“What I Told My Daughter When we Dropped Her Off For College”
Karla and I are among those who dropped off a kid at college this August. This one was our last.…
Karla and I are among those who dropped off a kid at college this August. This one was our last. The proverbial nest is empty (once Andrew heads back to UMD).
It’s a tough passage for many of us. But an important one. As parents we feel a swell of emotions, wondering if we taught them what they need to make it. Our minds race, wondering if there will be a moment to say something important – and if it comes, what we will say!
I’m glad Karla and I began intentionally having conversations with Ellie months ago. We spent good time this summer talking about the future, life on campus, her faith, her friends, her studies.
Because you rarely have control over the final goodbye. Colleges are experts at ushering hovering parents out of the way during drop off. There isn’t usually time for that lecture about the birds and the bees, lessons on how to write a check and clean your ears. At that point a meaningful exchange is about it.
Then you get in the car for a long quiet drive.
So my best advice is to start the process of grieving, goodbyes, and advice giving early. Like when they’re 6. Seriously. But also during the junior year, start talking about it. Go out for special meals, take time to make sure they know what you want them to know – about life, and mostly about your love. That is even more important than a tutorial on self-defense or advice on how to sneak food from the cafeteria.
When the day came to drive Ellie to Tennessee, I announced as we got in the car that everyone but me should sleep for a bit, because when we stopped for dinner we were going to talk about some important stuff. It worked!
Mom and I told stories about Ellie’s life and things she didn’t know from when she was little. She loved hearing the funny stories and asked a lot of questions. We had some good laughs.
Then at a Waffle House halfway there, over bacon and eggs, I pulled out some papers that had some final encouragement and advice. I didn’t have a fancy name for it. Just “Stuff to remember to have a great college experience.” We were all glad to talk it through.
A few have asked if I’d be willing to share it. Ellie has given the green light – though what I’ll share is edited to remove some personal things. There is nothing new in it that we hadn’t already talked with Ellie about. And it does NOT include EVERYTHING a kid needs to know or a parent needs to say.
But it’s important stuff.
So I offer it to two groups:
- Any student heading off to college this Fall. There’s good counsel here.
- I also offer it to parents as they think about how they put their own words together as they release their precious kids into the wild unknown.
So here it is. What I told my daughter when we sent her off to college.
August 1, 2017
Some practical stuff to remember and do to have a great college experience.
- You got this (and it’s okay to feel like you don’t, sometimes). You’re ready for this. God has prepared you. As much as we hate it, it’s time. When you become overwhelmed, or even just “whelmed,” receive it as a time of growth and an opportunity to rely on the Lord Jesus for strength and help in a time of need. (Psalm 46:1)
- Don’t be afraid (but be careful and smart). Some kids are so fearful of new experiences, people, and ideas. Don’t be. But also be sure to filter experiences, people, and ideas with the brain you have. All of it goes into the hopper that God will use to make you into the new version of you in these formative years.
- Study hard and make it your goal to actually learn stuff (and if you get good grades in the process, great). Your primary calling in this season of your life is to be a student. Serve the Lord by fulfilling that calling honorably and with all diligence. (Colossians 3:17) Some students forget why they are at college, overcome by the distractions and new freedom. They have regrets later. Don’t be one of them.
- Schedule your time according to priorities (and leave some margin for rest, play and socializing). You will have to budget your time carefully. Put the big rocks in first. Try your best to live by a schedule rather than what you feel like doing at the time. You will benefit from the structure of study time, class time, practice, games, and play time.
- Take the time to stay organized (but forgive yourself if things get sloppy sometimes). Especially the first few weeks, take the time to set up the folders you need on your computer and get the right files or notebooks established so you can stay on top of each class and your schedule. Scour your syllabi carefully and record all the dates of tests and papers, and then backdate your calendar with reminders prior to those dates, e.g. “book review due in 1 week!” If it worked to stay one day ahead in high school, it won’t work anymore. Keeping yourself organized will relieve a huge stressor from your head.
