My postparent coach phone rings frequently after the holidays are over. The house isrestored to order, and the kids, their clean laundry, and their second semester tuition check are back on campus. But their worried parents are unsettled by the strangers who just left.
Sometimes it’s because they came home, dropped their bags, and disappeared. All the plans you had for family time vanished in the brief moments when they were actually in residence. They partied all night and slept all day. They were uninterested in the people, activities and traditions they used to enjoy, they answered your questions in monosyllables, if at all, and they spent every waking moment and mealtime on their phones and tablets.
None of this is unusual behavior…but you expected otherwise, and you’re disappointed. It’s the parents who see more alarming signs of change in their young adult kids who call me the second time for advice. Often it’s related to evidence or indications of substance use or abuse, especially binge drinking; dramatic mood swings or depressed emotional affect; a noticeable or extreme loss or gain of weight; or even a complete change of plans – they’re moving out of the dorm and in with strangers, they’re dropping out or uninterested in going back, they’ve mismanaged their money, academic or social life, or failed their own expectations – and yours – for a successful transition to college .
Before you do anything, it’s important to understand whose expectations have been disappointed. If it’s yours, get over it…your kids may be experiencing failure for the first time, but it’s theirs, not yours, and they can’t cope if you help them blame everyone else but themselves for it, or worse, blame yourself. All you can do is tell them what your specific concerns are – although if the indications point to a substance abuse problem, get some expert help in how to bring it up and expect denial, at least initially. If you’re worried about their physical or emotional health, suggest that they seek help for it, point them to the college counseling office or a medical professional, and keep in touch with them to express your support, your confidence in their ability to persevere and solve their own problems and dilemmas. Refrain from anything that could be construed as telling them what to do or judging their performance. Focus on their strengths and their past successes in overcoming obstacles. Do more listening than talking. And lift the burden of your disappointment in how they’re navigating this stage of life so they can get on with growing up.