"Dad, Mom: I Don't Want to Go Back"

As many of you read in August, I offered some advice on how to manage the emotions of taking your baby to college. Today, I offer you some perspective on what to do when it doesn't work out, when the college they picked turns out to not be the right place.

For those of you who have a freshman coming home for the holiday break, and maybe contemplating staying home, here are some things you should know:

  1. According to US News and World Report, one in three, yes, a whopping 33% of college freshman will come home and stay home during their first year. Reasons will run the gamut of loneliness to irresponsibility, financial hardship to transitional issues, and usually, you won't see it coming.
  2. Homesickness is normal. Until students find their people, they may feel like a satellite floating in a universe where everyone else seems to know their orbit. But sometimes it's not homesickness. Sometimes it's something else.
  3. Your adult-child will know themselves and their limits more than you do. Don't you remember junior and senior year? All the testing and prepping and AP-ing and stretching? They learned the breaking point and they WILL NOT willingly go there again. Listen when they want to share their concerns just as much as their accomplishments. It's a gift when they let you in.
  4. You know your child. You know know their breaking point too. Trust them and trust yourself to guide and console, research and react. That is your job.
  5. You did not fail, nor did your child, if they come home. Everyone's experience is different and you need to remember that Instagram perfection is a lie. Please remind your child that too. Pressure to avoid criticism is a real thing but it is not the right reason to stay the course if it's direction is misplaced.
  6. Even four months away will change your emerging adult. She will be more self-aware, he will have more appreciation, and they will be trying to make good decisions for themselves. Sometimes she will be successful, like resisting the pressure to try cocaine because "everyone is doing it." (What happened to good-old-fashion beer pong and "Wine Wednesdays"?) And sometimes he won't, like playing too much beer-pong and missing a class because "OUCH."
  7. But when she tells you that the people and the place are not right, when she outlines the reasons and they make sense, when you know it's not homesickness, you will need to start listening.
  8. And when he does all the work and formulates a pretty good plan B, when he has all the hard conversations with guidance counselors and housing, when his voice is filled with conviction and carries the hope that's been missing, some of your hesitation will be replaced with pride.
  9. When she tells you that her brain, her heart and her gut have all shown her the signs to stop and reassess (because you've trained her to do so since she was little), you'll feel a little more confident in her skills and abilities to do the whole adulting thing.
  10. When she makes the final decision, your heart will break a little bit because it wasn't supposed to be like this. But hers will soar because she's doing the right thing, and that counts more than your disappointment. Passing the baton people. This is what we want.
  11. When you acknowledge that you can't prevent him from experiencing life's disappointments, that really all you can to do is listen, advise and then provide the soft landing, you will be growing too.
  12. And finally, when you let go of the worries and the sorrow, the should've's and the how's, you may just realize how blessed you are that she didn't settle, that she listened to her heart, and that she had the self-respect and confidence to get herself out of a bad situation. This will make you the proudest of all because the shifting of responsibility and oversight from parent to mature young-adult-child is what you've both been training for.

So Bella's coming home today and she is thrilled. She has charted a new path that will combine community college (which is free, by the way), hopefully some international travel, and transferring to a university that will fit her ever-growing self a bit better.

If your freshman has experienced any ups and downs this semester, here's a great article on what they might be experiencing emotionally and how you can be prepared. And if she/he has said those heart-sinking words, "I don't want to go back," here's an article that can help you both figure out if a new path could be better.

Merry Christmas and happy everything, friends. Enjoy every minute with your loved ones. We truly are so blessed.


Photo cred: Resi Kling, Unsplash
Holly and Jenn