When Parents Become Mentors
When Karen Levin Coburn P93 began writing about parents letting go of their college students, letting go was easier to do.
Coburn, assistant vice chancellor for students and dean for the freshman transition at Washington University in St. Louis, is the co-author of Letting Go: A Parents Guide to Understanding the College Years. The book, now in its fourth edition, was originally published in 1997. Thats before cell phones became ubiquitous. Before e-mail was at our fingertips. Before childrenand moms and dadswere an instant message away.
Todays technology has exacerbated a sometimes difficult challenge: allowing children to grow independent and successful while wishing to save them the tribulations that can be part of the process. Levins advice is simple and commonsensical: It doesnt mean you cut off the connection, she said. It means you dont jump in and do everything for them just because you can.
Her book was distributed last year to all of the parents of the incoming Class of 2008 by David and Pamela Maltz P05, who found that it addressed issues they were facing as two of their children went off to college for the first time.
We had to deal with the idea of letting the kids go and grow up, David Maltz said. This meant that wed have a different roleone of more a mentor/advisor than a parent.
It isnt an easy transition for either party, Coburn acknowledges. Parents who are capable and caring and have spent much of their adult lives nurturing and encouraging their children must realize that their fledgling kids now need to fly on their own. Its time, Coburn says, to support your childs growth rather than impede it.
That can be a leap of faith in your own parenting, she said. Your kids know the values you have instilled in them and they will be taking those values with them to college.
For more from Karen Levin Coburn go to www.lettinggobook.com
Susan Malick speaks like the veteran that
she is in playing the parent-of-a-college-student role. Son Nick Malick
'05, her third and youngest child, just graduated from Colby. "We come
from a small town in the San Francisco Bay area, so we wanted our three
children to step out and broaden themselves. Our children don't want us
to be underfoot.—
As advice to parents just entering this
transitional stage, Malick would tell them what she and her husband
have tried to do: "Remember that this situation is intensely personal,
varying from family to family and student to student. Try to take the
cues from your child.—
Nick Malick believes that the amount of
contact with his parents over his four years at Colby has been just
about right. "We usually get in touch about once a week, but it can be
four or five times a week if I'm having a problem at school or they're
having a problem at their end.—
The younger Malick, like his
mother, has advice for parents: "Try to hold off calling too much,
especially the first year. Give your child some space. Let them try out
who they are. If they're really having trouble, they'll get in touch
with you.— At the same time, Nick advises students to call parents
sometimes just to connect, not just when they're in trouble.
connections can produce lifelong memories. Sue Leighton Smith, mother
of Jennifer Leighton '05, recalls one such moment. "Our daughter called
from the Coliseum in Rome to say that she was standing with her Colby
friends, looking out over all that amazing history while the sun was
setting. This was her first trip to Europe, and how exciting for those
of us back in Connecticut to share that with her 'real time'.—
would anyone begrudge parent or student that shared experience? Hardly.
Sometimes parents need to be there; sometimes they need to let go.
Knowing which path to take and when, parents and educators say,
requires wisdom, intuition, experience and, perhaps, even plain old