My College:
Family Life

Step Back So They Can Step Forward

Sydnei Kaplan


Last year my husband and I helped our son move into his first apartment close to his campus in St. Louis. Living truly on his own was brand new to him, and we all know there’s a learning curve that comes with that.

So when management dragged their feet on providing some of the promised pieces of furniture, and the air conditioning in his 12th floor apartment failed in the sweltering August heat, we had a decision to make.

Once our kids are in college, it can be a challenge to find the proper balance of advocating for them and encouraging them to advocate for themselves. Of course we always want to support them, but how do we decide how much to do versus how much to support them in their doing?

My oldest is now out of college, but I’m still getting a feel for this delicate balance with my son, a college junior. In my view, it really depends on the situation, but we tend to find a rhythm that includes easing back on our management as we hand it off to our kids. We then assume a more advisory role.

Back to St. Louis. Our son figured out that he could handle the furniture issue via a work order, and we guided him to call the landlord right away about the AC. However, over the course of a week it became clear this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. These were circumstances that warranted us stepping in. We arranged for our son to stay at a hotel near campus until his apartment had working AC, and I emailed and called management to add some urgency to their efforts.

From that point on, our son handled all communication and follow-up. He negotiated for a window unit to be added to his apartment to supplement the old and struggling air conditioning system.

Shift gears to managing academic course load and getting the required classes, and we should encourage our kids to handle this stuff from the get-go. If we’ve guided them well throughout high school, they're probably already comfortable managing this.

So when my son mulls over which classes to take, whether to drop a class when the workload feels too heavy, or even which path of study he wants to pursue, my husband and I serve more as sounding boards than anything else. We actively listen, and offer thoughts carefully, because we have faith in our son’s ability to decide what’s right for him and to make that happen.

When he missed a bunch of classes last fall because of an illness, he reached out to his professors to figure out the best way to stay on top of assignments. As much as I wanted to help because I knew he felt crummy and depleted, he made it clear he could handle things. It can be hard for us as dads and moms to hang back in situations like this because we just want to help our kids feel better, but it’s reassuring to observe them feeling confident — and to know that our love and parenting helped them get to this point.

One last topic I’ll touch on is what happens when our students are impacted by other people’s illegal and inconsiderate choices. For example, dorm or apartment neighbors who smoke weed to the point of flooding our kid’s room with powerful odors and whose excessively loud partying carries on into the wee hours of the morning.

As parents, we might be tempted to step in and make a call to management, and perhaps if things aren’t properly resolved this might become necessary. However, helping our kids to initially advocate for themselves with problems like this will set them up to problem-solve throughout their lives.

My son faced this issue a little in the dorm his freshman year, but the RA was on top of it. It’s a different story in an apartment. Yes, there is an after-hours security number. But even if your young adult feels comfortable calling security on their neighbors, each security officer handles these instances differently. Some are quick to find the people violating building rules and put a stop to their activities. Others seem to listen to the complaint but never tend to it.

My son has gotten comfortable making multiple calls to security, and even following up with filing a report to management. And because this problem is sort of the last straw among other issues with the apartment building, he’s decided to move to another apartment building for his senior year. We helped him investigate options and have made clear to management of his current building why he won’t be renewing his lease.

Learning self-advocacy is a process and not something that happens with a snap of the fingers. As parents, we can best support our students in this journey by being there with guidance and encouragement, and listening to our gut to decide when to step in and advocate alongside them.

Sydnei Kaplan left a marketing career when her first child was born and never looked back. She and her husband are now parents to two college-aged children. Currently Sydnei works part-time in a preschool and rediscovered her passion for writing through Mom in the Moment, her recently launched blog. Sydnei is honored to contribute to several other sites, including Her View From Home and The Real Deal of Parenting. Find her on Facebook and Instagram, too.
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