Finding Courage for our Kids

I read this post from my friend and colleague Chip Dodd again not long ago and recognized that his comments about being truthful about who we are with our children and how we feel about their lives and our lives together never really changes.  I see how my feelings with my adult children is so similar to my feelings when they were young.  The circumstances or issues my have changed, but the deep feelings have not.

I’m hopeful that Chip’s perspective can help you find new courage to step further into the deep conversation…

Peace, Dane

http://chipdodd.com/blog/fear-of-children

 

Peace for the Journey…

Poems help me find language.  Language that speaks directly to the concerns and hopes that are building daily as we look toward parting way with our daughter/son at the end of Move-In Weekend. You might begin reading poems with a newly attentive eye to your own awareness of all the memories you carry; all the hopes and dreams, all the longing. So much we want to say…. So much we hope for… So much….

I posted a reflection recently about how, as parents, we have been practicing letting go from the very early years of our kids lives – even if we weren’t aware that that is what we were doing.  This poem couldn’t be more timely in what I know is bouncing around inside each of us. I’m hopeful that Sharon’s words below may help you find your own.

Peace, Dane

The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb

by Sharon Olds

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t

have by now.

Whatever the world is going to do to him

it has started to do. With a pencil and two

Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and

grapes he is on his way, there is nothing

more we can do for him. Whatever is

stored in his heart, he can use, now.

Whatever he has laid up in his mind

he can call on. What he does not have

he can lack. The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one

folds a flag at the end of a ceremony,

onto itself, and onto itself, until

only a heavy wedge remains.

Whatever his exuberant soul

can do for him, it is doing right now.

Whatever his arrogance can do

it is doing to him. Everything

that’s been done to him, he will now do.

Everything that’s been placed in him

will come out, now, the contents of a trunk

unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.

Put Your Mask on First…

My friend and colleague Melanie Rogers posted this very insightful and helpful perspective on the needs of adolescents, which would certainly include your soon-to-be college freshman.  I’m grateful for her vast experience and calm perspective in her words.  I hope that you find this helpful and another guiding voice in this new journey.  Thank you Melanie!

Written by Melanie Rogers, MMFT, LPC-MHSP

When I tell people I work with teenagers, I usually get some version of this response:
“Wow, that’s a tough age. You must be really patient, brave, or crazy.”

I may be a little bit of all three.

The changes that occur in the teenage years make working with (and parenting) teenagers both scary and (potentially) really fun.

Whether the “issue” that brings an adolescent into therapy is anxiety, self- harm, sexual acting out, depression, or relational struggles, a parent’s biggest question is some version of: “How do I make my child’s pain and suffering go away?” or “What does my child need?”

My answer to this heart-wrenching question is: “They need you.” My response is normally met with a mixture of confusion and fear. Your teenager’s biggest need is not for their pain to be fixed.

If their need isn’t to be fixed by their parents, then what on earth do they need? Here are three things every adolescent needs from their parents.

1. Teenagers need their parents to help hold their pain by being emotionally present.
Being emotionally present means giving them permission to feel their own feelings without being shamed, judged, or abandoned.

2. Adolescents need to know that they are enjoyed just for being who they are, not based on how well they can perform certain activities.

3. Finally, teenagers need consistent boundaries. Consistent boundaries help teenagers feel safe, giving them the freedom to explore and develop their own internal boundaries (wisdom and discernment) within the safety net that external boundaries provide.

That sounds simple enough, right? So, what makes it so hard?

Teenagers are amazingly adept at stumbling upon and bringing to the surface their parent’s own need for healing and restoration. Teenagers are like soldiers stumbling through a mine field with clown shoes on, never missing an opportunity to trigger their parents own “unfinished business.” A parent’s emotional reactivity, impulsive behaviors, and distorted perceptions of their child may all be indicators that point to the parent’s unresolved trauma and leftover “issues.” Sadly, this reactive and inflexible state of mind impairs a parent’s ability to think clearly, and remain flexible in their responses, ultimately preventing parents from being able to give their children what they most need.

Adolescents need parents to have access to their own feelings. Having access to their own stories and the the feelings that go with them allows parents to not be as reactive to getting triggered by their children. Simply, the clumsy teenage minesweeper won’t be able to trip the alarms as easily, because the parents will know where they end and their children begin.

Put on your own oxygen mask first.

In short, the most loving thing you can do for your teenager is to put on your own oxygen mask first, so you can see and think clearly to help your teenager navigate the stormy seas of adolescenc

Melanie Rogers is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves inviting people to explore their own interior landscapes, challenging them to be intrigued with the bigger story being told in and through their lives. Melanie loves nothing more than to see her clients discovering, recovering, and living from their truest self.