- Eat and sleep (and if one gets cut short for a bit, make sure you’re doing the other). Remember how much better you feel and how much easier it is to learn and be kind when you get lots of sleep. And good food is your fuel for success in thinking and sport, so choose to make eating well a priority, even when you don’t think you have time.
- Say “NO” as often as you can (to make room for the best YESes). You have a big heart, a big appetite for many activities, and you’re a joiner. So remember there will be more opportunities and clubs and friends and trips out to eat than you can say yes to. Every NO you utter makes room for a greater, better YES. Try to fulfill your purpose rather than everyone else’s – so that rather than always being acted upon you can order your days by the priorities the Lord places in your mind during your clearest moments.
- Keep your room neat (well, at least try not to be a total slob). This would be a great time to stop the habit of stepping out of your clothes and leaving them on the floor when you take them off. Putting stuff away will give you a sense of accomplishment. Set a time each week when you will take a few minutes to straighten up and don’t let the toilet or shower drain get too disgusting.
- Be a kind, inclusive friend (but don’t view the entire campus as YOUR responsibility to take care of). You’re kind and helpful, a wise and a good counselor. God will give you so many opportunities to care for others. But remember there is only ONE Messiah Savior, and his name is Jesus.
- Go slow on serious relationships (because if it’s truly good, it will work better that way anyway). Some kids will glom onto you because you’re awesome and they want you to be their bestie. Be cautious about anyone who wants an exclusive relationship with you, or who isn’t kind to others, even if they’re nice to you. Make lots of friends. Avoid cliques. And if you want to date a guy, have him call first for an interview. 🙂 Seriously, ask friends or family what they think first – and listen to what they say even if you’re sure you’re in love. Remember once you change a friendship to dating there are only a few ways out: one of you breaks up with the other, or you marry them, or somebody gets run over by a truck. Don’t be in a hurry. Getting someone to date you isn’t hard.
- Stay in touch (but don’t worry about us). Things will be super busy and some days so packed you won’t have time to think straight. But use your phone to holler at us here and there, even if only for a quick update or hello. We’re not the hovering types as you know, and we won’t hound or keep you longer than you should talk. But it will be good for your soul to reconnect. And we miss you.
- Dream big (even when you’re surrounded by people who are acting like small minded thinkers). You are put on this planet to be a world changer. Some kids around you will be self-oriented and the sum of their world will be their friends and classes and acne and clothes. Always carry the secret that you know life is about so much more. Let your mind expand with new and exciting thoughts and dreams so that it can never return to its original dimensions. Let God wreck your heart for a mission so huge you know it will take your entire heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let the precious breath of the Holy Spirit inflate your dreams about what wants to do and how he will use you. Let the hidden ache in you grow and fester toward something productive for this world that you are meant to do.
- Have fun (but never at someone else’s expense). You are great at this. You bring the fun! You’re there to study and play soccer, in that order. So make those things fun. But add in some spontaneous and planned fun as well. Make some memories, and don’t be afraid to be the one aiming everyone toward simple wholesome activities like picnics, a walk, mini golf or throwing a Frisbee.
- Stay close to God (and put spiritual stuff in your schedule every week). Choose a church that has old ladies in it who will invite you to dinner, but also some other young adults. Dive deeply into the on-campus worshiping community, and serve somewhere. Most kids will sleep in on Sundays. You will have to choose what’s important to you. Being involved in a worshiping community with Christian people will keep you whole and rounded and sane and broadened and closer to God. This will be a hugely important time of spiritual formation in your life – one way or another. You have a huge say how you are formed by your choices.
- Look at college as a privilege (it will help you get more out of it). You’ve been around the world and recognize how powerful education is in the trajectory of someone’s life. It’s a rare privilege many aren’t given. Others are paying great costs for you to be there. Keeping that perspective will beat down the ignorance and entitlement that leads some kids to tarnish their college experience.
It’s gonna be awesome!
And draw strength knowing we love you so much it hurts. We are for you. And we are praying for you every single day.
Mom and Dad