The Core of the “Family Blessing”

 As I again enter into the Orientation season, I am reminded of the power inherent in the core of what I call the “Family Blessing.”  The core of this message is focusing on building self-competency for your daughter/son: that she/he can do this, and that she/he is not alone!

Each student has “landmarks” in his journey, often people, who helped guide him to this pivotal point.  Each landmark – a family member, friend, neighbor, or mentor — took a sincere interest in helping guide his journey, and as such, each person has a vested interest in his success.

I believe it is essential to http://www.collegeparent101.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gifconvey the Blessing both verbally and in writing.  The words of hope, encouragement, and support that make up the Blessing carry power such that they may make the difference between a successful first year and a mediocre one.  To be able to both hear and read these words provide students one of the most tangible foundations of trust I have seen in nearly 30 years in higher education.

Blessing letters might include words of…

  • excitement for the myriad possibilities that lie ahead
  • pride in her accomplishments
  • support for him in the path he chooses
  • trust in her ability to make wise decisions based in her own self-knowledge
  • words born out of spiritual, family, and/or community relationships

In turn, and equally as valuable, are the things I’d encourage you NOT to say; such as,

  • comments related to her making YOU proud
  • remarks that convey that he is responsible for YOUR feelings
  • stories that are, in reality, about YOUR fears
  • ways in which you may be expressing a lack of trust: often connected to the word “Should” (I’ll devote a future post to talk about this)

Here is a portion of an email from a Dad in Missouri, speaking to his own experience of conveying the Blessing:

“…one thing that stuck with me from your presentation was to give our son our “blessing.”  That never dawned on me, and I wish I had known of its importance when his older sister went off to college.  Before we left after move-in weekend, we stopped for a parting prayer.  But before that prayer I was able to speak to our (mom’s & dad’s) belief that he would be a success, had our full unqualified support, and that he had our full blessing.  A spontaneous group hug and tears quickly followed.  While I know I’m preaching to the choir, you can’t emphasize this enough to new college parents.  I had no idea how important it was for him until that day.  And as you pointed out, the choice of words is essential.”

Peace, Dane

p.s. If you are willing to share a copy of your Blessing letter &/or your student’s response, I’d be glad to hear from you!  Please include your name & home state – thanks!

 

 

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Relationship by “Save As” —

As this new academic year begins, I recognize that it is often easier (read: less hard/difficult) to fall back on what I know, or how I have always done something.  I bump into the temptation every year, as I prepare the syllabus for a course I’ve taught a dozen times, to change the dates and hit “Save As”, then move on to the next item on the endless list.

So as I sat with the choice again late this summer.  I was faced with the question of how I might do this very familiar thing differently.  How might I consider another vantage point?  How might the opportunity present itself in ways I hadn’t previously considered?  In what ways might I engage with the students, the material, and my own sense of the experience differently so as to create a different outcome?

I did, ultimately, completely retool an assignment.  Time – and the student’s experience with it – will tell if the retooling is successful, but it has engaged me in a new level of attention and excitement about where this semester may go that previous semesters have not; as good as they were.

And, as regular readers here can attest, these musings typically lead me to find some connection to this task we’re on as parents to help move our students toward a greater, deeper sense of their own self-competency.

I overheard parents during Summer Orientation sessions talking to their students about how this new college experience was going to play out for their own children (some adamantly and with great certainty).   As a parent, I recognize that we do this all the time.  We talk to our kids about our own experience in ways that conveys that they need, or should, make decisions based on how WE did things, rather than allowing her to learn through her experience (which is likely how we actually learned ourselves). 

I recognize that when we talk out of our experience as a way to dictate our student’s experience, we are projecting on them a limited picture of what may be possible; a way in which we are creating a “Save As” experience – that her experience will be/should be/ought to be similar to my own.  I don’t sense that we set out with this goal in mind; to share our experience as a means of forming our student’s to be like our own, but at these liminal (threshold) points, that is often what and how our students hear the message. 

So, as a way of considering how you might parent differently than you have before – as you work intentionally to transition your relationship with your student – might you consider how you talk about your own experience in ways that may be conveying how you want/believe/hope/think your student’s path “should” look?  Are there ways in which you are expressing a “Save As” expectation in the ways you engage in conversation that may be limiting to/for your student’s unique experience? 

I wish you well as you seek to write a new story!

Peace, Dane

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What are my Roles?

As we consider again (and again, and again) the perpetual invitation to examine the ways in which we bring a sense of intention and purposefulness to being a parent, it is essential that we look at the parts we play in our children’s lives.

In my College Parent 101 presentation, I pose the following question to parents: “What roles do you hold with your daughter or son?”  Another way to view this might be: “What roles define your relationship?”  An additional way to consider this might be to ask, “How do the roles I have keep me attached to my daughter or son in particular ways?”  In my own experience as both parent and university faculty/administrator, I know that much of the struggle we experience, and/or our children experience with us, is around the ways we define our relationships.

If you would, take a moment to identify the Roles you hold with your new or rising college student.  Go ahead; grab a note pad and pen, and make a list.  What comes to mind?  Responses such as: teacher, mentor, coach, and friend come to mind quickly.  But, there are also a host of practical life-based roles we have assumed out of the necessity and demand of daily life, such as: taxi driver, scheduler, nurse, party planner, ATM machine, and the like.  We are often not fully aware of how we “live out” of these roles – sometimes multiple times a day – and how they define our relationships because we equate them with “being a parent.”

