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!