In just 8 short days, my first born will graduate from college. Five minutes ago, this same child was digging in the dirt for worms while sucking her thumb and wearing a sparkly tiara and hot pink plastic high heels. And yes, in case you were wondering, it did indeed require a strong stomach and a relaxed attitude about personal hygiene to watch her play with worms while sucking her thumb. In our defense, I was busy gardening and those worms weren’t going to get married and build precious little worm homes all by themselves!
Now she is a gorgeous, confident 22 year old with big dreams and a dazzling future stretched out in front of her. As with every other aspect of her life, just in time for her graduation, I am finally figuring out how to do this college mom thing. No worries, she has been told repeatedly she is our practice child, so she is quite patient with me.
For those of you soon to join our ranks, here are a few things you will need in your arsenal of tools in order to be a (mostly) awesome college mom.
A Poker Face I really cannot adequately stress the importance of this powerful tool. Luckily, a great deal of your communication will take place over text message which allows your face to freak out while your typing fingers remain calm, cool and collected. In order to keep the lines of communication open, a mostly awesome college mom needs to learn to be non-reactive in the face of news which would have sent you into lecture and consequence mode just a year or two earlier. Things get a bit more lively in college and sometime the stories are…let’s say, “colorful.” Hopefully, your student is an amused bystander for most of the more shocking escapades or at least they are when they share the story with you. If you want them to keep talking, you better learn to smile, nod and occasionally use the big-eyed shocked face emoji on your phone. You particularly need a poker face if your children are theater majors. College theater is extremely weird.
An awareness of 21st century modes of communication As mentioned previously, if you don’t text now, you better start ASAP. Although I occasionally break down and demand to hear the sound of their voices, 90% of my communication with both my college daughters has been through texting. The great thing about texting is the ability to send them a quick note of encouragement without them having to commit to a lengthy conversation with mom. I regularly let them know I am praying about their audition, wondering if their cold is better or missing them when visiting our favorite restaurant. I also send them way too many photos of the dog and the latest memory on Timehop, but they sometimes humor me with an LOL or smiley face in return. Recently, I put myself on Snapchat to get another peek into what is going on in their lives. Luckily for them, I don’t know how to do anything on Snapchat except see their stories. (Google Snapchat for Dummies if you have no clue what I mean by Snapchat stories.) Warning, if you do choose to follow them on Snapchat, refer back to #1. For some reason, my younger daughter seems compelled to jump in the Charles River once a year and put photos on Snapchat.
Thicker skin and strategic use of guilt as a weapon Occasionally, I need a reminder from my husband to not take their seeming disinterest personally. Apparently, my daughters sometimes have more important things going on in their lives than returning my text. Whatever. They don’t always see the urgency in my 27 questions about the finals schedule at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning 6 weeks before the end of the semester when I happen to have my calendar out. As my older daughter’s college career has unfolded, I have learned to cherish those times when she reaches out to me unsolicited and not panic when I haven’t heard from her in a while. I have also learned to save the guilt slinging for special occasions when I need to talk with her RIGHT AWAY. My favorite is “Do you hate me?” with a little sad face emoji. Feel free to use this heart wrenching appeal but remember: only for emergencies.
Love for their people Get to know their new friends. Ask about the people whose names you hear repeatedly in their stories. If you have the financial resources, take extra kids out to dinner every single time you visit and then sit back and listen. Try not to judge them when they are temporarily the villain in your child’s story, because they will likely be the hero again next time you talk. Knowing the people in your child’s support system allows you a peek into their new life and reassures you they are in good hands when troubled times come. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world more delightful than a group of curious, passionate, opinionated young adults. I think college professors might have the best job on earth.
The ability to wait A successful college parent needs to learn to wait. Wait before you jump in and fix the problem, wait before you offer advice, wait before you point out the obvious, and wait before you give your opinion. Just in time for Alex’s graduation, I am finally learning to consistently say “Would you like my input?” BEFORE I offer said input. Sometimes, I even keep my input to myself altogether! We spent 18 years teaching our kids to be good problem solvers, so now we need to let them solve their problems. I am embarrassed to admit I woke my oldest up for high school every morning until she graduated, so I worried she would sleep through her alarm in college. She did a few times and then she realized she didn’t like being late for class, so she instituted some changes and took care of business. While they may need your help with registration the first semester, wait before you help them the second semester. They can and will figure out how to move out of the dorm and put stuff in storage. They can and will find their way to the airport and to a doctor’s office. They will fall on their faces a few times and then they will do something different, because it hurts to fall on your face. We learn by making mistakes and so will they. This one can be painful when we see an easier path than the one our child is choosing. Be brave, mama.
