When your kids are babies, you can’t wait for them to become toddlers because you think it must get easier. When they become toddlers, you can’t wait for them to begin elementary school because you think it must get easier. Then, middle school – it must get easier. Then, high school – it must get easier. Then, college – it must get easier. WRONG!
Looking back, each stage seemed as if having a child that age was the most challenging thing in the world. When your 7-year-old comes home from school and cries because he thinks he’s “stupid” because he’s not reading or writing quite like the other kids yet, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 13-year-old cries because her body is developing way faster than the other girls and she has these curves the rest of them don’t have, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 17-year-old comes out of the proverbial closet to you and tells you she’s gay, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 20-year-old tells you he’s joining the military, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. Every one of those scenarios happened to me. I’m supposed to be the communication expert. I'm supposed to know what to say. Yet, I felt like an amateur each time.
What I have learned over the years is it’s not so much the talking that is the biggest challenge – it’s the listening, the staying quiet, the letting them make mistakes and the letting them struggle. As your kids grow, they are continuously bombarded with emotional and mental and physical challenges throughout each stage of their life. As a parent, it’s so hard to decide when to step in and try to solve the problem for them and when to let them struggle through it. The desire to protect them from everything cruel and mean in this world never ceases because the world is cruel and mean. And they must learn how to navigate through it successfully.
The biggest challenge of parenting? Learning to let them fall and figure out how to get back up again. To guide them through the challenges, but not solve them for them. To help them see the tough choices, but not make the choice for them.
I’m watching my daughter struggle right now. We learned she didn’t get as much financial aid for school this year as we thought she would. This means she cannot afford to live in the dorms. The cost is absurd. Paying rent for an apartment (provided she has a roommate) is cheaper! So, the search began.
She is quickly finding out how hard it is to search for apartments from hours away. She’s having to determine how much rent she can afford, how to factor in the cost of utilities, the commute to school, the commute to work. She’s learning about that thing called “credit” and how it impacts the down payment required for a place to stay. Yesterday, I sat and watched as she called apartment after apartment, struggling to ask questions about things she’s never had to experience before. About four phone calls in, that’s when I saw her break down. Through the tears, I could see the stress in her face and hear the desperation in her voice.
“All I want to do is go to school,” she said. “I want to be in Atlanta.” It was heartbreaking to hear.
I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I know, it’s not fair. She loves school. She takes her role as a student seriously. She studies and makes good grades. She’s a professor’s dream student. This child belongs in school. And she’s now having to struggle with finding a place to stay or she won’t be able to go to school there. We will help supplement as much as we can, but she has to take the lead on this one. If she can’t find a place, she will have to stay home and commute to a school in our area. The thought of possibly not going back to Atlanta made her cry even more.
Life is full of tough choices. Life is unfair. Life will always find a way to throw a brick wall or a road block in her way. I have to force myself to stay back and let her get through this harsh lesson. She must do the apartment hunting herself. She must figure out the budget herself. She must make the tough choices herself. I will always be here to cushion the falls and to help kiss the bruises left by life’s punches, but these are growing pains. They never get easier.
I’m now eight months into the program and neck deep into the crap. It didn’t take me long to realize just how little I know about pretty much everything. After successfully courting my Ph.D. supervisor and convincing the admissions committee that I can do this, I have had about a thousand moments of doubt since my journey officially began. It has become painfully clear how long it’s been since I’ve been a student and even more embarrassingly clear how lazy I’ve become with the self-discipline it takes to take on a post-graduate program. But all is not lost. One of my strongest traits is the ability to self-reflect and acknowledge the areas I can improve and design a plan to improve them. And in the spirit of spreading knowledge, here are the top 5 lessons I have learned to date. If it’s been a minute since you’ve been in a classroom and you’re planning to return to get a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, take heed. These lessons just might save your sanity.
Mini-Handbook for Jackasses: Communication & Relationships (Paperback)
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Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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