You know how it feels when you walk out the door and it’s really cold out and your nose goes numb and your ears freeze and you’re kind of blinded by the wind or the snow or maybe just the miserable rain?
That’s how it may be for your college graduate as he or she leaves the familiar environs of college and—job or not—heads out into the world.
Much is written about the transitions as our children grow—from toddlerhood to pre-school, from elementary school to middle school, from high school to college—but there’s far too little conversation about what, for many people, is the most difficult transition of their lives: from college student to grown-up.
Yes, it’s challenging to go from high school to college. If children stay home and go to school, they have lost the support system of friends, teachers and counselors who helped make high school work. If your child goes away to college, there are so many changes that can be, for some, more than they can handle on their own.
In either case, there are places to turn for help. For the child who stays home, there are parents and family members to talk to and be with at the end of the day; for children in college who need extra help, there are on-campus counseling centers and health services if things get too difficult. We are still watching out for college-age kids, even as we send them off on their own to grow up.
And then, 4 or so years later, when college is over, they are on their own. Every structured and predictable thing in their lives begins to fall away as they head out into the world to begin the rest of their lives. Friends scatter to different places for jobs, or to return home. Teachers, professors and counselors are no longer available for office hours or email conversations. Parents, more often than not, cut the financial pipeline to a minimum, encouraging or insisting that their children begin to support themselves. After all, they’re all grown up now, right?
That’s not always the case.
Becoming an adult is not easy.
1. There is no built-in social life. Dorms, student housing, family homes—all of these are gone as young adults find new places to live in the cities where they begin their careers. Roommates may be difficult to come by and family may be far away. Finding a circle of friends can be a challenge.
2. Life is expensive. College is expensive too, but it’s possible to take out loans, find grants, financial aid and so on to alleviate some of the pressure. There are no such options after graduation, except perhaps the bank of Mom and Dad or all-too-tempting credit cards.
3. Work can be boring. When school got tedious, it was easy enough to wander out of a dorm or apartment in search of distractions or entertainment. No one was watching you or making you keep track of your hours. Entry-level jobs—and even more advanced ones—can be less than exciting at times, but you still have to keep working. There is no option of getting up and leaving for a few hours, for the most part.
4. Identity is up in the air. College offers many ways for students to self-identify—from the Greek system to their chosen major. Once a group or cause or interest captured their attention, it was much easier to connect with other people. In the real world, it’s a little more challenging to figure out where you belong. Co-workers can be as different from you as night and day, and often there’s little time to participate in real-life extracurricular activities. Figuring out who you are in the world after college takes time.
5. Childhood wasn’t that long ago. Yes, new graduates are adults in most every sense of the word, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were still kids, living with Mom and Dad and going to high school football games or working part-time and hanging out with friends. There’s a melancholy that can develop as young adults approach their “quarter-life crisis.”
We don’t need to coddle our young adults—they sometimes need a swift kick in the rear to get their lives going—but we do need to be alert to their struggles and offer support when they’re feeling unmoored. Sometimes, the grown-up world can be a cold, hard place. There’s nothing wrong with trying to help your adult kids feel warm and safe when it gets that way.
previously published on Purple Clover