lives. If we can remember that, and remind our children of that it can help relieve anxiety all around.
I will be writing more about anxiety and our children in future posts with additional tools and resources.
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POSTED IN: anxiety, anxious child, anxious parent, college, college anxiety, parenting teens, tools for anxiety
POSTED IN: anxiety, anxious child, anxious parent, college, college anxiety, parenting teens, tools for anxiety
When our oldest daughter, Hannah, was in middle school I had my first totally gut wrenching experience of watching her be truly hurt by friends. She had been invited to a house for a birthday party with a group of girls from school. When I dropped her off she was all smiles, bouncing up to the door with a polka-dotted gift bag. I remember feeling all warm and fuzzy about the new friends my daughter was making—all was well in the universe.
About four hours later she texted that she was ready to be picked up. When I arrived, she walked out to the car, absent of all bounce. “How was the party hon?” I asked. “It was okay,” she responded sliding into the passenger seat. “Is everything all-right?” I continued, noticing her flat tone. “Not really, Everyone is sleeping over except me. I didn’t get invited to.”
And then she burst into tears.
I can’t begin to explain the flood of intense emotions that rolled over me. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me by a bunch of pimply snap chatting middle schoolers. But I don’t need to explain, Moms, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Not only did I desperately want to hug my child until all the pain was squeezed out of her, but I found myself instantly remembering long locked away feelings of being left out when I was a child…which is always fun.
It. Felt. Awful.
“I am so so sorry honey.” I softly said. “I just don’t know why they don’t like me enough to see me as one of their group,” she sobbed. I had no words to explain…who knows?
We drove home in silence. Both of us hurting and confused.
Now I know some of you moms out there would be making a phone call the next day to the mom who hosted the party, or crossing those girls off your child’s friend list permanently and believe me, I understand. Our mama bear comes out in those situations like a dog chasing a cat. I just didn’t have the fight in me for that one. Hannah and I talked about security in God and not in friends and how much we loved and accepted her in our family. But the pain was still there, and to make it worse it happened a few more times that year. More fun.
I actually think in that situation I did the right thing. This was part of Hannah’s friend story. I didn’t rescue her. I just sat in the pain with her. But I didn’t always choose that option. Over the years with our three kids I found other (unhealthy) ways to deal with my pain and theirs.
For example, sometimes after our children experienced particularly painful encounters, I would make secret plans in my head to move my family to a remote country where we would raise chickens and help orphans because of course there would be only rainbows and no pain there.
Other times, I would react, like the time I stormed out of our back door and told off a group of boys that were teasing my son (this had been a repeated event and I just lost all my cool). And then I calmed down. And got the full story. And realized I could have asked more questions and talked to them in a reasonable way about how this behavior was really hurting my son instead of as a freaking out suburban crazy bear mom. And then I called to apologize to all the moms for my overreaction. And then felt even more terrible because one of the moms had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I didn’t know. Geez.
A couple of times I sent emails to moms to try to work out the problems and both times that exploded into an awful exchange of misunderstood tones and meanings. (Important note; DO NOT EMAIL OR TEXT IN THESE SITUATIONS. Resist your inner millennial and pick up the phone).
But most often, I didn’t do anything except brew mean thoughts about those kids who were hurting our kids. How they were just plotting and planning ways to leave our daughter out (which I realize sometimes is the case, but not usually) or how they relished the pain it was causing my son to not get invited to high school social events (ok, relish is probably too strong of a word). I would make up stories about how if I could only give them a taste of their own medicine then they would stop, or that maybe I needed to intercept my child’s phone and send a nasty text back.
So…just so you know I’m not very proud of these thoughts.
Note that what I didn’t at all account for in this inner mental tirade was that our child MIGHT have POSSIBLY contributed to the situation. Which as moms we need to admit is very often the case.
And the problem is that when the next day my child is full of smiles and pep because they are now best friends again with that child that hurt them (AND sent me into an emotional nosedive just twenty four hours before) I was not over it. And would have to drive this child to an activity in a carpool or feed them a snack at my kitchen counter. With a smile pasted to my face.
I was sharing all of this with a close, wise friend few years ago and she (as good friends should do) said, “Amy. You need to get off this emotional roller coaster. You are riding it right along with your child and they don’t want or need that. They need you to be waiting at the end of the ride, calmly, sanely, with a hug and and ice cream cone. (Well I added that part about the ice cream but I could imagine her saying that.)
And when you watch them get back on the coaster (which they inevitably will), just sit on the bench and breathe and pray.”
In essence she was telling me to get a grip.
She was sooo right and her words were incredibly freeing.
Moms, our kids don’t need a mom who joins in on the railing and complaining against the perpetrator, or a mom who sends and email they might regret, or runs out the back door yelling and pointing fingers. Ahem.
No. They need stable, calm, sane mom. Solid in her foundation as a secure adult who is not rocked by the misdeeds of others (mere children for gosh sake!). Who is confident of her God who loves her and her child…who takes a moment to calculate what time of the month it is before responding like a crazy person.
Our child needs a mom who assures them that everything is going to be okay and asks empowering questions like, “Wow. That must really hurt. What do you think you should do about this?”
Believe me I know this is hard. When our kids are hurt it causes us moms to go a little let’s say…bat you know what crazy. Just ask our husbands. We lose rationality and clear thought. We are out for blood. We are mad. Like a little insane mad. Because these are our flesh and blood and our primal instinct as moms is to protect them from pain at all costs.
