How to embrace change you don’t really want

I’m at my last college orientation for my last child. I’m struck by several things.

  1. It’s not as exciting or traumatic as the first time I did this.
  2. It’s still feels mostly terrible.
  3. We had to make ourselves buy school swag.
  4. This change changes everything.

How can something feel so exhilarating, proud, terrifying, and worrisome all at the same time? (more about college students leaving here.)

Yes, I have worry, but not like before. I’m accepting that this change is going to feel awful for all of us, but a lot of the time it will feel exciting. The change marks a new reality, which makes the present impossible to hold on to anyway. Nothing is forever, except the intangibles like love.

This is why parenting is so hard.

We have to keep adapting to the tangibles. We have to keep leaving the seasons we’re finally getting good at, just to enter new seasons we know nothing about.

In under a month, we will all have to live with a new discomfort. I will live with not knowing what’s going on in my son’s life—not experiencing anything he sees and does, not being able to warn or encourage him the moment I notice something. I won’t be able to notice anything. I will no longer be the caregiver, the lunch-packer, the clothes—washer, the kiss goodnight. I don’t know why I’ll miss some of these things, except that they’re proof I’m involved. Not knowing is so terribly hard for mothers. There is inexplicable pride and sadness when our children move away from us. (Click here for a tender blog about that!)

My husband will soon live with the void of this son with whom to discuss daily sports news and athletic injuries, to enjoy daily banter and TV-viewing. Of course, that will all continue through text and phone, but it won’t be the same. The weekly games are over, the daily touching-base. This will leave a hole.

Our son is processing what all incoming freshmen process: the exhilaration of a new era of independence. Coming and going without informing anyone, hugging anyone, or calling home. Running a schedule that doesn’t include what-do-you-have-due? and who’s-going-to-be-there? Yet he feels an overwhelming weight that everything depends on him. Getting to class, finding work, making friends, joining groups, doing well, living with strangers, eating new food. It’s too much all at once, but there’s no way to slow it down.

I remember being 18 and leaving for college. Excitement and nausea together. Hugging goodbye with a smile but crying quietly in my dorm room the first night because I was all alone and I was surprised that it scared me a little.

We say we like change, but we actually don’t.

We like new clothes and new furnishings. We like vacations. We like going out to dinner.

But we buy the same type of clothes. We go back to the same places. We sleep on a certain side of the bed, follow a particular morning routine, frequent a regular restaurant.

We don’t like risk as much as we want to.

Fear hovers whenever we make a change. To avoid feeling afraid, we tend to sink back into routine. Whatever is safe, normal, and familiar always feels like the right choice, even if it isn’t.

College is forced change for students and parents. Everybody wants it and nobody wants it. We know it’s a privilege and a necessity to life (generally speaking), so we devote years of time, stress, energy, and money  into making it a reality. But it still scares us.

Parents are afraid they won’t like all the changes coming in their children’s lives or in their relationship with their adult children. Parents always mourn, a little, for the life they’ve lost—for the children who sat in their laps. For the unabashed adoration.

Students actually feel the same way; they mourn the end of childhood, even as they anticipate adulthood.

So I promised you some ideas for embracing change—some ways not to dig in your heels and hold on to the present while it’s becoming the past. These admonishments work for parents and kids. Here they are:

  • Establish a new routine for staying connected.
  • Try something new every week.
  • Do the thing that scares you.
  • Listen to what people need and want, even if they can’t understand it or express it.
  • Celebrate possibility. Nothing was ever gained by not trying.
  • Set boundaries for yourself and respect them (i.e. avoid toxicity and emotional spirals).
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is not the lack of success; it’s the process for achieving success.

If we work to make change in the areas where it matters (like celebrating the end of an era that you don’t want to lose), the future becomes brighter, even though you don’t have any guarantees it will feel bright all the time. Being willing to move forward when we want to dig into status quo keeps us younger, fresher, and more positive. (You can read a blog about doing hard things here.)

Change is the gateway to opportunity. What opportunity awaits you that you aren’t particularly excited about?

I suggest buying the swag and wearing it proudly. It really does help.

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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