I sat there on the phone with a complete loss of words, feeling dumbfounded… how did this happen!? What did I miss? Now what?
I have been a mom for 20 years, floundering, struggling, learning, and growing. For many reasons, motherhood did not come easy for me. Motherhood made me feel not confident, incapable, angry, frustration… all the feelings I didn’t allow myself to experience prior to having children. This phone call was another experience I didn’t feel prepared to deal with, didn’t want to deal with, and frankly left me feeling like a failure.
What was this phone call? It was my son calling to tell me he was miserable, the college he chose wasn’t for him, he wanted to come back home. Oh dear! We spent the last year talking about college, selecting dorm rooms, exploring the campus, picking a major and selecting classes. We bought dorm essentials, moved him in, said goodbye, with hugs and smiles and what happened was unexpected. Why did he want to come home? What isn’t working? Does he need to stick it out? Do I make him stay? I slowly saw the worst happening… he was never going to make it in life, if he doesn’t go to college then what?
This world is a tough place to make it without direction and a college degree. I knew of others that didn’t follow the traditional path, but I couldn’t see that for my son. I wanted him to love college, like I did. I wanted him to learn to love learning, as I do. I wanted him to have fun, find lifelong friends, like I did. I wanted him to experience life without the adult burdens for a few more years. On and on my list of wants grew, and so did my son’s grief and anguish. What do I do? What do I say? Why is this affecting me so much?
College is a choice with lots of variables that go into making this choice. He was my first child and he is always the one to take me through the “firsts.” And looking back, he never did anything according to plan. He always had to do things his way. He didn’t follow the crowd (which I loved about him), he didn’t want to disappoint me (which I respected), and he certainly wasn’t going to love his life if he didn’t love the journey, the college experience, that was going to create this future life (which he reminded me of by telling me that is what I had always “preached” to him… “love your life, by loving the journey as it is the journey that creates a life you love.” You’ve got to love it when your children repeat your words!😊 He came home.
Here is what I learned in this process so you can add this to your college search success protocol:
wasn’t ready… he needed a gap year
My son had been very reluctant and a bit contentious during his Senior year in high school. This was unusual behavior as my son was always the one to get everything done, he was organized, he did all his school work without any prompting, and was always cooperative etc.. Anything that had to do with college was like pulling teeth. He was just not motivated to do any of the required admissions next steps, and when he did there was always a problem with the school’s computers and login settings. Without fail each time he would go to do a simple task, there were several different websites within the school’s system to log in to and navigate which made everything so frustrating. We went for the Orientation Session and it was only one day due to Covid restrictions. He wasn’t wanting to do any of the extra activities and so the experience was very uneventful. All these were actually signs that I didn’t connect to his unspoken need to have a year off to just relax and get to know himself and what he wanted out of a college experience. He said later, “I just thought if I went through the motions I’d get excited and change how I was feeling.” That never happened as he wasn’t meant to go to college right away.
Insider secret: Pay attention to your child’s mood, how easily or not things are flowing during this admission process (look beyond some of the normal fears to see if there are personality changes not normal). The unspoken words that weren’t said, were “I am not ready.”
too far away… he needed to be closer to home
The college he picked was about a 6 hour drive away from our home. I didn’t think that was too far, considering Texas is a big state, and he wanted to go to school in Texas. Once we dropped him off and said goodbye, he felt sort of cut-off from us and home. What I didn’t realize was he really loved being at home and hanging out with us (me, his dad and his sister). He was a homebody even though he is also very social. He just felt he was too far away and couldn’t easily come home on the weekends as the drive was too far.
Insider secret: Pay attention to your relationship with your child. Does your child spend a lot of time at home doing things with you/family vs. out more with friends and away from home more often than at home. I didn’t realize how much my son needed to be close to home as I was just thinking about what is normal, what everyone goes through so I had blinders on. The truth is we are a very close family and we enjoy hanging out together and being home and I underestimated that connection and need in my son.
School 24/7… he needed more separation
Being away at college implies you are at school 24/7 in some way. As a freshman you are usually required to live on campus in a dorm. Dorm’s are not all alike and they are on campus for a reason. The cafeterias are on campus, all activities are on campus, and so on. This is great for so many positive reasons, but for my son he felt he couldn’t escape school or students at all… no privacy, no down time to himself, no place to go. This aspect was actually overwhelming as he couldn’t just be alone with his own thoughts and wants and wishes. He was constantly with someone or many and found it hard to just recharge without having people around 24/7. My son was really good at school, but with no escape from it he wasn’t enjoying being at school. It was just too much.
Insider Secret: Pay attention to the environment your child will be surrounded by at college. If there is no place to go for your child or you aren’t close enough to come home then just make a plan for how to handle the “too much” and no time by yourself restraints.
Major Curriculum… He wasn’t interested
While most majors will have classes your child won’t like or feel are unnecessary, check the 4 year degree plans and research the classes offered in the different majors to see if they teach topics your child wants to learn about and can see himself/herself engaging in. No one told me to research the actual classes. Everyone told me to check out the majors offered in general, and make sure the college of choice had a major or a few majors that were interesting. Drilling down a bit more will help your child be more aligned with one major over another or at least have some options to choose from and give you more insights to guide you and your child.
Insider Secret: Pay attention to the actual course descriptions listed in the college’s curriculum guides. Also check into what minors are offered and/or variations to a specific major that may be available. If possible, talk to or meet with someone in the major your child is interested in to see what it is actually like and if it is a good fit. This is becoming more important as college’s are asking you to pick a major when you apply and often times it is very difficult to change majors once you get admitted.
How did all this turn out? My son had an amazing gap year, he grew up so much, he got a job that helped him further decide what major he wants, he applied to and was accepted at another college that is closer to home, and he can live in an apartment and not a dorm. He is excited to go to college now and his attitude is completely different now than it was just a year ago. College searches, college admissions and all that goes into it is stressful. I have witnessed countless paths that work, and truly believe our children do find the right path for them. My hope is that my experience can help you pay attention to a few things not normally shared in the bigger college search protocols that are widely written about and discussed.
In the end, our children will have a different experience than we did. Our children will follow their own internal motivation if we let them flounder a bit and not have all the answers, thus we can gently guide them and ask them a lot of questions about day to day life that will impact their experience. Always remember life works and will work out… if we relax and let it.😉