Last week, my sweet Girl and I went on our first, solo college visit road trip. We’ve visited schools as a family, she and Hubs have gone on their own. This was our turn. With our favorite protein bars and plenty of water and snacks in our cooler, we took off for what I thought would be a 6 hour drive.
Six hours turned to eight due to brutal Chicagoland traffic, a wrong turn and several bathroom breaks (old bladder.) We had a blast despite the few annoyances in the car (why is aerosmith on your playlist, how much longer do we have on this road, why why why – all my questions, not hers.) I was so happy to be with Girl, just us, and she, for whatever reason, spent minimal time on Snapchat. We talked and giggled for miles and miles and miles.
Here are three things I practiced during our visits which I believe lead us to success, joy and a ton of fun:
Say nothing. And then, say nothing
The first college we visited was lovely. Girl was hesitant as the school is a small one, and she is looking for a large campus. She stepped up during the campus tour, asking smart questions and initiating conversations with the student tour guide. I’m not sure if it was because our student guide was Hottie McHottiepants or because she was feeling exceptionally confident and engaged. We were both captivated by the beauty of the campus and the overall feeling of community and charm.
As the experienced High School Mom I am trying to become, I kept my mouth shut as we finished the tour and approached the car. I WANTED to ask her what she thought, ask if she liked it, ask if she could see herself there, tell her she should get in touch with the local admissions officer as soon as we got home…. Oh yes. The task to be quiet and say nothing is a well worn mantra of veteran high school senior moms. They know when you ask a question, you will most likely get the shoulder shrug and head bob. Perhaps a grunt if you are lucky. I got out the keys, turned on the air and started the car – quietly….
And then – she said “Oh my gosh Mom. I really liked it. I REALLY liked it. I didn’t think I would but wow, that was great!”
I wanted to scream “YEAH, ME TOO. I could totally see you here – the financial aid seems great, I think your grades are perfect for it and really, we could drive or fly – maybe you can even run track here! AND I love that hotel for parent’s weekends…”
And yet. I smiled and said “Me too. It was great. What did you like most?” Who have I become? Where did that come from? It came from listening to veteran moms out there. It came from listening to and observing my Girl. The one who wants this to be here decision. The one who wants to move at her own pace. The one who is going to college.
She couldn’t stop talking about the school. She was having a moment….taking it all in…..
Let your kiddo lead the way
During her moment, I had my own moment. As well as I did with saying nothing, I quickly reverted and ignored her settling into the quaint town and good vibe she got and started talking about how we had to get ready for the next visit. We had two hours to get to the next campus and I was back in Efficient Mom mode, packing, calculating travel time and bathroom breaks and lunch.
Girl got quiet. I was about to get frustrated when she wasn’t participating in the trip planning until I saw her face. It looked…dejected. Sigh. I realized I was taking control and not listening, not staying present with her.
As parents, we need to help our kiddos with boundaries and deadlines and help guide them in making their own decisions. Guiding and taking over can sometimes get mixed in to one big bowl of clusterfuckedness that creates a lot of tension. WE know their lives would be easier if they didn’t procrastinate and wrote their Common App essay this summer vs. during a busy school year. WE know it’s good to knock out as many campus visits in a geographic location as possible. WE know the importance of deadlines, time management, follow up emails and persistence. They don’t know this – YET. They are learning. We must advise. And to advise, we must listen. And we must let them take the lead. This is THEIR search.
So, I stopped and said “I’m taking over here. Do you not want to go to the next school. What’s up?” She told me she was interested in the school up next, but she didn’t want to make the trip during the same day. She was so pleasantly surprised at how much she liked the first school, she wanted to drive around the campus, browse the small town and just hang out and get lunch with me.
When your almost 17 year old wants to spend time with you, you do it. After she eloquently explained why she wasn’t keen on visiting the next school, I took a long minute and just listened and absorbed. I didn’t make my decision based on what we should do, what we had planned, what may be the smartest move. I listened.
And I heard my baby girl, the girl she’s been since she’s been born. The girl that likes to stop and take it all in. The one that wants to find her way, nice and slow and then jump. The independent girl/woman who wants to please but really wants this to be her own thing.
So, we stayed. We shopped, we meandered around town, we drove around campus, we ate a long lunch and went for ice cream. We had fun. We relaxed. We talked. We spent unhurried time together and Girl felt heard and respected. This is the building of our soon to be adult relationship. While she’ll always be my babyGirl and I will always want to do for her, I am learning to let her do for herself – even with, especially with, the big stuff, like picking a college.
Her time living under our roof is coming to a close soon. We won’t have these moments to laugh together as often, to spend time together and just be. Right now, she needs my advice when it comes to making choices – not for me to make the choices on her behalf. So, I choose to quiet down, let her lead me and have fun.
What is your advice for parents of high school seniors? Let me know in the comments below! We can all use some good advice!
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