Sending a child to college an exercise in trust

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
It’s late July and before we know it our college students will be heading off to campus. For those of you who have sent a child away to college I am certain you’ll agree there can be a lot of anxiety surrounding the event. As many of you know, I spent 15 years working as the full time Catholic campus minister at Mississippi State and from that experience have gained some insights helpful to parents of college students. Here’s my list of three things every parent should consider:

Trust God
This seems like a no brainer, but for many parents letting go of control of their son or daughter is unbearable. They feel like if they have all the cards they can prevent their child from life’s more difficult situations. I get it. Some parents might be looking back at their own track record in college. Some of us may have not always made the best choices.
Thinking back to our own behavior can be helpful in that we know the temptations and pitfalls awaiting young people in college. Peer pressure is as real as it’s ever been. We need only to look to the Old Testament for the consequences of temptation. We all know what choice Eve made in the garden. We are not all that different. But knowing the reality that temptations and pressures are part of college life means we need to trust God all the more.
We need to allow our young adult children to make mistakes. We need to let them fail, fall down, get their hearts broken and stand back up on their own two feet knowing they survived and have learned from each experience. We need to trust that they will learn and appreciate a greater dependence on God as they struggle with their newly minted role of young adults.

Trust yourself
Yes, trust yourself that you have raised a good person. You have given them opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. You have provided the necessary infrastructure for them to grow in their faith, their studies and hopefully their life skills. You have to trust that the foundation you have put in place is sturdy and durable.
Yes, there will be challenges that your child faces in college that will seem like an assault to the foundation you have provided, but you must trust that the foundation you built is solid. Who remembers the wisdom of this 38 Special song, “Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control”? Sure, this song is about a lost love interest, but the wisdom rings true.
Hold on, loosely. By doing so you are there to help them navigate life when they really need your help. The loosely part means you let them handle the non-life threatening stuff. Allow your child to grow trusting you have done your job and done it well.

Trust your child
As a parent you know your child’s gifts and you know their challenges. They need to feel the freedom that this new stage in life offers them. They need to know you are there, but they need to learn to trust their own discernment and decision making. Second Corinthians 5:7 teaches us, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
College is the perfect time to grow in our faith walk. They will not see the road ahead but in walking by faith and not sight deepens our dependence on God. Allowing our children to trust their own judgement gives them confidence to make increasingly more important decisions. So too it will increase their dependence on God and hopefully be strengthened and enriched by their prayer life.
After the last box is unpacked, a semester of learning, growing and experiencing life awaits your college-aged child. Let us take comfort in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD; the LORD will be their trust.”
(Fran Lavelle is Director of the Department of Faith Formation.)