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Being Prepared to Let Go . . . Gradually

Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Year
by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence
Treeger HarperCollins, 1997

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 6, December 1999-January 2000, p. 136
Reviewed by Dor Sachetti
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

"If only I had known about this book sooner!" That's what I said when I found an advertising brochure for this guide tucked in the parents' packet at my daughter Rachel's college orientation weekend. I'm sharing highlights of the book's wisdom here in the hopes that you will read it earlier than I did.

Authors Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger say that "the process of 'letting go' actually starts in the first years of life." Hmm, sounds like gradual weaning to me. Right away I knew I was going to like this book and recommend it to the LLLI Book Evaluation Committee. I'm always looking for books that fit my parenting philosophy. I've found them more difficult to find as my daughters have gotten older.

Letting Go is a parent's guide to understanding the college years. But since teens - and their parents - begin to think about post-secondary education several years before entering college, it's helpful to know what to expect. This book covers choosing a college, getting ready to go, the first year and the remaining years.

In "Some Things Never Change" Coburn and Treeger remind us that "Who am I?" is a question replayed by every generation, each in its own context. Although this identity curriculum is not spelled out in college catalogs, much of the college experience is devoted to it. This chapter is a reminder to give thought to how we handled identity, independence, intimacy and change at that age. I know that sometimes I can become so wrapped up in my role as a parent, that I need to step back and look at things from my child's perspective.

The chapter on college life today brought me up to speed on issues such as who attends college today, courses of study, life outside the classroom, even technology. The section I would have welcomed most as a help earlier on is what Coburn and Treeger had to say about how teens choose a college. Had I had a better understanding of what Rae was thinking, what she was looking for, I could have saved myself a lot of worry about The Big Decision. I'm sure Rae would have appreciated my "chilling out" a bit, too.

The authors quote a Princeton University admissions counselor, "The best thing a parent can do is step back and help the child look at the pros and cons of each school. The key is to ask meaningful questions rather than give answers."

Heading off to college is risk taking and a fresh start; it's both separating and letting go. The authors asked prospective first year students what excited them about entering college as well as what concerned them.

They told us they were excited about meeting new people from different backgrounds, but were concerned about getting to know different kinds of people, being lonely and getting along with their roommates. They were excited about living in a more independent atmosphere and having freedom; at the same time, they were worried about handling responsibility, making decisions for themselves and managing their time. They were excited about having fun and "wild times," and they were worried about handling parties, drugs and alcohol. They were looking forward to intellectual challenges and were anxious about doing well academically. And most of all they were excited and concerned about leaving home and family (pp. 110-11).

It beats me how parents survived the first year of their child being away at college in the days before email. I didn't need a book to tell me how this instant and economical form of communication kept just the right mix of distance and connectiveness for both Rae and me. Coburn and Treeger remind parents that we often receive a skewed view of our son's or daughter's psychological well being that first year. They say the "ups" are reserved for friends and the "downs " for us.

How soon should you read this book? Perhaps two years before your child heads for college. LLL's "gradually and with love" will help you let go in your own style. Letting Go will help you be well-prepared.

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