Since going to college is a major life event, it’s inevitable that conflict will arise as stress levels go up with the arrival of college admission requirements. This is a time that’s hard on everyone: on you, as you try to balance letting go with your role as a parent and your desire to have only the best for your child; and on your child who is entering the unknown world of adulthood. It’s exciting and scary all at once.
Emphasize respect from both parties
If conflicts are coming up about college admissions requirements and the air around the house seems to be thickening with tension, it’s time to schedule some time to sit down with your child and practice a skill that often comes hard to many of us: conflict resolution.
Request some time — don’t demand it. Demonstrate respect for your child by making sure any other pressing obligations and younger siblings are out of the way. It might be meaningful to set the meeting at a place with significance for both of you, such as a favorite restaurant or secluded spot at a park. This should underscore the importance of the meeting and assist to discuss conflicts clearly and calmly.
Start off by emphasizing the positive aspects of the college admission process — your mutual hopes and dreams, the excitement of a wide range of opportunities and options. You’re sharing an experience that is the culmination of many years of schooling and parenting. Acknowledging that no decisions need to be made overnight, any disagreements resolved instantly may help ease tensions early on in the conversation. Let your child know that compromise from both of you is a keyword along the way.
Before you approach your child about any issues, however, there are some things you need to ask yourself and resolve on your own. You might be the parent in the relationship, but you are human and unless you’re superhuman, you’ve probably got some baggage of your own that may be weighing the college admissions process down. It’s important to assess certain issues and to be honest with yourself.
Early on, long before you reach the point of analyzing college admission requirements and applying, you should be asking yourself this question. For some parents, sending their child off to college is an unbearable thought even as it’s one of their most fervent dreams for their child. Many parents suddenly wonder what they’re supposed to do when their child is no longer at home to be cared for by mom and dad. Is it possible you’re pushing a particular school because it’s just around the corner?
You should determine what fears you have about how your family life will change when your child leaves for college. If you’re worried there won’t be any family left, remember that life is a series of stages and that every family redefines itself and the roles of individual members as each stage approaches. Rather than seeing this step as a loss, you should try focusing on the positive — and perhaps rediscovering your own second adolescence now that there are fewer things to keep you tied to being home by a certain time each night. Whatever you do, don’t use your child as an object for your own fears and insecurities.
Let your child dictate college admission requirements
Have you really stopped and listened to what your child’s dreams are for college and a career? Just because you always wanted to be a podiatrist, psychologist, accountant, or registered nurse does NOT mean that it’s what your child wants. There are many woeful tales out there about the child who studied computer science when what they really wanted to study was art history — and all because mom and dad insisted there was a future in one and not the other. If you push your dreams onto your child, you aren’t necessarily doing them any favors. You need to let them find their own path and pursue what interests them.
In the same vein, don’t push your child into a particular school just because you like the football team or because it has a Greek system that you think will be perfect because it was perfect for you. Keep your desires separate from your child’s. We know it’s tough and you’re probably thinking that your 18-year-old can’t possibly know what’s best…but he or she probably does know what they want better than you do.
Since this is often a point of contention, this is a good topic to bring up in your planned discussion with your child about the college admission process. Give your child an opportunity to explain the choices that have been made. If plans seem outrageous, point that out in a non-threatening manner, but never deny a dream just because it’s not your dream. There are parents who live vicariously through their children, just as some children live and die by their parents’ approval. Is this the way you want things to be, really? If not, then each of you must learn to recognize whose voice you’re really hearing.
Be open to all possibilities
While you may anticipate arguments over college choices, college admissions requirements, and career goals and may also be prepared to cajole and plead at deadline time, there are those parents who are mystified by their child’s outright refusal to cooperate at all. The straight-A student insists, “I’m not going to college, period” or relays a similar message by ignoring the stack of catalogs and applications that lies on the kitchen counter.
You know your child pretty well, so you’ll have to decode the hidden message. Is this just basic garden-variety procrastination? Is your child afraid of failing to meet high expectations or fearful of breaking away? Is he or she simply in need of more college admissions assistance? Is college the right move now — or even at all? You can try a bit of nagging and dragging (you know, issue a few ultimatums and go on college visits) and see if it breaks the ice.
If not, consider other options: a year off or even another route altogether. The college admissions process may not be the thing to do. Your child may be a talented carpenter, an inspired chef, or a compassionate nurse’s aide. These professions all require training, but not necessarily college. Depending on what’s happening between you and your child, you might stop to ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, a traditional college education isn’t the right thing for your child. Or maybe it is. The key is to listen.