It’s that time of year again, both parents and children are intimately familiar with it. Feelings of relief, dread, excitement and nerves fly through households across the country.

Back to school.

This year, for some, the new school year will be familiar and comfortable; another year in the same school. Others may be nervous about starting middle school or high school. For many students though, back to school this year means beginning a whole new chapter in their lives, because many students will be leaving home and starting their first year of college.

Amidst the flurry of excitement that comes with buying new school supplies and dorm room decorations is the underlying question: what will this new chapter bring? Our years at college indisputably influence our careers, our lives and our futures. Choosing a discipline to study is no easy decision, and the process can be maddening for both parent and child. If you’re a mother (or father!) sending her daughter (or son!) to their first year of university, you may have already been stressing over what they will study in order for them to have the most successful career possible. Perhaps you have agonized over helping your child make the right choices, or making sure they follow in your footsteps. You are not alone.

Back to school is a great time of year for a quick reminder of the tips found in Chapter 11 of  What’s Mom Still Got To Do With It? Here I focus on these applying these tips in order to help constructively guide your daughter or son through their first year of college and into a satisfying, fulfilling career and future. But remember these tips hold true before and after college, as well.

  1. Allow your child room for error. College is the time to make mistakes! So long as they aren’t doing anything unsafe or harmful, let them learn the consequences of their actions, whether it’s sleeping through a class or forgetting to study. These lessons will help them become a more responsible and independent adult.

  2. Let them explore their interests. Don’t insist they study something just because you believe it will further their career. Let them find what major interests them, then explore career opportunities within that discipline. Your child will be happier, and more likely to excel in their classes!

  3. Don’t impose your values on them. Let them figure out what is important to them as they establish their life outside of their childhood home, rather than telling them how to do things in order to align their life with your values.

  4. Don’t pressure them to settle down before they are ready. Even though they are entering the first stage of adulthood, remember they are actually in the most formative years of career development. Let them take their personal life at their own pace.

  5. Let them be ‘an emerging adult’ to the extent that they can. It’s true, your child will be taking on more responsibilities than they may be used to once they move out. But they’re still young, so don’t berate them for taking a break or for acting like a child sometimes!

  6. Don’t expect them to fulfill your unfulfilled dreams. Remember that your child’s interests may differ from yours. Don’t pressure them into a discipline that you regret not studying, let them pick a major that will let them fulfill their own dreams instead.

  7. Remember that their separation is not a rejection. College is a new chapter regarding schooling and careers but also a new step for the independence of a young adult. If your son or daughter doesn’t return your calls right away or is reluctant to take your advice, don’t be offended. Let them figure out how they like to do things, they’ll reach out again once they feel that they’ve established their own autonomy.

  8. Be their mirror, show their strengths. Many college students struggle to adapt to a new lifestyle at university. Be your child’s support system and remind them of their strengths, even if classes are more difficult than they anticipated or they struggle socially at the beginning.

  9. Create opportunities. When your child does come to you for advice, be their advocate. Listen to opportunities they may come across, point out pros and cons and suggest other opportunities and ways to grow those opportunities in order to jumpstart their career.

  10. Get your own life and career together. Back to school can be for everyone!  It’s never too late to get a degree or to switch jobs and careers, your child is watching you and seeing you succeed will motivate their own success. Whether they tell you or not, they are looking for a role model in you.

In 8 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes (but who’s counting?) I will be packing up the car to drive my oldest son 630  miles to start his freshman year of college. One would think all my preparation as a mental health counselor, career counselor and university administrator would prepare me for this step as a parent.  But it does not.  As much as I understand on a rational level how to support him, the emotional mom in me will have to practice what I preach; show restraint, not say everything I think, trust that I’ve planted lots of good seeds, and continue to provide support when needed. I will do my best and heed my own advice. Tip #10 is critical… I know that by taking charge of my own career, and ‘walk the walk’,  I am giving my children a great gift.

Of course, there is no hard and fast parenting solution for sending your children to their first year of college. College is a huge investment, financial and otherwise and it is difficult to step back and not try to control the outcome. Alas, you lost control of your kids a long time ago.  Parents! Do your best and let our children do the rest.

Have a great school year!