An open letter to parents of college students, from Pastor Kate

Dear Parents, 

What a beautiful and hard thing it is to parent a college student. I am so grateful for you, for the ways you have loved your child over the years, and for the ways you have prepared them to be the person they are today. Your children bless me and this ministry in extraordinary ways, and it is always our hope and prayer that they will be blessed by their participation in this community as well.  

We hope that through engagement with Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities (LCM-TC), or as a part of the wide swath of ELCA campus ministries nationwide, that your child will find belonging with other students, and with God. We hope that they will continue to grow in faith, and to live into their baptismal call: to trust God, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace. As the staff of LCM-TC, we are honored to walk alongside your children as they grow more fully into the people God made them to be.

I look forward to meeting you on campus, as you’re visiting your child, helping them move into their dorm, or perhaps even out of it. When you’re around, please stop by Grace to say hello and pick up a welcome gift for your child (after August 1). If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

In the meantime, here a few things I wish all parents knew about the curious, earnest, servant-hearted young people I am blessed to work with:

  • Your kids, the students I work with, have big and beautiful questions about God, their emerging adult spiritualities, and their identity. As a ministry, we rarely offer “answers,” but instead teach them to ask faithful questions. It is amazing to hear what comes out of their mouths – faithful, earnest expressions of who God is to them. When you talk with them, be curious about their emerging sense of who God is and how God is shaping their life.
  • Your kids are asking big questions about their identities in college, religious and spiritual identity included. Encourage them to do that in the context of a religious community. Tell them why your faith is important to you, really. Has it sustained you in life’s challenges? Tell them that story. Have you had moments of doubt, or moments of experiencing God’s grace? Tell them that story. These conversations matter as they grow into adulthood.
  • Talk about the differences between the denominations on campus. There are communities on this campus that lead with fear, shame, and judgement and they vastly outnumber communities which lead with grace, mercy, and service. This can be very confusing for students and parents, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your pastor, youth director, or to me if you need clarity or backup.  
  • It can be hard to prioritize the things that matter the most. Students on this campus are marketed to very heavily, and most report paralysis in the face of all the options. A good number of our students report coming for the first time because their parents suggested coming to church. You might also let us know your student is on campus, and we’ll reach out to them!

Here are ways to support your child when they are on campus:

  • Students get busy and over-commit, and sometimes something needs to give. You can help your student navigate a busy schedule by encouraging them to seek balance between school work, part-time work, community engagement, social lives, and faithful practices. There is likely no one but you encouraging them to participate in a faith community. 
  • While it is common for “churched” young people to disengage from faith communities during college, know that at this particular time in life, perhaps more than any other, spiritual friendships, worship, and participation in a faith community are important as they grow into a more mature faith.
  • Keep talking to your kids. Many students I talk to are so worried about disappointing their parents, or bothering their parents, or seeming ungrateful for the support you’ve offered them, that they are scared to tell you what is going on – whether it’s a bad grade, or a hesitation about their major, or overwhelming anxiety. Some see the sacrifices your family has made to get them to this point and make assumptions about what you expect from them in return, many of which I’m sure are unfounded.  Don’t fret (as much as it is possible), but do keep an open heart and mind, and keep the conversation open.
  • Mental illness is a real thing. If your child struggles with mental health, there are resources on campus. The New York Times also has a great “Mental Health Checklist” to include in your college preparations. If your child doesn’t have their own struggle, they are likely to encounter someone who does, be it a roommate, classmate, friend or neighbor. Talk openly with your student about mental illness and make sure they know where to find help. LCM-TC routinely hosts conversations and programming and understands that health and wellness involve community support and a connection with God as well.

Please feel free to be in touch. We are so blessed to be able to offer a network of support for students on campus, and to simultaneously be in relationship with you and your home congregation. We’re in it together, because we are, after all, the Body of Christ. You’ve got this! We’ve got this. Thanks be to God. – Pastor Kate