When Kerry and Deb Waymire picked up their daughter, Lauren, from the airport for her first visit home from Oregon's Warner Pacific College, they weren't sure what to expect. "The first thing she did when she got off the plane was tell me she had found some new music she was listening toit was Queen!" said Kerry. "That was so humorous to me. She went away and started listening to music I listened to 25 years ago."
Welcoming their daughter back to Phoenix, Arizona, from her college 1,300 miles away was "surreal," her mother said.
"It was bizarre," said Deb. "It was as if nothing had changed in some respects, but in other respects it was almost like talking to a stranger, because she had a totally new set of friends we didn't know and experiences we hadn't shared."
Like the Waymires, many parents are preparing to navigate their families through one of their biggest transitions yetsending a child to college. Since this transition can bring its share of joys and trials to any family, Christian College Guide interviewed several parents of new college students to see what insights they had to offer about facing this new stage of life.
During this time in the life of your family, when both you and your child are experiencing major changes, nobody gets the easy road. Family dynamics are shifting dramatically and that's bound to bring a unique set of new challenges.
Linda and Richard Smith, for example, say they missed being involved in their child's daily activities, even though their son, Mark, had only moved about 12 miles away to Ohio's Cedarville University.
"Part of the loneliness we felt was due to the fact that we no longer went a lot of places with him, like we did when he was in high school," Richard said.
Linda agreed. "There was a terrible emptiness walking by his bedroom door," she said. "It almost seemed awkward at dinner with just our younger son there."
Fortunately, Linda and Richard resisted the urge to drop in on their son, just to see him. Even though they're close to Mark's school, they've chosen to keep their distance so that their son can build new relationships on his own, take on more responsibility and become increasingly independent.
Still, it can be hard to ignore the feeling that your child doesn't need you as much as he or she used to. After all, you've spent the past 18 years protecting, nurturing, leading and making decisions for your son or daughter. Sending this child off to college means letting go of some major child-rearing responsibilities.
"As a mom, you're always wanting to fix things and be there," said Linda. "Knowing that he's taking care of all of this on his own is a little tough. But on the other hand, he's done very well on his own and that helps."
Like Linda, several of the parents we spoke to agreed that seeing their child mature and make wise decisions helped make it a little easier to let go. Recognizing these positive aspects of your changing family is an important step in taking some of the stress and fear out of the transition.
Busy Lives, Changing Roles
Tamara Weller welcomed her daughter, Whitney, home for spring break, knowing they were going to have a very busy week.
The Wellers had some important family business to attend to, and they needed their daughter's full involvement. While Whitney, a student at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, knew handling this family business was important, she also wanted a much-needed vacation from the busyness of college life.
"She wanted to spend time at home and she wanted to visit her boyfriend and his family. There just wasn't time for all of it," Tamara said. "She felt like I was making her do what she didn't want to do, and there was definitely tension there."
Many families, just like the Wellers, feel the tension of shifting social dynamics and roles when they send a child to college. Areas that used to be black and white, like who should make the final decision about your child's activities and schedules, become a confusing shade of gray.
Kerry and Deb Waymire faced some of these challenges when their daughter, Lauren, came home for visits from Warner Pacific University.
"We had to be very careful not to push her back into the high school mold," Deb said. "Handing over the car was easy, but telling her that she should let us know where she was and when she would be back was more difficult. We wanted her to see that sharing this kind of information with us was just common courtesy."
The Waymires said open and clear communication helped a lot.
"We made a purposeful decision to spend some time communicating about our expectations to her," said Deb. "We also asked her what's important for her to experience when she comes homewho she wants to see and what she wants to doand if it's in our power, we do those things."
Kerry agreed that communicating with his daughter was one of the most important ways to create a positive atmosphere in the midst of changing family dynamics.
"When your child wants to talk, make time for it, because you need to hear what they're saying," Kerry said. He said that when Lauren first talked to him about dorm life, he didn't think it was very important, but he later realized that it was important, because it was a big part of her life now. His openness to talk actually helped open the door for other conversations and, thus, helped him better understand the positive changes that were taking place in their father-daughter relationship.
Schedules? What Schedules?
When Christian Pearson came home for his first few visits from Missouri's Evangel University, his parents didn't see him as much as they expected to.
"He would stay up all night writing music, and then we wouldn't see him until the next afternoon," said his mom, Karyn.
Karyn said that after his late nights, her son sometimes complained about getting up on Sundays to go to their small church and help with the worship music.
"When he would ask me if he had to go, I would say, 'No, you don't have to go, but it would mean a lot if you did, and it would make a big difference in the worship.'" she said. "I think if I would have been more harsh, he would have responded much more negatively."
Your child's schedule may cause conflicts not only while he or she is at home, but also while he or she is away at school. Some parents told us that it was difficult to accept the fact that their children were busy while at school and didn't always keep in close contact with their families.
Tamara Weller experienced this type of conflict with her daughter Whitney.
On the weekend before Tamara's birthday, Whitney surprised her mom by coming home for a visit. But then on Tamara's actual birthday, Whitney forgot to call. When Tamara called her that day, Whitney said she was busy and couldn't talk.
