Letting daughter adapt to college on her own

  • Wednesday, October 30, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Dear Carolyn:

Last year my daughter attended a college and thought she made the wrong choice. She learned to like it and found happiness, but some major things that bothered her were not going away with time, like its location and lack of rigor. She also really wanted more friends and never found her group.

She was accepted (again) at her “dream school” that had many of the qualities she was looking for, but her fear of it being too hard was holding her back. After much thought, she decided to transfer to that college.

At first she was adjusting well, but a few things have her thinking she made the wrong decision. She is doing well academically, getting involved, and has made a nice friend group — something she didn’t have at her first school and desperately wanted. She recognizes her difficulties and is seeking advice from her former therapist.

As a parent, I am trying my best to support her and remind her the transition is still new and she needs to be mindful and open to all the good things her present situation has to offer. What else can I say to help?

— Parent

Nothing comes to mind.

Well, a lot of things come to mind, but I suspect the most helpful one is not to say any of them, and let your daughter fend for herself.

A major challenge of adulthood — perhaps the defining one — is the personal search for “enough.” Is this good thing enough of a reason to stay; is this bad thing enough of a reason to leave; do I like this enough to major in it; am I good enough to earn a living from it; am I working hard enough to get by or succeed; are these people reliable enough for me to count on; am I attentive enough to my friends; do I have enough of a purpose, and am I doing enough to fulfill it? Is this life enough? Am I enough.

(And the defining challenge of parenthood, alas, is knowing when you’ve “parented” enough.)

Outside guidance can be a lifeline when we get lost during this existential search. However, it is essential to self-discovery that we do get lost sometimes, because that’s what encourages resourcefulness, builds confidence and makes room for the unexpected.

You interfere with that process if you remind, support and advise your daughter every time she expresses doubt.

So let her be uncomfortable. Let her figure out whether it helps to get therapy or call you or lean on friends or keep her own counsel. Certainly let her ask you first, at least, before you weigh in — and even then, let her piece together her own advice by shaping your support into questions: “How do you feel about that?” “What have you tried so far?” “What do you think you’ll do next?” Even, “Is it such a bad thing to be uncomfortable for a while?”

Obviously you don’t want to ignore signs of fragile mental health, if it comes to that — but your basic human can do a lot of second-guessing, churning, regretting, failing, agitating, misinterpreting, roiling, false-starting, even outright suffering, without risk of lasting harm. To help her with these, consider the truth: “I understand. It’s just hard sometimes.” On you, too, I know.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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