How can this be? How is it possible that my baby girl Ginny is in college? I have so much still to teach her.
I need to protect her from pain, mistakes, bullies, bad grades, difficult situations . . . Oh, wait. Are those . . . could those be . . . learning experiences? Am I standing in the way of Ginny getting the full education that college can provide?
Adding to my angst, Ginny is a transfer student and has Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic life-shortening disease. I’ve been her caregiver, advocate, champion, and hero since she was diagnosed at three months old. Should she take all of this on by herself? Let’s be honest, we all have extenuating circumstances because these are our children. And, yes, we all should be letting them take on challenges by themselves.
Why, when, and how should I release the struggle?
Coursework is just one part of a college education. The University setting also provides a safe place for students to make mistakes, practice problem-solving, employ communication skills, and advocate for themselves with instructors and others in authority. Is Ginny ready to take all of that on? Maybe not, but she needs to start practicing now.
One of my favorite terms from this generation is “adulting.” As Ginny takes on adulting, I need to learn how to let it go where she is concerned. We all know that adulting is hard and actually really stinks on many occasions. Yet, we need to pass this skill on to our children. It’s time for us to really be adults and allow our children’s adulting to evolve.
One of my least favorite terms is “helicopter parenting.” How do I decide what is my struggle and what is hers? How can I be supportive without hovering over and jumping in where I no longer belong? I can point her to available resources and encourage her to advocate for herself. There are all types of “situations” that arise for UMW students, and the University has people and resources in place to help them with each:
- Roommate Issues: Residence Life
- Mental Health: Talley Center for Counseling Services
- Academic Advising, Majors, and Tutoring: Academic Services
- Writing Assignments: Writing Center
- Presentations: Speaking Center
- Digital Assignments: Digital Knowledge Center
- Accommodations: Disability Resources
The ultimate gain for parents and students
Personal, professional, and emotional well-being, in addition to becoming a productive member of society, are the ultimate goals for most of us. Allowing our children to “do for themselves,” experience success, and move into successful adulting is a win for all of us.
If any of this resonates with you, please know that you are not alone. There is a community of parents out there with the same struggles. As we empower our students to become more independent, we need to embrace our new role as their partners in “adulting.”
Helen Smetheram, Parent, Class of 2020
Helen Smetheram lives in Crofton, Maryland, and is the mother of two adult children. Her son graduated from college in 2016 and her daughter will graduate from UMW in 2020. With advanced degrees and certifications in education, Helen works at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., as the Instructional Technology Team Lead. She is also an Adjunct at Catholic University’s School of Professional Studies. Helen is a member of Mary Washington’s Parent Leadership Circle. To learn more about becoming involved with the Parent Leadership Circle, please contact Director of Annual Giving Beth Hunsinger ’01 at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-2068.