The problem is in those moments we are totally focused on the now. Not the tomorrow or the years ahead. Not our child’s long term maturing process. Not our relationships with other moms…like when you will see that other mom at the bus stop or show up for the same volunteer time at your kid’s classroom, or sit down the row from each other at the middle school band performance. Awkward. Not that that has ever happened to me…
In those moments we are not understanding the long term perspective. That our kids really end up being okay. They figure it out. It becomes part of their story, they learn from it how to be a better friend to others and who to choose as future friends. We forget that that child that we are so mad at will possibly be in our home for years to come and really do we want to be harboring ugly feelings for an eight year old mistake when they are fourteen?
So, slowly, I got off the roller coaster of our child’s friendships. I got a grip. Those friendships were brutal sometimes; still are. Just last year my daughter had a incredibly painful friend situation her first year in college. I listened. I prayed for her. I hung up and prayed for my heart which was killing me as I sat over a thousand miles away from her.
But you know what? She got through it. That is the same child who was not invited to the sleepover? She’s amazing. And secure. And has good boundaries. And has an incredible group of friends this year who all flew to our home for a weekend stay and some mountain skiing just last month.
Just last week our seventeen year old son shared that he had been left out of something his whole group did together. They just didn’t want him there. The pain is still very powerful and real. Those mean thoughts wanted to take root. But I just handle it differently now. I pray. I ask God to give me wisdom and peace and to shut my mouth. I listen to my son and if he doesn’t want to talk about it I don’t pry. He will be okay.
They survive. We survive.
The pain…if we can wrap our brains around it moms, is not this evil ugly monster trying to devour our child. If they have a safe and sane place to land at home, the pain turns into strength and learning about how to treat others, and perseverance, and healthy boundaries, and maturity.
I don’t think those girls at the birthday party were intentionally trying to be mean. They were just clueless. Can we give those who hurt our children the benefit of the doubt? And can we acknowledge that our children aren’t perfect and also will cause hurt to others in their eighteen years of childhood? Can we demonstrate grace and forgiveness to those in our home and those outside of our home?
What an incredible example of Christ’s love we can be.
Moms, you are amazing! Press on!
We just finished our first year of college.
Well, our daughter did, but from the parenting end my husband and I definitely felt like it was a first for us too.
We learned a lot of things this past year—what to do better, what not to do, and I will be sharing more of these lessons on the blog, but I wanted to highlight my top three best learned lessons and share them with you today.
The lessons I learned as a mom this past year of our first child in college were born out of an “imperfect” year for our daughter. She experienced heartbreaking rejection, the kind that made me want to crawl through the phone to hold her, along with loneliness and a struggle to figure out who she really wanted to be. Yet, she also formed beautiful friendships, honed her major and thrived in the education she was receiving.
Our daughter, after much thought and prayer, decided to transfer schools this fall. In a future post I will share about that journey!
That being said, I don’t believe any of us would change this last year at all.
It was in essence, a perfect, “imperfect” first year of college—with all the ingredients that make for maturity and preparation for life. That is worth every penny (and there are a lot!).
And bonus! I garnered some “college mom wisdom” through it all, so here ya go:
1. Pain is OKAY. Your child will experience some pain this first year, possibly with a friend situation, rejection from a club or group, or with a roommate. They might be homesick, or struggle with the academic load. They may make bad decisions that cause them to struggle.
Our knee-jerk reaction is to shower advice on our child or “rescue” them.
But pain is good. It is really good. It is from pain that our child finds their inner strength, begins problem-solve, or best, learns to pray. Pain is the soil for maturity and wisdom. When we take the pain away we deprive our child of an incredible opportunity to grow.
Instead, try telling your child, “I believe in you and I know you will figure out this problem.” This empowers them and helps them believe in themselves. They are becoming adults and we need to let them stumble in order to get there.
2. Get off the Roller Coaster
This was a challenging one for me. One week our daughter would be struggling and I would be struggling emotionally right there with her, and then a few days later I was still struggling and praying and worrying and all the while things had turned around and were just rosy and great on her end! This happened enough times to teach me that I needed to get off my parental emotional roller coaster. Things change constantly in college—roommate issues, friends, academics, moods, etc.
The reality is, there is nothing we can or should do about what our kids are going through except be supportive and encouraging and pray for them. It is a waste of valuable time and emotional energy that can be useful in our present life when we worry about things we can’t control a thousand miles away.
And, our kids need us to be calm and stable when they do decide to reach out—not emotional messes that stress them out even more.
3. Don’t Ask Them About Their Grades
I was surprised by this one when the Chancellor of the college our daughter attended implored the parents not to focus on our child’s grades. He expressed how many parents continue to helicopter parent about college grades, which is understandable with all the focus on grades needed to get into college!
But now that our kids are IN college, they need to take full ownership of their GPA. “But what if my child is tanking and I don’t even know it?” Yes, I asked this one. Our daughter’s school said they would let us know if she had a D in any class. I would check with your child’s institution and see how you can be informed.
In general it was recommended that we ask not about GPA, but instead questions like, “What is your favorite class?” Or, “Which professor do you like and why?” Or, “Is there any subject that you are struggling with?” I liked the question, “What are learning about yourself academically from your experience so far?”
These are my top three I wanted to pass on to you because I think they are golden.
I don’t know if you noticed, but they all have the same theme: LET GO.
It’s time to let go. It is really really hard. My daughter experienced the biggest rejection of her life this past year. And had days of sitting alone in her dorm room. I desperately wanted her to come home so I could take her away from the pain. The only way my mom heart survived was being there for her on the other end of the phone…just listening. And A LOT of prayer.
God was good. He helped me through it….and my daughter survived, and is thriving.
She came home this summer stronger, wiser, and more confident that I have ever seen her. Something had shifted.
Like I said before, I wouldn’t change a thing. For either of us.
I wish you the very best in this journey of sending your child off to college! I am walking right there with you.
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