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Helping Your College Student

My husband helped our oldest son Austen move onto the campus of Golden State Baptist College back in August of 2004. I can remember how Norman thought that having me there would add too much mothering to the scene, so they got a head start without "the Momerator" in town, and then Norman flew me out to go to church with on them Sunday.

I arrived on Saturday, just in time to note that Austen had already been to WalMart and had come back to campus without his shopping bags. He purchased his supplies, paid for them, and then promptly walked out of the store without his items! Surely this was a sign that he needed Mom, right?

Nope. He just needed to pay attention. And maybe he was experiencing the type of brain-freeze that happens when a person's circuits are overloaded with a new town, new bank account, new campus, new dorm room, new church, and more, all basically overnight. As much as I may have wanted think otherwise, this wasn't a sign that I needed to put on my cape and boots and fly in to do my Wonder Mom routine.

That Sunday, I was looking forward to sitting in church with our son, but he was already working on a bus route (the bus ministry is in his blood), so he came to say his farewells just before Sunday school. When Austen said goodbye, I started swallowing hard again and again, trying to keep the eyeball-washing-machine from kicking in. Just as I thought I had things under control, Chancellor-Pastor Trieber walked up to me with a big friendly smile and asked, "Well Mrs. Taylor, how are you doing?"

An innocent question activated the eyeball-washing-machine, plus the spin cycle! Brother Trieber didn't get a chance to see this because his very alert wife took one look at my face and knew what was happening. Faster than the spin cycle, Mrs. Cindie Trieber whisked me into a side room and patted my shoulder as I did some more swallowing in an effort to "turn the water off." (Cindie, I owe you a Jamba Juice for that rescue mission.)

That was the first college student. The second student, Hillary, was easier although I still cried. Our third-born, Collin was sent off with this advice: Stick by your brother and sister and don't miss your connecting flight. And back away from the debit card with your hands in the air...

Going to college now is almost ceremonial, complete with mothers clumped in campus parking lots, hugging their children and parting with tears (usually tears only from Mom). Since I know what it's like, I hope that these tips will help those of you that are doing this for the first time. Please remember that these are only suggestions and observations:

1. DON'T be a "smother mother" (also known as a "helicopter parent," always hovering around). Now is your chance to watch your bird fly on his or her own. This is when you get to see not only what they've learned, but what they own spiritually. "Keep my commandments and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye." (Prov. 7:2) If you're constantly checking up, offering unsolicited advice, monitoring the schedule and more, how will your young adult learn how to be an adult?

Calling once a week is just right for some, and too much for others. Discuss how often you'll keep in touch, but leave the schedule up to them. In other words, when your student has time, they'll call or you can call, but remember that they're in college; not off at day camp. Let your college student breathe (and get their work done).

2. DO teach financial basics, at least. "There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up." (Prov. 21:20) Every college student should know how to track their spending online, how to reconcile their account (I didn't say "checkbook" because college students rarely write checks anymore), and how to use a debit and/or credit card wisely. How will you know if they're operating in the black? Have a joint bank account (this isn't smothering; it's proactive wisdom). And read the bank statements. They're great conversation starters: "So son, I see you had $104 in pizza charges last month..."

This step is not necessary with older students attending college later in life, but 18-year-olds can squander cash faster than you can read this sentence! Establish an agreement about acceptable debit card usage in advance, and you'll only have to make suggestions along the way. Money mismanagement is a common problem among college students, and if the parents aren't "," it pays to be proactive by teaching the financial basics and laying down the ground rules before Little Caesar's Pizza (men) or the Shoe Carnival (ladies) gets a month's worth of your child's tuition money.

3. DON'T be the complaint hotline. "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men." (Titus 3:1-2) Two common reasons for emergency phone calls: Money problems or people problems. Okay, add a third: car problems.  If your college student calls home to complain, listen, then ask them this question: "Would you like me to help you solve this, or are you just venting?" It's kind of the equivalent to "Would you like a shot or a sugar pill for this ailment?"

There may be rules that are not favorites, assignments that test nerves, rude people, pilfering roommates, and cars that cough out a radiator, all within the first month! These events add to the learning process. I call it "Life Skills 102" (assuming that they learned "Life Skills 101" at home). Life is made up a combination of great days, not great days, and something in between. Ask your college student this classic question: "If you're not happy today, what day are you waiting for?" Encourage a pressing of the reset button, and discourage whining.

