A little more time for advice from Mom

“Why are you being so weird?” my son asked me as we drove to the DMV to get his driver’s license.

“I feel like it’s my last chance to teach you,” I said, as I hurriedly told him what to do when you encounter a funeral procession on the road. He gave me a sidelong look and nodded.

“I know, Mom. I know how to drive.”

To my kids, I’m that annoying, unwanted advice-giver. I know they want to be independent and make their own decisions, but I’m still teaching and safeguarding and getting ready to let go. It’s an uncomfortable tug-of-war. When I think about how my husband and I have walked alongside our kids all these years, I feel both tired and amazed. Lucky and relieved. How did we all make it this far relatively unscathed?

Our kids are nearing the end of high school, and our time for daily, in-person guiding is waning. One of our final projects is helping our sons through the college search process — one for which we feel somewhat ill-equipped. In the ’90s, when we applied to college, there was no internet and no common application, only a college guidebook and word of mouth. I visited 10 schools and applied to six, requesting paper applications by phone and feeding the pages carefully through my typewriter. I ultimately attended the university my guidance counselor recommended to me.

Today’s process feels entirely different. Students have so much information — emails, marketing pamphlets, videos, online tours, student reviews! Instead of picking one school from six, the massive access to information makes it feel like plucking one school from thousands. Go on a few tours, and they all start to sound the same. Can we help guide our kids through this?

I’m giving it my best shot. My unsolicited advice for anyone who can bear to listen is:

1. Remember that college is ridiculously fun. You might not land at the “perfect” school, but you’ll make great friends, laugh more than you thought possible, learn new stuff that’s honestly interesting and have space to figure out who you want to be in the world.

2 Give yourself a break — there are many, varied pathways to get where you want to go in life.

3. No matter what your plans are, it’s all going to work out okay.

4. We love you tons.

That’s really all I’ve got. I can’t tell from my sons’ shrugs or “yep” responses if my advice is helpful, but I hope so. I hope they get just what they want and that it brings them joy. I’ll be available for ongoing advice, but, for now, I’ll try to be quiet and watch proudly as they navigate the road ahead.

— Carol Wittemann of Hinsdale is a guest columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].