After two two-hour phone calls with our almost 20 year-old daughter, Valerie, I was reminded yet again that parenting is an art not a science. Just when I think that everything is in place to produce a predictable result, the experiment goes totally off course and explodes. And there I am, without a clue about how I’m going to help her sort through the mess that seems to be lying in front of her.
The subject of the sometimes tearful and mostly angst-ridden phone calls was whether Valerie should move forward with her plans to study abroad.
For college students these days, studying abroad has almost become an expected component of their college experience. I remember at the parent orientation, hearing all the student presenters talk about it. They all had studied abroad except for one young man and he said that he wished he had.
So Valerie took the initial steps several months ago to get the paperwork underway to spend the spring semester in Spain. We encouraged her to do it because it seemed like a good fit for her; she’s eager to add to her life experiences, she’s practically fluent in Spanish and she wants to have an international perspective on life.
But now she was at the point that she needed to really get serious and make a final commitment to going.
The problem is that every time she thought about going, her stomach knotted up and she got overwhelmed with anxiety. Let me insert here that this is a girl that takes 18 units, has two part-time jobs, studies martial arts, and is working on several unpaid design projects just so she can build her portfolio. Her plate isn’t just full; it’s constantly on the verge of spilling off the sides. So the trip toSpaindidn’t sound exciting to her, it sounded like a tremendous amount of anxiety producing work.
But yet she kept pressing forward because in her mind, she heard people criticizing her if she decided not to go. “They would think I’m not adventurous, or I can’t commit, or I’m scared of going.”
It took us a while to get there but the more and more we talked, it became apparent to us that studying abroad was not the best thing for her and we needed to do a complete reversal about what we were advising her and tell her we thought she shouldn’t go.
We had to remind her that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. What’s important is what she wants to do. We spent the hours on the phone reminding her of who she is and what she really cares about which is focusing on creating the best portfolio possible so she can get a good job out of college and not have so much stress in her young life.
I totally understand how hard it can be to silence the critical voices in your head. I struggle with the ones who tell me who I’m not capable or smart. So I can have compassion for Valerie when she loses sight of the truth that the only person she has to please when it comes to making decisions about what she pursues in life, is herself.
Tonight when we talked to her she sounded so much better. Although she hadn’t “pushed the button” as she put it to withdraw her name from the study abroad program and cancel the trip, she had made the decision not to go. We could tell that a huge burden had been lifted from her.
In the end did we give her the advice that has her best interests at heart? We pray we did.