For many parents the thought of the college process brings many different emotions. Parents feel a mix of conflicting feelings as their child approaches the age where college is in the near future. Some parents feel a sense of dread that their child will be moving on and out of the house. They feel sad that the roles that they play will be redefined. Some feel excited for their children who are on the verge of starting a new chapter in their lives. They may even be anticipating their own new chapter as their children leave the house and move on. For some of us, we have been waiting since our children were infants to watch them fly and leave the nest, anxious and excited for them at the same time.
As a parent of four teenagers, two in college, and one more about to launch into application chaos, I have felt every emotion known. Feeling different emotions is healthy and a great way to process what is happening in our lives, however, if not managed or controlled, emotions can get the best of us. This is never truer than during the college process with our teens. Not only are we parents experiencing a wide range of emotions during this time, so are our children. Often all of these emotions conflict with each other and parents and children are in two totally different places. This can complicate an already complicated process and make it unmanageable to deal with alone. Parent and child may see deadlines and responsibilities differently and conflict over almost all parts of the process which can quickly get tempers flaring. Sometimes certain family situations can make this even more difficult than others, like separation, divorce, illness, death, and single parenting.
One suggestion I have for helping deal with some of these conflicting emotions and flared tempers is to seek outside professional help. For those split families with young children who have college looming in the near future should talk to a family law expert. Talking about who is responsible for what parts of the college cost, who will be the point person during the process, and what role each parent will play are just a few of the important discussions. I cannot express that no matter what your family situation may be, being on the same side and setting a united front, is of the utmost importance not only for the process but also for your child. If you think that you are in a situation where you may need some agreements in place, prior to the college process, please reach out and get the help you need now. You will be happy that you did this sooner than later. According the family law Attorney Damian Turco, founder of Turco Legal, “The law generally assumes that co-parents will be able to work out issues of where a child will go to college and how it’s going to be paid for. But, these are certainly big issues they can easily result in conflict. The law is not completely black and white. The latest revisions to the child support guidelines established some presumptions, but there is still significant grey area and discretion left to the judge as to how education decisions will be made, how much each parent is to contribute, and what happens to child support once the child is off to school. A good family law attorney can assess the facts of any certain case and give the client a sense of what the judge will likely order. Most of these cases are resolved by mediation and a smaller percentage requires a modification or contempt complaint filed."
Another person a family can seek out is an Independent Educational Consultant. Hiring someone to be the middle man between parent and child is invaluable during this process. When tempers are flaring and each person seems to be on a different planet, a third party who understands both sides can make the situation not only bearable, but can take the pressure off of the parent/child relationship by taking on some of the responsibilities. For some of my clients it has made it so that the family dynamics can go back to the way they used to be before the whole “college” talk began.
If professional help is not what you are looking for, there are other adjustments and changes you can make within your own home that will help with this process. First, make sure that you know exactly what your child wants. Do they even want to go to college or are they doing it because you are insisting? Do they want to gap a year or go to community college or maybe the armed forces? As much as we want to guide them, remember, this is THEIR journey, not yours. I understand all the dreams you have had for your children but adjusting those dreams and bending what you think is right, might be what you need to do to help your child. Second, be patient! They are really stressing about this whole process. They are scared about leaving, about not getting into college, and making the wrong decision. This fear might come out in a lot of different forms so beware that they may cry, scream, or walk out. My suggestion is to take each requirement one by one and have your child work on one thing at a time. This will help prevent them from becoming overwhelmed by the extra work load and keep them feeling in control of the process. Remember, like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. The third suggestion is to help guide them. This is not a process that many teens can do 100% on their own. You need to be very careful with this guidance because you don’t want to do it all for them while at the same time you don’t want them to take it all on and miss important deadlines or requirements. A healthy balance is needed. I always tell my parents, put in as much effort as your child does. Do not do more then what they are doing. If they aren’t working on the process, have a discussion about your concerns but don’t berate them every day about it. I often tell my parents, pick a day when you talk about college. Once a week, maybe go out to breakfast and lay out the week and what it looks like. I know for some parents, this has saved their relationship with their children.
As I get ready to assist my daughter on her college applications, I feel your pain. She is resistant to my suggestions and often puts off what I have asked her to do. Luckily I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help me out. Whether you are a nuclear family who is struggling with your emotional teenager, or a split family who needs to put agreements into place now; there is help out there for you to get through this.
A parent’s role is pivotal during the college process. As the month’s role on and your child grows and develops towards the adult they will become, it is important to remember they are still children and they need your guidance, support, and love more than ever!
Good luck, I’ll see you on the other side.