Prayer Speaking of being brave, prayer is the path to peace for me. I believe God went to college with my girls, so I talk to Him about them every single day. If they have a boyfriend in their life, I pray for him as well. I pray for their roommates when I know about specific needs in their life. Prayer is something tangible I can DO when much of their daily life is now out of my realm of influence. I also have a group of girlfriends who pray with me for my girls when circumstances warrant an extra dose of mama love. We have prayed our kids through auditions, dance team tryouts, swim meets, illnesses, break ups and big tests in just the last few months. We will be praying our way through several college graduations in the coming weeks. I would never have been able to walk away from their college dorm room freshman year without believing in the power of prayer.
Being a parent to my girls during their college careers has been a joy. Although I miss them when they live away from our home, seeing them spread their proverbial wings and fly has made the accompanying heartache worth every minute.
In spite of my stumbles and mistakes along the way, I look at them now and think “Job well done, mama!”
There you have it! Joining my lovely Friday Five (or 6) friends today around the theme of “5 Ways I am Nailing Motherhood.” Click over to Kelly’s blog to read more inspirational ways to nail motherhood!
Now it is your turn. Tell me in the comments how YOU are nailing motherhood!
Great insight, Kelly. Raw, honest and so full of love and respect for your daughters. Beautiful!
Kelly Johnson says
Thanks, Tara. Nothing I love more than being Alex and Brooke’s mom. They are extraordinary young women! Thanks for stopping by!
Kelsey Townsend-Remmelts says
Love this! The poker face and getting to know their people. YES, YES, YES! My middle guy is in college and will be graduating in December. I have one more to practice on in a few years so I should be a pro by then! Thanks for sharing-keep on writing sista and have a blessed weekend!
Kelly Johnson says
Thanks for all your encouragement, Kelsey! 🙂
Great post Kelly! I too have become a fan of texting as a primary way to communicate with Rachel. I think one reason I have come to love that mode of communication so much is that I don’t have to hear the attitude in her voice or see the eye-roll. I think she and I both benefit from the ability to stop and think before hitting the Send button. I have also come to realize that she also keeps cards she receives from friends, her boyfriend, and her parents. So I send an occasional card — nothing too mushy, and often something funny in a weird way, with a heartfelt note included.
Kelly Johnson says
Cards are a great idea!! I will have to remember to send a few next semester….for the one still in college!
I have NO poker face. My oldest is only 10, too soon to send her off to college so I can text her?
Kelly Johnson says
The teenage years will give you PLENTY of time to work on your poker face, as well as texting skills. Hang in there, mama! 11 and 12 were the roughest years with my girls, but I know you and God will get through with flying colors! ????
So happy to hear all you have learned along the way. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. As I read with tears I think of my two. A son in Sweden way to far away and a daughter who hasn’t spoken to me in 2 yrs — no that would be 27 months 2 weeks and about 4 hrs. But, — there is always tomorrow. I’m not giving up because I know — did I say I know God doesn’t.
Kelly Johnson says
I’m so sorry to hear about the separation with your daughter. A mama’s heart is always partly with her kids, even when they are far away. Praying for healing and a fresh start for you and your daughter. ❤️
Thank you so much Kelly.
good advice! Only a few short years for me until my oldest graduates high school.
Kelly Johnson says
It will be here before you know it, Andrew! Thanks for stopping by!
Kelly S says
I am about six years from being a college mom, but I think your advice applies to middle school parenting, too. I am pinning and returning. So thankful to have you calling out wisdom to me from the other side!
Poker face. SO true!
Secret Keeper says
THANK YOU for this post. It is so rich with “been there, done that” advice and amazing motherly wisdom. I just sent my son off to college and it was so hard for me. I love these suggestions. Thank you again.