Picking up my son from college a few weeks ago, I joined other parents hurriedly jamming comforters, laundry baskets, and tote bags full of memories into the trunks of our cars. We diplomatically looked away as our kids said their socially distanced good-byes and took their last looks at tree-lined walkways, residence halls, stadiums, and all the signs of tradition and community that normally would have seen them through the weeks ahead.
Many changes — all at once
Whether they’re already living at home, or they’ve traveled home from across the country (or across the world if they’re studying abroad), college students have many valid concerns right now. The thriving intellectual and social stimulation they’ve grown so used to is suddenly gone. Futures are uncertain. Graduation ceremonies have been postponed or canceled, and no one is talking about jobs or internships these days.
While it might seem like we parents can carry on with our work-at-home lives because our older kids can take care of themselves, the truth is that they really need us right now — in a different sort of way from when they were younger. Even without the backdrop of a pandemic, college-aged students are in a place of transition, says Vincent Nunez, a Catholic marriage and family therapist in Mission Viejo, California. “They are in the process of trying to be independent and at the same time wanting some help,” he says.
Keep conversations going
Keeping up family faith traditions is one way to provide continuity. Nunez, who has two kids in college, says that simple things like sharing a meal together can provide stability and comfort. “These are the moments to ask good, faith-based questions,” he says. “More questions than answers are important for college-aged kids, especially since they are still in the process of forming their own conscience and faith.”
Nunez says those conversations can also be opportunities to share the reassurance that faith provides. “Talking about fears and the world’s fears is a good table conversation,” he says. “Fears come from the unknowns in our life. But this is a good time to reassure them of our faith in the Lord, and how he conquers our fears.”
For parents who are pretty sure their kids haven’t been attending Mass while away from home, or whose kids are downright open about their doubts, we might tread this ground a little differently. There are lots of gentle ways we can share our faith while providing the space and support our homebound, college-aged kids need right now.
Here are a few ideas I’ve collected.
Make home a place of comfort, strength, and peace
Sure, things are going to get cramped and crazy over these weeks and months, but it doesn’t mean you can’t create positive memories. As you look around your home, ask yourself what images of comfort and peace you want your kids to remember from this time. I’m keeping a lit candle next to a Mary statue as a reminder that our loving Mother is always with us. Maybe for your family, daily background music will provide inspiration and peace. Or perhaps it’s time to dig out old family photos to add to your current display — to show the unconditional love that surrounds us at home.
Invite your kids to teach you
Faith sharing isn’t a one-sided affair. This is a great opportunity to invite our college kids to share something they’ve learned this year—notes from an inspiring lecture, perhaps, or a book they’ve read recently. (Who wouldn’t secretly enjoy seeing Mom struggling with macroeconomics, or Dad asking to borrow SparkNotes to get through The Brothers Karamazov?) If parents can show how open we are to learning new things, our kids might be more open when we share our faith with them. Bonus—we can learn something too!
Find new ways to pray together
I’m thinking especially of kids who are questioning their faith or who are identifying as “nones” (no particular faith), here. You’ll need to get creative as you invite them to pray with you. You might ask them to share a song or artist they find inspiring or helpful. It might not be your taste, but the very act of sharing something that’s meaningful can be a grace-filled moment. (Both of my sons have been sharing their music with me, and they’re suddenly a lot more open to my Catholic playlist!)
Supplement those online lectures
As your child connects to video lectures, look for ways you can both connect spiritually to school. If you’re streaming the Mass regularly, why not look for one near your child’s campus? Check with the diocese or archdiocese where the school is located. And of course, if your child goes to a Catholic college, look for live-streamed or recorded Masses from the campus. You can still practice family prayer traditions, like the Rosary and Stations of the Cross too. A remote Way of the Cross is available from Twenty-Third Publications.
Take time to practice works of mercy
Don’t expect over-the-top good deeds while college kids are home, especially if they’re taking a full load of online classes. But they can still be there for others. Encourage them to check in with students they haven’t heard from, or those who might be feeling anxious right now. Invite them to pray for the people still at school — the dorm advisor who stayed, the campus clinic staff, and all the workers keeping the school functioning. Be sure to let your child know — every day — that you’re praying for them, and the people they care about. After all, that’s the most important thing we can do for each other right now, trusting that God will see our families through this time with his peace and loving mercy.
Connie Clark is editor of Living Faith Kids and a regular contributor to Catechist. She is the author of numerous books including Confirmation Conversations: What Parents and Teens Need to Know (Twenty-Third Publications).
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