By Nicole Clifton, MA, Life Coach specializing in student transitions
FINALLY. You are an adult! You made it. You’re 18 and you’re headed off to college or whatever the next chapter of your life is looking like. However, maybe you feel like your parent hasn’t gotten the memo on this monumental shift in your life; that they still see you like the high school kid you were. You need them to realize that things are different now, but aren’t quite sure how to tell them (nicely). Here are some things to keep in mind as your parent-child relationship becomes your parent-adult child relationship:
Realize that you will always be their kid and they are likely always going to feel like they want to protect you. Yes you are an adult. Yes, you do get to make choices for yourself that may be different than the choices that your parents would make for themselves. Sometimes, that will absolutely be the right choice for you. Sometimes, you may think it’s the right choice and you’ll realize you made a mistake. All of that is okay. Parents want to protect us from having to learn by experience. You can acknowledge that by saying “Mom/Dad, I know we’re not seeing eye to eye right now and you disagree with my perspective. I know you love me and want to protect me, and you think the choice I want to make/have made isn’t wise. I’m so grateful that your heart is to protect me, but this is the choice I’m making. Right now, I’d just love to know that you love me, no matter what. I’m not asking for any more input.”
Know that you ARE allowed to set healthy boundaries. You are an adult and developing your autonomy is a natural part of this growing up process. However, another part of the growing up process is proactive communication. If you need to set some boundaries with your parents, don’t make them guess or ice them out. TELL them what you need and why you need it. If you just want them to listen and not offer advice, try this: “I just need someone to listen right now, and I’m not looking for input. Is that something you feel like you can do right now?”
If your parent is calling you 3 times a day to check up on you and it feels overwhelming, don’t ignore their calls for 3 weeks until they call university officials to go to your room to check on you. Instead, what if you said something like: “I appreciate how much you care about me, but I am trying to be fully present in this new chapter of my life, so I’m not going to be able to respond as frequently as you’ve been reaching out. I do want you to feel included and updated on what’s going on in my life, so could we schedule a standing appointment to talk on Wednesday evenings, or Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon between my classes, then adjust as needed?” In this way, you are creating communication that you are more comfortable with instead of avoiding the conversation that needs to happen or hoping that your parents will magically be able to read your mind.
Give your parents some grace. It is possible that they are GRIEVING. Grieving that you are no longer living in their home, grieving that the old dynamic you used to have is shifting, etc. They may be nostalgic or trying to grasp on to something because they’re afraid of losing you. They may want to be excited for you, but are trying to figure out what to do with their own sadness. You can still set boundaries and still be independent, but just be gentle with their hearts and what might be going on underneath the surface of some possibly frustrating behavior. It is going to take time to adjust for both of you to what will actually be the majority of your relationship (adult parent and adult child, instead of parent and child.) You will still be learning, growing, and changing; your parents will be doing those things along with you. Remind them that you love them, maybe even still want them and/or need them, even if the ways those things play out look a little differently now.
You survived all your other seasons with your parents and you will adjust to this one too. Learning to see each other as adults, as well as being parent and child, can be a really challenging dynamic, but also one that can bring lots of reward if you both are willing to lean into the experience.
Sign up for Nicole’s 6-Week Package for College Students to help you walk through the transitions of this season. The program can be worked individually, or in partnership with a parent as they learn a new skill set as well. Learn more here.