Now that I have identified a few more, return to your note pad and make a list of what you find to be true for yourself.  Whether you do it now, or later, please take a few minutes to do it for yourself and for your student.  These roles are often the very things that we hold on to without realizing it, which can ultimately lead to us staying stuck while needing to transition to a new kind of relationship – one with new roles; new ways of being in relationship.

It is vital for our success as parents, and for the success of our student’s self-competency and resiliency, that we be aware of the connections we have with each other and how either, or both of us may be holding on to them.  If we don’t acknowledge these; that is, recognize if and/or why they need to end or change, we will hold on to them longer than is necessary.  They then serve as stakes in the ground of our relationship, preventing us from moving forward to a mature and healthy new place.

The metaphor that I believe speaks well to this is: Our job as a parent is never over, but our job description is always changing.  In what ways may you be regularly looking – with intention – at your “job description”; releasing your hold on roles that you may need to let go of, or at least reconsider attaching to in a new way?  This is the good, hard work of relationship!

 

Prayer for the Journey

I often close my live College Parent 101 presentations with a few excerpts from a prayer written by Father Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

To me, the prayer is a beautiful tribute at the heart of what it means to set a daughter or son off on a new journey, particularly one as significant and full of hope, excitement, concern, and even fear, as the college journey.  I’m hopeful that you find encouragement and support in his gracious words.

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

 

If you would like to see the prayer in its entirety, you need only Google: Prayer Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Letting Go & Holding On

I have been presenting my College Parent 101 session a lot in the last few weeks as this is the season for New Student & Parent Orientation sessions at universities across the country.  As I walked across campus the other day I thought, “Hmm, if we could harness the energy surrounding all the feelings both students and parents are experiencing right now, we could light up several small cities.”  There is a LOT of emotional energy being expressed about what lies ahead.

I watched the movie Toy Story 3 again recently, reminded that the premise of the story is that Andy, the “human” character in the series, is preparing to leave for college and is asked by his mother to pack what he needs and box-up or give away what he no longer wants.  It is a great depiction of the process every student is going through about now; what will I let go of and what will I hold on to – both literally and figuratively? (if you haven’t seen TS3, or haven’t seen it in a while, I think its well-worth watching with this transition in mind – I might even classify this as an “Assignment” on the College Parent 101 syllabus!)

So much of our identity gets wrapped up in what we have, who we know, and the places that hold memories.  So, when those change or we have to move on, what happens to our identity?  I sense that it is times like this; times when we are called on to evaluate what has meaning, that we bump into what we are attached to, and, at least at some level, must assess whether we will remain attached to the person, the thing, the idea, or agenda we believe helps maintain or perpetuate our identity.

I’m convinced that if we do not recognize our attachments, we will act/speak/think out of a potentially unhealthy sense of “holding on” to that attachment.  This is one of the very things that keep us living in the past, or not letting go of a particular way of seeing ourselves &/or others.  I often ask parents to consider what they feel when I say the words, “Letting Go…  What do you become aware of?  What do you feel?”  I believe it is essential that we recognize what and how we feel about the changes set in motion by this transition, and then appropriately grieve the change (loss) of how it was, and no longer will be, or we will continue to hold on, which holds us back.

Another way to approach this is to identify the ROLES (see p.s. below) we have had with our daughter/son: mentor, guide, nurse, teacher, taxi, ATM, alarm clock, and the list goes on...  Many of these will change dramatically; some will disappear entirely.  If we don’t identify these and also grieve the loss of them, we may continue to try to keep the role alive in one way or another; holding our daughter/son and ourselves back from healthy growth and understanding.

Just as Andy in Toy Story 3 has to make a decision about his cherished boyhood toys and the memories associated with them, so do each of us need to make a decision about how we recognize the inevitable (and necessary) changes that come as we transition our relationship to a new place of growth.

Peace, Dane

p.s. If you would like to explore this more deeply, begin to make a list of the Roles that you embody in relationship to your daughter/son.  List them, then begin to wonder about (pray about) the ways in which these roles are and will change as your child goes away to college.  The more aware you are of how you have lived out of these roles and how each leads you to act or respond toward your child, the more aware you can become of the work YOU need to do to let go of the attachments that are embedded in the roles.

 

Learning the Bicycle

In the spirit of looking from every angle as this idea of Letting Go, I offer another poem for us to consider; this one by Wyatt Prunty, called Learning the Bicycle.  I have, since the inception of CP101, been posing varying ideas for parents to consider regarding what Letting Go truly asks of us.

For veteran readers, we know that this idea of Letting Go is more about OUR work of letting go of OUR agendas for them – our “shoulds” – that are at the core of what hold our daughter & sons in a place of reliance on us and the ways that this inhibits their ability to become healthy and self-reliant.  These “shoulds” also hold us as parents back; perpetually connected to the roles we have occupied in our children’s early years, but must be relinquished so that we too might be free to be our best and fullest selves.

So I offer Prunty’s poem here as an image of what this process feels like; what the bicycle process can offer us as a teacher to do our best work as parents, and to offer our children into the teaching of their own lives.

Learning the Bicycle
by Wyatt Prunty

The older children pedal past
Stable as little gyros, spinning hard
To supper, bath, and bed, until at last
We also quit, silent and tired
Beside the darkening yard where trees
Now shadow up instead of down.
Their predictable lengths can only tease
Her as, head lowered, she walks her bike alone
Somewhere between her wanting to ride
And her certainty she will always fall.
Tomorrow, though I will run behind,
Arms out to catch her, she’ll tilt then balance wide
Of my reach, till distance makes her small,
Smaller, beyond the place I stop and know
That to teach her I had to follow
And when she learned I had to let her go.