When Your First Child Goes to College

financial aid 101

Remember when your first child got her first bicycle? She put on her sparkly pink helmet and climbed on her shiny pink bike, gripped the handlebars and started pedaling. You watched her wobble down the driveway, those training wheels letting her tip just so far before they corrected the tilt enough that she could regain her balance and keep going.

That image was in my mind when our daughter moved out of her bedroom at home and into a residence hall at the University of Mobile.

My husband and I were proud that she had done well so far in school, anxious that she would continue to do well and, honestly, sad that our own lives would change when her bedroom at home was empty.

Because I have been on staff at UMobile for over 20 years, I knew she would have an outstanding academic program and great professors who cared about her.  (There was that time when a prof called my office to talk with one of my student workers because she had missed several classes. Where else would faculty members track down a student out of concern for missed classes, or a series of missed assignments, to see how they could help?)

My husband and I expected she would figure out a major she liked, earn a degree, and be prepared to succeed in a career. We also expected that her college degree wouldn’t come without a few bumps and bruises along the way.

So here we go again with the bike analogy: I believe that college is like life with training wheels.

As parents of a college student, our role was to be her encouragers, ready to pick her up if she fell and let her know that we knew she could do it. Shouting advice from the sidelines while she made decisions about where to go. Wincing when she hit a pothole, but allowing her the room to get it all straightened out and back on track.

That encouragement can sound like tough love sometimes.

Don’t understand an assignment? I’m sure you can email the professor and ask about it.

Need some extra money to go out to eat? Gosh, I’m sorry you ran through your budget. I remember when your dad and I did that our first year of marriage and had to eat beans and rice for a week. Aren’t you glad you have a meal plan and can eat in the caf?

Got a problem with a roommate? Tell me about it and let’s see what things you can try to solve it. What does your RA suggest?

Life with training wheels involves learning in a supportive and safe environment that you are a fully capable, real-life adult person – that you can do it.

Life with training wheels is about learning to ride the bike on your own, until one day those training wheels come off and you are flying down the path.

Today our daughter is a teacher, wife and mother. The training wheels are long gone. And Mom and Dad are still cheering her on.

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