My baby moved in to Boland Hall as few days ago. I was startled by my reaction. When I pulled in to campus early that morning and saw a big sign with an arrow that said, “Boland Hall Check-In,” I burst in to tears. Now those of you who have sent your babies from San Francisco, or North Bend, or St. Louis must be rolling your eyes, because I sent my baby 11 miles. And the office where I work is about 200 yards away from his new bedroom.
But the tears came mostly from the symbolic fact that after nearly 28 years of parenting, 23 years as a PTA parent and 10 years as the parent of a college student, I am now transitioning to an empty nest. Perhaps, it was just relief.
The night before he left, we had a festive “going away” family dinner and invited our two older siblings and their significant others to dine. And we asked each member of the group who had already completed college for a bit of advice.
One sibling suggested to her brother that he be nice to the other new students and not unveil his true surly nature immediately. Typical elder sister words of wisdom. Her boyfriend, a Seton Hall Stillman School graduate, provided the sound advice that our freshman takes advantage of opportunities – to do activities and to attend speaker events even when he didn’t feel like it.
My husband quoted the Bible, “Never follow a multitude to do evil.” Surely, that is solid advice for an 18-year-old away from home for the first time who could be tempted to follow a crowd or exploit new found freedom.
My own advice was even simpler and it’s something I have been telling freshmen for the last 10 years: “Go to class.” Many professors don’t take attendance and, in college, students sometimes mistake this lack of attention to detail for an unawareness of whether someone is in class. But here at Seton Hall, I know for a fact that students who go to class tend to pass and students who skip class tend to fail. Is it because, if they are actually taking up a seat, they tend to listen and learn? Maybe, but I encourage new students to err on the side of caution. Go to class!
For us parents, it’s time to take a back seat. I hope you too sat around the dinner table before classes started and provided lots of good advice for your college student. And I hope that you continue to coach from the sidelines. But now, it is time for your student to hear your advice and make decisions on his or her own. Sometimes, we know that we could have made the decisions better, but college isn’t only about success; it’s often about missed opportunities, failures and wrong turns.
For example, we have a large number of Pre-science students who tell us now that they intend to go to med school. And they really mean it. But after a semester of challenging science courses, students often reevaluate their goals. Sometimes they feel like failures because they discovered they didn’t want to be doctors, sometimes they are afraid to tell their parents. I try to remind them that this change of heart during the first semester of college wasn’t a failure at all. It was a discovery. There are doctors who discover after med school that they hate their profession; how much better to discover that reality before four years of med school and about $200,000?
Let’s hope our students spend this semester learning about themselves, maturing into young adults, trying new things, making new friends, sharing their gifts with others, exploring foreign ideas and coming to a deeper understanding of their place in the big world. It’s a tall order. Some will do just fine. Some will fall short. Then, we as parents will pick them up, dust them off and help them find a new path and a new goal. It’s what we do. Have a great semester!
By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.