My College:
Dear Adina

My Student Is Struggling — When Do I Jump In to Help?

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

My student (they/them pronouns) is a junior who decided partway into the semester to take a leave of absence from school for mental health reasons. The school is 1,000 miles away and I flew out for a week to help get the MLOA process started. We had some good talks and made some progress but I left with a lot still undone (mainly, starting therapy and getting a diagnosis — most likely depression, possibly severe).

They don't want to come home, and their dad and I want to support their desire to continue living with their friends off campus. They have things in place in their life that they feel good about (a fitness routine, creative endeavors). But I am super worried, and it's so hard to judge this stuff from a distance. How do I know when/if I should hop on a plane again? Or when/if we should insist that they come home?


Dear Parent,

You are already doing all the right things: honoring their pronouns, helping with the MLOA process then stepping away, and truly listening to what they’re saying they need. It sounds like you have a solid and honest way of communicating with them. Beautiful.

Which to me also says that you have raised someone who values themselves enough to make really hard decisions that serve them well, and who has enough confidence in you to bring you in when they’re feeling vulnerable.

No matter what they go through as they become adults, those wonderful characteristics — self-value, confidence, openness — are in there. Watching them struggle makes it easy to think all that good stuff has disappeared, but it hasn’t.

A thousand miles is a lot for the imagination to wander through. The regular silences of not having daily contact with your child as they become more and more their own person and less and less your child are readily filled with worry.

Worrying, though, is like praying for what you don’t want (I borrow this pithy concept from the awesome Jen Sincero). If you can steer your thoughts back to the knowledge of that fantastic person you’ve helped create who is out there working on building a life, you might find some joy and pleasure instead of worry. It takes effort to shift those thoughts.

How do you know when or if you should hop on a plane? When you offer and they say yes. But pay attention to whether your offer comes from worry (and is more about trying to manage your own justifiable anxieties about their wellbeing) or if there are things that have changed for them. Have they stopped participating in the good things in their life that you mentioned they’d put in place? Are they making progress towards finding professional help, or has that stalled or been abandoned? If you see things deteriorating, make the offer to come help, and make it clear it’s not to kidnap them back to their childhood. Be prepared to step in and also step away, as you’ve done already.

When should you insist that they come home? I don’t know about you, but I stopped having the ability to insist on anything when my son left for college. Insisting is only possible when you actually have the power and authority to take control. After they turn 18, your power, authority and ability to control are illusory.

Besides, from how you’ve described the lovely way you supported and helped facilitate the MLOA process, and your light touch in standing by with love as your child struggles, insistence seems antithetical to your parenting style. You also seem to truly respect your child and their decisions, so insistence would only diminish them.

There is nothing I have experienced in my own life as painful as witnessing my son or step-son’s pain. There is no greater pain of parenting than being helpless. But one thing they have taught me is that my pain (about their pain), my anxiety (about their anxieties), my worry (about their worries) is a burden I can choose not to place on them. Having that one choice amidst all of the helplessness has allowed me to give them space when they need it.

It also has helped me to step back with the knowledge that they have people (who aren’t me) to go to with some of their struggles; knowing they have people helps ease my distress. And I have someone to talk to (who isn’t them) about my distress. This allows me to rise up, encourage, believe in, and guide them with less of my own stuff in the way.

And whaddaya know... the more mature and independent they become, the more I see them looking after themselves, and the more I can meet them where they are with an uncluttered (not anxious, not distressed) and open heart.

From what I can tell, you are right there already, so keep doing what you’re doing.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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    18 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?

    When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
    package of your child.

    And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!

    If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)

    But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.

    Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
    But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
    closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.

    Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.

    It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.

    Let’s try this, college!

    - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?  When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
package of your child.  And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!  If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)  But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.  Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.  Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.  It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.  Let’s try this, college!  - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH

    Comment on Facebook

    Marybeth Loyd Bock this is too funny- takes me back - I still have those crazy plastic photo keychains! 😂

    Goodness, I’d love a glimpse of my college freshman “out in the wild”!

    I would LOVE this 💖

    22 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.

    Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.

    She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.

    Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didn't have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.

    My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this year's sophomores — missed.

    (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
    www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )
    ... See MoreSee Less

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.  Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.  She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.  Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didnt have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.  My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this years sophomores — missed.  (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
https://www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )

    Comment on Facebook

    CollegiateParent, thank you so much for this opportunity.

    SUCH good, practical, and wise advice here, Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, for any of our students, really. 💛

    Elizabeth, thank you so much. I appreciate that. ❤️

    Soooo true, all of this. Our sophomores are rediscovering, relearning, renegotiating the whole campus experience. Last year was tough, but I hope that last year's experience has made them stronger and more resilient to anything life throws at them this year. All strength to them! ❤️

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