Looking Ahead: Becoming a Mentor to Your Child

It is exciting for you, as a parent, to imagine the new life your child is about to begin at college. Maybe you envision your daughter living in a residence hall, and you picture her friends flocking into her room because it is so warm and inviting. You want her to have nice things, and soon you find yourself shopping for a bright comforter and small appliances in coordinated colors. The next thing you know, you’re on the phone calling the housing staff to find out how much space is under the bed and how large the closet is, so that you know what size of storage containers to buy. Parents of students who will be commuting to campus might be mapping out multiple routes from home to campus, identifying drive-through coffee shops along the way.

As much fun as it can be to think about your child’s life at college, this is not the time to take charge of every detail. Instead of picking out matching sheets and towels, encourage your student to watch for the housing assignment notice, then make a call, send an email, or connect via social networking with the new roommate to talk about what they each will bring. Discussions between roommates about how to decorate the room can be among the most helpful steps in learning about one another.

By planning and setting up the room together, new roommates pick up useful clues about one another’s personality, values and background. A shopping trip is often the students’ first shared outing. Your role, as a parent, is to encourage your student to use these decisions as a way to meet roommates, share ideas, and find ways to compromise.

During the college years, parents and their children are developing a new, adult relationship—one based on love and respect—that will last a lifetime. As mothers and fathers move away from the pre-college patterns of closely monitoring and helping direct their child’s daily activities, they begin to take on the role of mentor.

Adapted from You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me) by Marjorie Savage Simon & Schuster, Fireside, 2009