College Student Kids: the new relationship


We've taken them to their residence, dropped off their stuff and now we're back at's the first time they have really been away. It feels weird. Are they still our kids?

Remember no matter how far they go, you are always a parent. So here we are at that time of year when we have to let them go..Let's take a look at what issues come up for us as parents and how our parenting changes. So you are still dad or mum but what’s required of you is a bit different.

Obviously it’s strange  just not having children in the house , but why is this “parenting from afar” particularly hard?

There are two parts to this. One is how you feel with a quieter house and less to do – particularly if you have been a full time parent (and I am thinking especially of those of us with an only child gone or youngest just left…) and that is to do with your feelings about yourself and your role, and who you are… the "empty nest" feelings.

The second part is your child away from home, kind of excited to get away and yet possibly still very vulnerable about what is demanded of them.  We as parents have to do the two tasks of sorting ourselves out (so we might be feeling very needy and a bit lost), and also guessing what our child needs from a distance. or it’s very hard when they tell you what they need or make requests and you aren’t near to “fix it” for them.

Of course, most teenagers will have spent the recent years quite close by and yet pretty independently BEFORE they actually move out? So we've all had some practice, surely?(and by now, they will have had time away from home..)

That really depends on your adolescent. Some will have been hardly seen at all by their parents – “they’re never in” scenario. and others may have appeared to be independent but actually need the physical closeness to reassure them.  If you have managed to balance the helping and the fostering independence thing early – they should feel ready to try their wings. However much they seem NOT to need you, you can’t assume this.  There's a good deal of mixed feeling that they are trying not to show! And the first few weeks or semester can be particularly hard – they may only just be coming to terms with it all..For some teenagers it really is a massive shock.

 I know some parents could be on the phone or emailing constantly, to check that their son or daughter is ok?

This is where the balance comes in. We need to figure out- whose need is being fulfilled by this. Am I feeling anxious? a bit of a spare part? Or do I realise they need more contact than they are saying. I think you have to know your child. Or at least tell them openly – "sorry I am going to be a pest and check how you are every other day/ every Friday" It's important that  there are some aspects to your relationship that continue – doing things reliably and consistently for example. Maybe saying (gently) some of the things you have always said..

Rachel, what are some practical examples of this reliability we were talking about?

  • Agreeing how money is to go through – not just as and when, but at a set time.
  •  Talking about your expectations of them – re behaviour and choices.  This is a certain amount of boundary setting – as you always have done. Part of this could involve discussing what are the risks and safety aspects of being on your own. where you walk, what you drink or smoke, your health
  • Don’t wait until there is a crisis – but talk it over in calmness. 
  • Ask for several phone numbers – not just their own cellphone or mobile. Who are the adults they would go to if really stuck?
  • Ask do they really need to be driving a car – or can they manage without?

Mostly this will help you with your parental worries. But can make them think too. 

This is a question about how we see them: are they adults now or just big kids?

This is very important – we have to realise (from about 18 years on) – that our young people are really adolescents until they are about 24/5 yrs old. The part of the brain saying "Go!" is till the dominant one, and the frontal lobes – saying "Let’s have a think about this.." is not fully in charge. So the weighing up risks, thinking-things-through abilities are neurologically not entirely connected.

It’s not far off those moments when you said to your three year old – "Well done, you are so grown up going to kindergarten all by yourself!" In other words you TREAT them as adults – with respect and intelligence, but you KNOW that in many respects, they aren’t quite there yet.

So what should we parents be doing for them?

Be available. Number One. So let them talk whenever they need to. Listen Listen Listen. And remember – you don’t have to fix things for them – that is their job now. Back to the old theme of



and wait….

You don’t have to get on a train or in the car to go and talk to the course tutor, or get their accommodation changed, or agree to pay that overdue rent necessarily. See what they can come up with first.

Next – accept that your relationship is changing. It is an evolving role. One friend of mine said: “You are going to get to know them as a friend,” She told me that she asks “what kind of an adult are they going to turn out to be?”  and wonders about it. You will be a parent forever, but the ground levels out.  You too are moving on, to the next phase, where there is more thinking to be done, not just about our children, but about us and plans for our own future.