"When she's really busy, she kind of blows me off," Tamara said. "It's hard to not hear everything about her life, like I did when she was in high school. I miss the details, but I still know that if she needs me, she'll come to me."
The Good News
Amid the difficulties and challenges of his own son's transition to college, Richard Smith says there's good newsand much to look forward to.
"Before Mark went to college, I started making a change from being a dad to being a dad plus a friend," said Richard. "And now he's someone I can laugh with and converse with."
Another benefit to this transition: You might discover you now have time to pursue some of your personal interests that you may have put on the back burner during the child-rearing years.
As a single parent, Donna Kuhns found this to be especially true when she sent her daughter Elizabeth to Taylor University's campus in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
"For 18 years, my main focus was Elizabeth and her sister. It took a great deal of energy to raise them all by myself. So when it was time for them to leave, I was ready for the next phase," she said.
During Elizabeth's first spring break, she decided to go to Florida with some friends instead of coming home to visit. Instead of being down about it, Donna decided to invest some extra time that week with a girl from her church whom she was mentoring. Donna said this was one of the things she was able to do because of her extra time.
"When Elizabeth left, I felt like it freed me up to do some things God had called me to do, but I'd never had the time to do," she said.
For Donna, learning to let go was hard in some ways and easy in others.
"As a single parent, I had to trust God implicitly with everything. It became a natural extension when they left for college, to trust him with that, too," she said. "I had to continually remind myself, 'Donna, you've raised her already. Now it's time to step back and let her make decisions.' And it was tremendously exciting to see her do that."
For example, Donna says, Elizabeth had a scholarship that required her to maintain a minimum GPA. Donna decided to not even find out what the required GPA was so she could allow Elizabeth to take complete responsibility by making decisions for maintaining her grades and developing good study habits.
"I realized that now my job was not to take problems from her, but to just love her through them," Donna said.
Enjoy the Journey
Your family will face its share of joys and conflicts during your child's first year of college. But this stage, just like every other stage of your child's life, will be over before you know it. So enjoy the journey.
That's exactly what Kerry Waymire is trying to do with his daughter.
"When they're in your arms and you're feeding them a bottle, that's its own sweet stage with ups and downs. This stage is the same way," he said. "Letting go is a process. You let the rope out a little at a time. I'm thankful to see her making wise decisions based on a godly foundation. As a parent, I can't ask for more than that."
To Say or Not to Say
Your conversations with your college freshman can be real encouragingor real downers. It all depends on the words you choose. Here are a few good and not-so-good words I've heard from my own mom and dadwith some thoughts on keeping the conversation positive and encouraging.
Bad: "That was easy for me!"
Feeling the pressure to do well on a math midterm, I called math-whiz Mom for help. She helped me, but when she added "I understood that when I went to school," I just felt dumb. I appreciated the help, but I wish she'd remembered that we're different people with different gifts.
Good: "You can do it!"
During high school, I'd applied for a scholarshipand was really disappointed when I didn't receive it. In the middle of my freshman year, Dad encouraged me to try for the scholarship again. "You can do it," Dad said. A few months later, I received the scholarship. But even if I hadn't, Dad's words still motivated me to try. Knowing that he believed in me helped me push a little harder to do my best.
Bad: "We know exactly what that's like."
When I called my parents one evening to talk about how lonely I was because of a recent break-up, they told me they knew exactly how I felt. They meant well, but I felt like they were minimizing my feelings. I hung up wishing Mom or Dad had told me moremaybe about what happened to make them feel blue, or how they got past tough times. Or maybe it would have been nice if they'd just listened without saying a thing.
Good: "We're proud of you."
Struggling with homesickness during the first week, I called home and burst into tears. Mom and Dad reassured me that it was normal to miss home while adjusting to a new environment. Two weeks later, I called to say I no longer wanted to leave. "We're proud of you, Kate," they responded. It felt so good to have their support.
Bad: "That class doesn't seem right for you."
During my first year in college, I decided to explore some interests by taking a course outside of my major. "That class doesn't seem right for you," my parents said when I told them about my plans. I know Mom and Dad wanted to see me stay on track, but I wished they'd told me they trusted my judgment. That would have given me a sense of freedom and support as I decided to take a chance and explore a little.
Good: "I'm praying for you."
I've always struggled with foreign languages. So when I had a Spanish final at 7:40 a.m., I felt really anxious. My mood lightened when Mom called that morning to encourage me. "Don't worry, Kate," she said reassuringly. "I'm praying for you." Knowing she'd mention me in her prayers that morning helped me calm down and focus.
Bad: "You just need to work harder."
I had half a dozen finals to study for. I was overwhelmed and wanted to crawl back in bed until summer vacation. "You just need to work harder," Mom said. I sighed. Always a type-A person, I was working hard. Right then, I just needed to vent and rant. I just needed someone to listen.
Good: "I love you."
My cell phone rang as I was doing some research in the library. It was Dad, calling to catch up. "I love you," he said, just before he hung up. I know Dad loves me. But somehow, hearing him say the words was really special.
Cherissa Roebuck is a journalism graduate of John Brown University. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, Lucas, and her 10-month-old son, Maximus.