Financing Sense – A Syllabus…

As the price of higher education becomes more expensive year after year, it becomes incumbent for both parents and students to be more informed and savvy about finding ways to make this dream more accessible and less costly over time.  It’s a daunting task for most families; especially for those students who will absorb the primary responsibility of financing their own education.

I’m grateful to one of our readers (thank you Brandi) for the link to the following graphic from CompareCards.com.  It is a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of a long-term relationship with finance and debt of college expenses, and ways for students to begin a life of negotiating the intricacies of the financial marketplace.

I might suggest that you sit down with your student to walk and talk your way through this step-by-step process of considering the ways your family’s unique financial situation will come to play as your student begins the college experience.

http://blog.comparecards.com/infographics/financeu-syllabus/

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What I wish someone had told me….

I recognize that at this point in the college transition process, there are questions that parents have, and there are questions that students have.  Some of those questions overlap and some are inherently different.

While I typically address the questions parents may be asking, I sensed it might be helpful for parents to hear with their students about the questions that some rising freshman may not yet know how to articulate. Many of these questions are around core identity issues, such as; will I make friends, will I do OK academically, will I miss home, and the like.

So, I asked several of the students in the First Year Seminar course I teach what they wish someone would have told them.  I’m hopeful that this help you begin to articulate what you hope for and wonder about.

Peace, Dane

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Transitioning to college is certainly an uneasy time. There are many mixed emotions including nervousness, excitement, and confusion. I wish I had known that college work is not a scary beast that is impossible to tame. If a student allots the proper amount of time to calmly complete an assignment, the school work is easily manageable. Also, I wish I had known that being so far away from home is really not scary, it is freeing. While there may be moments of homesickness, the precious time spent with loved ones is that much more cherished after having been away.   Julienne

I wasn’t worried about the grades since I felt motivated that what I would be doing in college would be more relevant to what I want to pursue. However I will say freshman year there will have to be some pointless classes you have to get out of the way ( not FYS of course ) but staying inspired in the courses that are relevant to you is critical! On a more personal note, dealing with a relationship entering college is going to be much different, the people, the place and sometimes people change and they come or go from your life as was the case with me. Things will change and people will be out of your life but so is the way of this world and all that can come from it is another way to connect with another soul. It’s a chapter and they should be excited! Don’t worry about what you can’t control and don’t take for granted where you are.   Nick

Most of my questions revolved around how to get involved but not get overwhelmed. It is an entirely new experience that we cannot ever fully prepare for. Once I realized that I could focus on what I wanted and not only making the best for my future but also for now I was a lot more relaxed. I learned that it is okay to sit in my room for a day if I don’t feel like forcing myself to meet new people and it is also ok to try and get to know others. You have to figure out what interests you and what is the right process. Even following your own study habits becomes easier.

I didn’t know what the workload would be like. It is very different than past years of school. Our schedules are more spread out, we are held responsible for getting our work in, there isn’t daily homework but teachers don’t leave you out on a limb. They generally remind you when something big is coming up and help you make the most of the work you do, instead of a bunch of busy work. While it is more challenging, the way it is approached makes it a lot easier than I had anticipated. It isn’t as bad as high school teachers lead us to believe when they say they are “preparing you.” AP classes felt like torture but they aren’t pointless, they make college seem a billion times easier.

Most of what I had been worried about as far as technical stuff was concerned (finding my classes, registration etc) was addressed. It isn’t hard to find someone willing to help direct a lost freshman or answer questions. It is the more personal things that can be troublesome.  Monica

Before college I had a huge concern about keeping up with the workload. I was an honor student in high school, but I wasn’t sure if that would translate to college. So, something that the high school students might like to know is that college can be challenging, but it is very much manageable. Although things may seemed overwhelming at first, I found a way to manage my time properly so that I had fun, but I got my work done without getting too stressed about it (by prioritizing and not having too much fun, but knowing when I need to work instead of hangout with my friends…)   Also, they are probably concerned about making friends as I was. However, I discovered that there’s a place for everybody and you don’t have to try hard to find it, because it will find you.   Travis

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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!

 

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.

 

Scared to Fail!

In the course of writing the entries for CP101, the most “re-posted” or shared piece I have ever done here was on the topic of failure: Learning to Fail.  I sense that underneath much of our fear for the choices and decisions our daughters and sons make is that the decision will lead to failure.

When it comes down to it, its not really the failure we’re afraid of, but what comes after that: the fear of the unknown, we commonly call it.  The irony of it is, we can’t be afraid of what we don’t know!  So here is a great article addressing the fears as much as the failure and how we get tripped up around both.

Enjoy!

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3027404/scared-of-failing-ask-yourself-these-6-fear-killing-questions?partner=newsletter

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