4. DO keep parenting. "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother." (Prov. 6:20) There may be times when you'll need to step in and toss a life preserver to your young person. Things can go wrong, but if we'll remain calm, we can be helpful and a good example at the same time. The college student is still your child, but the dynamics of the parent-child relationship are undergoing a major transformation. Stay alert to needs, but encourage decision-making.

This is not the time to be slack in prayer, either. If you haven't already developed the habit of praying for your children daily, it's not too late to start! Parenting long-distance is a different kind of science, and we just aren't able to be as "hands-on" from miles away. This is actually a good thing, but it increases the need to pray for your child and for the unseen events of their day. Pray as if you were the only one calling their name before the Lord. This is vital. Each day has an unknown adventure included.

And now for some unnumbered observations:
  • Each of our children had a different response to heading off to Bible college. This is normal.
  • Our three children handled their finances three different ways. We kept the tightest eye on the biggest spender. 
  • We pointed out the obvious that an "A" costs the same as an "F."
  • Birthday boxes are a big deal on many campuses. If you're going to send one, send enough to share with the roommates who will likely be watching the "opening ceremony." 
  • A periodic note with five or ten dollars tucked in was our idea of a love-tap from home. We always reminded our children in these notes that we were praying for them daily.
  • Each of our children made mistakes in college. We advised them accordingly, but without making a federal case out of a life lesson. We remember our own college days...
  • If your child wants you to fly or drive out for a visit, try to make it happen. One of my favorite trips was to fly out and visit our daughter for a weekend. She needed some "Mom time."
  • If you haven't already started one, have a fund set aside in savings to "stop gaps." Finding a job during college may be challenging, so you may need to help your student now and then.
  • If your child runs into problems with the college administration, do not automatically assume that it is the fault of the college. Wait until you've heard the whole matter, and even then, encourage your young person to handle matters wisely on their own (Prov. 16:20 and Prov. 18:13).
  • Always remember this: College life is temporary (unless they join the staff after graduation)! Whatever goes on in this stage, it's just a few paragraphs in life.
Adjusting to this new phase of life is easier if you buddy-up with a sister who has already run this leg of the race. Have coffee with another Mom who has already sent her birds off to college. She may have even more to offer than I could fit in this article. The main thing to remember is this: life is a series of adventures, and this is just one more.

"Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge." (Prov. 23:12)

 NOTE: If you have "been here, done this," please add your helpful comments below. Mothers who are new at this will appreciate the feedback!


  1. All excellent advice! We've sent off three of ours too, to the "other" Bible college on the West Coast! ;) It makes me feel better that you cried the most with the first one, because that's exactly how it was with me. My younger two said, "Mom, you were sobbing so hard you couldn't even walk!" I think that was a bit of an overstatement, but anyway . . . the two younger ones' departures were a bit easier.

    I would add that, if crying makes your child uncomfortable (it really bothers my sons), then ask the Lord to help you not to cry when they head back to college after their visits home. It works! My boys don't mind a few tears and a shaky voice, but the real tears don't start till after they walk out the door, and this is all the Lord's doing. I am naturally a crier, whether sad or happy.

    I have to say that our children's college years have been so rewarding as we've watched them put into practice all those things we've been teaching them. So far, they have done well, for which we praise the Lord. I would encourage mothers especially to let them go - watch them fly! There is truly no greater joy than to see them walk in truth, to see where God leads each one.

  2. We are now the parents of three college GRADUATES, so I'll have to write a follow-up piece on how to help your newly-minted, paycheck-earning, full-grown adult! It's an enjoyable stage when handled wisely. I can even ask THEM for money now.

  3. Nancy Couture August 27, 2013 at 1:33 PM
    Amen, had my "pep" talk last night with my daughter,she's at Maranatha in WI. This year she is a floor leader. Told her to lead with humility and compassion. You're NOT their mother I don't be bossy. Hahaha Don't be their Holy Spirit , lead them to Him. And bathe, no I didn't say that. Sorry.I hate the whining, hate it!!! Also told her to walk in ready to seek the Lord at any moment anywhere. Then I told all this to myself...ugh!!

    I heard a Pastor say they need to Go and Grow. I have been a homeschooling mom forever,haha. It was my "job"...when my girls went to college I "lost" my job. I want to encourage you new college moms. My daughter calls me almost every day asking for my advice. I am needed more now than ever.Its a wonderful time in my life. Watching my Grandbabies, teaching them to love Christ. Be encouraged ladies,it's all good.


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