Who’s Not Ready for College?

This is the text message I sent to two friends last week who were dropping their children off at colleges on the other side of the country: “When can we have our first MMD/MMS (mothers missing daughters/mothers missing sons) meeting?textmmdmms

For both of them, this is their first child to leave home to go away to college, and the colleges are FAR (we’re talking two flights) from home.

For me, this fall marks the third time one or more of my girls have left home for school. I dread the day they leave each year. I love their adventurous spirits and their lofty academic and life goals, and I know that their school experiences are good for them. Yet I still dread their leaving. Even after three years.

At my son’s end-of-school swim party in May, a mom, while talking to my Who's Not Ready for College?daughter (who was home from college), marveled at her ability to go away to college for her freshman year. This mom said (about her own 18-year-old senior daughter), “She’s just not ready. She can’t do anything for herself. I do everything for her. She still needs to stay home with me. She wanted to go away to college, but she’s just not ready.”

This got me thinking:

• When are any of us ever ready for a brand new, unknown challenge?
Don’t we have to just try it and figure it out? I don’t think we ever start anything that’s new or challenging and feel completely ready. Whether starting a new job, moving to a new city, getting married, having a baby, or going away to college, it’s the experience itself that eventually gets us ready, and sometimes that takes time. We’re not ready, but we need to listen to Nike and “Just Do It!”

• When a parent says, “My child’s not ready for ________________ (fill in the blank with ‘summer camp,’ ‘going away to college,’ ‘getting a job,’ etc.),” is it really the child who’s not ready for the challenge, or is it the parent who’s not ready to let their child go? In this involved, committed era of parenting (note my positive wording and avoidance of aircraft terminology), do some parents unconsciously, or consciously, not want their child to be ready to leave? Perhaps the parent is not ready for the change it makes to their own life to not have a child to feed, launder, and cheer for at sports events? Some parents seem to be proud of the fact that they “do everything” for their child. I think parents need to recognize their sense of loss and mourn appropriately for the end of an important stage of their own life. If you’re in the “not ready” parenting camp, ask yourself, Is it your child who’s not ready, or is it you who’s not ready to let them go?

Regardless of who’s not ready for college, I don’t think any parent should tell their 18 year old that they’re “not ready” to go away to college. They’re not ready. So what? Neither were we. How about instead of focusing on the “readiness” question, focus on teaching them some tangible skills that might help them be more prepared? They can learn to prepare some basic foods, do laundry, manage their own money, make their own appointments, etc. Use a list like this one and work your way through some of it to make yourself feel better.

Most of us went to college, and we figured it out. If the same truths hold for college that hold for summer camp, then probably the kids who seem the least ready will be the most challenged and will benefit the most from going.

Many evenings as I sit at my once-full dining table and see three empty chairs, I think longingly of the days when all of my children were gathered around the table and then safely tucked into their own beds, under our roof. Those nights rarely happen anymore, so of course I value them now even more. But I know that this sense of loss is something we parents all must go through when we let our kids spread their wings.

I know for many families it’s wise financially to have kids stay home for the first few years of college, so I’m not proposing that every 18 year old should go away to college. I do think that if kids stay home for those early adult years (now we’re calling them “emerging adults”), it’s still important to get them to do other things they’re not ready for, like start supporting themselves financially.

If you’re like the swim party mom with one of the “not ready” kids, please reconsider. Going away to college, joining the military, or living and working in another city, are life-altering, growth-promoting activities. Our kids need to go out there, even when they’re not ready, so that they can get ready for life.

Once they do spread their wings, start up your own MMD/MMS support group. You’ll need it.

Related (kind of):

How helicopter parents are ruining college students

A Conversation with Excellent Sheep Author (Slate)

The Bubble List: 31 Things My Sons Should Be Able to do Before they Move Out (Huffington Post)

5 Basic Things to Teach your Teen Before they go to College (Examiner.com)

Parking the Helicopter

How Independent do we Want our Kids to Be?


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