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A leap of faith for parents

| Denise Olson

The countdown has begun. 

In our house, it's 21 days until move-in at college, and the excitement is building, along with the piles of goods taking over our home. As a mom of a blended family about to send the fifth and sixth kids off to college, I have been through this a few times. It would seem that I'd be over the nerves and worries this time around. No such luck. 

One phenomenon I've seen over and over, and many seem to experience, is that this "summer of freedom" is like the universe's little gift to prepare us. It's both practice separation (I see cars here in the mornings, so I know the girls exist) and just enough irritation to help us not miss absolutely everything. For instance, I will not miss waking up to a sink full of dishes or the kitchen garbage overflowing with fast food containers. Must they eat at 1 a.m.? 

Maybe I try to use humor to deflect my real feelings (there's no maybe about it), because facing this transition is simply painful, and I'm not so good at painful. The irony of my dreading this moment we've prepared them for in every way we knew how for the last four years is sort of ridiculous, but that circled date on the calendar truly gives me a stomachache. 

So what is so scary and sad to me? Aside from simply missing the physical presence of our girls, is it fear of failure? Maybe, but whose — theirs or mine? Am I worried that they will struggle, not be happy there or fail? Am I worried that I will fail to be supportive and understand the right ways to help ensure that doesn't happen? I suppose it's both of those in equal measure. This transition is a prolonged and delicate balancing act, and trusting our kids and ourselves to handle it well takes a leap of faith. 

Trust doesn't come easily to me. I have to really work at it, and every freshman sendoff for our family has been an exercise in growing my ability to trust. Trust in what, exactly?

  • Trust in our children and in the people I know them to be. 
  • Trust in the school to create the safest environment for learning and growth that is possible for thousands of independent young adults, all with their own ideas and expectations. 
  • Trust in the support systems created on campuses to offer all the help I wouldn't begin to know how to offer myself.

I must admit that working at UW-Eau Claire gives me a significant advantage in developing this kind of trust. I see firsthand how capable our students really are, how fervently they wish to succeed and thrive in this new phase of life, and how schools like UWEC do everything in their power to make that possible. I will call on this knowledge to calm my nerves about our two departing freshmen, and I will hope to pass along that assurance to parents of our Blugolds.

Can parents or a campus possibly foresee or avert every potential risk, struggle or danger? Certainly not, but knowing what your child's school offers in terms of help and services can go a long way in lifting some worry. 

Tutoring centers, health services, counseling, career services, student affairs offices — these are all in place to be the net that will catch our kids if they fall, and they just might. Our part as parents will be to make sure our kids know how to find that help at their schools and to trust us enough to tell us if there are problems.

There are no guarantees; giant safety nets are all we can ask for. The net is in place, now we just have to coach them not to look down — we can do that, right?