My friend and colleague, Dr. Beth Dennard, and I recently sat down and talked about navigating college planning for high school students in blended families or who have parents who do not live together.
Since this is the time of year when many high school seniors are making big
decisions or younger students are getting ready to make decisions about their senior year and college, I wanted to share some advice with you.
What I loved about doing this podcast with Beth is that she and her team at
Bright Futures Consulting, a premier service for college and career counseling, understand the dynamics of blended families and single parent families. They can help guide you through this process, while being neutral with both parents and helping everyone to continue to focus on the best interests of the student.
The whole team sees their role as helping parents positively navigate this potentially volatile situation within the college counseling context.
Highlights of Session 1
Make sure your student is the priority. Grow the student’s role bigger and louder and the parents’ voice becomes smaller. Parents need to put their child first, above their own conflict and out of the middle of their conflict. If parents are not able to do that, the student fades away.
Your student needs to have the loudest voice in the room. If you don’t like your teenager speaking up, disagreeing with you, or doing something different than what you want, you will need to practice monitoring your voice.
It is important for parents to say out loud that you’re making your student a priority. Your student needs to hear that. And it’s a reminder to everyone, including yourself, to make that the goal.
Normalize the conflict. It is normal for parents who are divorced (or are no longer together who never married) to have different ideas about college and what is important.
When custody battles or conflict have been the norm, there are many ways that both parents may still be triggered. This is why it is so important to keep your student a priority and not get bogged down into the conflict between parents.
The student needs to learn to work with their parents and stepparents, so the student can be able to manage the challenges when away at school. It is a big transition for all parties. Money is an emotional subject and brings up unintended baggage. Each party may have very different ideas about how money should be used and the power it holds.
Your dreams may not be your student’s dreams. Parents have dreams for their children, but often, parents don’t realize how they may be pushing those dreams onto their children, rather than letting their young adult develop their goals with support from the parents.
Understand the underlying dynamics between parents
When parents are divorced, they often feel the child is being manipulated by the other parent, which leads one or both parents to doubt the young adult’s feelings and goals for college.
The best way to handle this issue is to accept the student’s beliefs at face value and not accuse. By accusing them, your young adult will dismiss you and feel that you do not understand. They will only become more stubborn in their beliefs (and you will be the bad guy-every time).
By accepting them (even if you still feel your student is being manipulated by the other parent), your student will feel accepted and respected by you and will be more willing to talk about it with you rather than shutting down. This is a hard issue and will feel very counterintuitive but do it anyway.
Don’t assume the worst of intentions from anyone, mom, dad, stepparent or student. Decide now that every one is doing the best they can. Otherwise your own fear and anxiety will trigger you in every conversation.
Listen to the full podcast here.