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How to Raise a Parent While at College

It is a little known fact that properly raising a parent requires attention and thought. Developing parents can be tough enough when you are with them on a day-to-day basis. Teaching them that you can take care of yourself and have a life is difficult. Acknowledging and working with their problem of letting go is challenging. When you are away at college and your days are filled with other activities, nurturing your parents may be, at best, an afterthought. Be proactive and invest time in your parents now. Doing so can make your life easier in the long run. Several tips and strategies can be helpful in this process.

You are not the only one learning and growing. Your parents are losing a bird from their nest. Whether or not you are the first in your family to go to college or the last, your family will change as a result of you leaving. The role you played in your family was important and will not easily be replaced. Try to understand life from your parents’ perspective. A little empathy goes a long way. Know they have anxieties and fears about the shift in your life as well as their own.

Parents don’t magically know how to relate to their grown children as adults. There is no secret formula to this process. You figure it out through interacting, effective communication, and conflict. Talk directly and openly with your parents about what you’ve learned. Know that they’ll wish to contribute and allow them to.

Most parent-child relationships have a certain level of dependency. You count on your parents to be there in a time of need. Many adult children view being dependent as negative and strive toward independence. Your parents become accustomed. to it. After all, you have been their child and were dependent on them for many years. Know that your parents may have difficulty immediately accepting that you are an adult. In fact, they may accept this idea only after considerable conflict occurs. Be patient with them. Tell them about your successes and failures. Reassure them that you are handling your mistakes responsibly.

The parental apple doesn’t fall far from the grandparental tree. Your parents likely will approach your newfound adulthood similarly to how their parents approached them. Learn about the difficulties your mother or father had during this time. What did their parents do or say that was helpful or unhelpful? This history can be useful in understanding your parents’ attitudes.Know that your parents are learning too, they need help relating to you as an adult, and they struggle with losing a child they care for deeply. Help your parents understand that they are gaining an adult who has learned much from their parenting.

When Conflict and Unexpected Changes Occur in Families

Change occurs constantly in families. Going to college, securing a career, getting married, having and raising children, and growing older are often expected events and inevitably change your relationship with parents and siblings. Divorce or separations are events that also can profoundly affect your relationship with family members.

Caught in the middle?

College students of divorcing parents often feel split between two worlds. Having two homes and two places to go during holidays can be confusing and upsetting. Adult children may feel as though they must side with one parent. They may react by becoming closer to one parent or distancing from both. They may feel guilt or responsibility for their parents’ separation or divorce. At times, trust in romantic relationships may be difficult.

Guidelines for survival and growth

The following are some guideline that may prove helpful during this time include:

Don’t go through this period alone. Support and acceptance by other people are absolutely essential during big changes.

Know your feelings will change. At times you may have difficulty concentrating, may feel sad, angry or depressed. Reactions like these are normal and healing takes time. Sharing these feelings with others who have had similar experiences can be helpful.

Learn about what is going to happen. Divorces and separations frequently are accompanied by an absence of accurate, open communication with the children. Focus on what you need to know for your plans, not on information that is more properly in the private domain of your parents.

Keep clear of unhealthy alliances. Try to protect yourself by not being dragged into the middle.

Find out what works for you. Reactions vary widely. Trust yourself. Learn what is effective and ineffective for you.

Learn to use helping resources outside your family.

Note: This document was created by the Counseling Center at the University of Texas at Dallas. It is published here with their permission.