Back to School, Off to College…Autumn is All about Change


Published in the Jersey County Journal Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It’s that time of the year again. Younger kids are headed back to the classroom, older kids are headed off to college. Maybe it’s for the first time, or maybe it’s for another time, but in any case there is usually much anxiety involved. When each of us is confronted with change, how we respond to these changes is as unique as each one of us.

We can compare our responses to change with that of leaves…the atmosphere of autumn with its chilly and damp days has a varied effect on each tree leaf. Most of us find the colors of the autumn leaves quite beautiful; we look forward to their arrival with much anticipation. We plan our road trips along the Great River Road accordingly. So too can we prepare for the anxiety we’ll feel with the start of each new school year, looking forward to this change rather than seeing it as a sad time.

“Our true strengths and authentic selves awaken only in the face of unfamiliar circumstances,” said Dr. Carmen Harra in a 2013 article published in the Huffington Post. In her article, Harra pointed out that as parents send their children off to college, especially for the first time, they experience feelings related to a form of rejection. These feelings can be further magnified if the child is planning a course of study and a career that is unlike anything the parents have done before or experienced.

“But your child is not really rejecting you; rather, he or she is also expressing their own anxieties as they try to figure out who he or she is as well,” said Harra, along with how to express that to their parents and to others. The parents’ anxiety comes forth as they try to “figure out how to understand and relate to this separate differentiated person.”

All of this uncertainty and change causes a sense of fear to show itself—fear of the unknown. As old habits are interrupted, what was once stable and familiar is tested, and everyone involved is pushed out of their comfort zones.

This change, however, is critical. It is critical to personal progress—for both the child and the parent. Separation and individuation are developmental necessities.

The best way to handle these times of change with resiliency and maturity is to prepare for them, plan ahead, and acknowledge the feelings as they show themselves. Remember that each hardship is a catalyst for change.

Autumn leaves change, resulting in a beautiful display for a short time before dropping off the branches of the tree and decomposing back into the ground for the winter, returning to the limbs of the ever-growing trees each spring. With the next arrival of autumn, it all happens again.

We look forward to this change, marveling in its beauty…so too can we marvel in the beauty of life and what we all become…as parents and as children.