I distinctly remember the first year I looked out at the unusual amount of station wagons, packed to the gills, that were on the highway in late August and not realizing it was kids going back to college. That I had forgotten that feeling made me feel old.
Now that I am on the cusp of sending my second off to college, I feel older still.
I remember heading off to college with boundless hope and optimism, as well as an eagerness to have a good time. As a parent, I send my child off with boundless hope and optimism and a trepidation that he will have too much of a good time. Try as I might to see the adult he is to become, all I can see at the moment is the cute little kid I coached throughout the years.
It’s a rather precarious message you have to try to send to these kids as they leave the nest. Put too much pressure on them, and you can turn them into nervous wrecks. Don’t stress enough the need to take it seriously, and you run the risk of squandering $100,000 or more on highly lax adult daycare services.
So, let this column serve as a launching point for these painful discussions as parents and children ready the family transport vehicle to drop said child off on what is the first day of the rest of their adulthood. My standard message, falling on deaf ears, tries to define the college experience as a 40-hour work week. There’s the in-class effort and then there is the obligatory studying. Sure, there were fun times on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a few Thursdays, but Sunday was a full day of studying in addition to a couple of hours Monday through Wednesday. Exam period saw untold hours spent cramming in groups, trying to dimly recall arcane points from the first couple of weeks in the class, when more time was spent staring at the different coeds than focusing on the lecture.
Maintain that notion of needing to put 40 hours a week into it, and hopefully one won’t get too far behind when the mid-terms and finals arrive. If the kids haven’t, those mid-terms and finals can be rude awakenings with the potential for yielding grades heretofore unseen by the student. The notion of needing to stay on top of the studies on a cumulative basis, given there is less direction and hand holding than in high school, is a lesson parents everywhere hope their child won’t have to learn the hard way. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, KIDS!
On the flip side, you do not want the pressure of expectations to turn the kid into a nervous wreck. College should be fun. There should be some “learning for the sake of learning” going on to allow the individual to explore areas of interest. (That I went to a liberal arts college ought not surprise, after that last sentence.) Most freshmen will not have strong opinions one way or the other as to what it is they think they ought to do. Even some of those with strong opinions might find a new interest awakened from some off-chance course they took to fill out the schedule. In short, the hope is a child will, at some point, ignite a passion within them based on a particular course or subject matter.
And igniting a passion is what all parents want their child to take away from their college experience. You want your child to discover the pursuit that excites them and takes advantage of their natural talents. For, at the end of the day, when they come out of college, the hope will be they will have found a professional pursuit that will keep them not only self-sufficient, but personally satisfied by the endeavor.
In short, you don’t just want them to fly. You want them to soar. Unfortunately, you have to boot them out of the nest and set them free to be able to find out. Hence the anxiousness. We parents can understand our child’s anxiousness, having been there lo those many years ago. But can they understand ours, for anything more than being our usual, overbearing selves?
So parents, bite your lip and set them free. Wish them well and deliver the admonishments gently. And kids? Go out and have the time of your lives while staying focused on the pursuit of knowledge. Go learn to fly and, in the process, catch an intellectual updraft that puts a smile on your face.
Mr. Woollacott is president and founder of Renaissance Group International Inc. and a member of the Ashby Board of Selectmen. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.