When Maribeth Harper's son was 2 years old, he would alternate between tearfully clinging to her leg at the park and racing headlong toward the swing set. His communication style in college reminded Harper of those early days at the park. “He would text me three times in an hour … and then go radio silent for the remainder of the week,” she said.
While college is undoubtedly a time of transition for students, parents too wonder and worry about how to support children quickly becoming independent adults. Five years ago, Laurel Howanitz, a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Vienna, founded Praying College Moms as a community of women learning the ropes of this new phase of their lives. The group meets monthly to pray, talk and occasionally send care packages to their collegians.
Now, the praying moms can meditate and reflect using a book Harper wrote specifically for them, titled ... And So We Pray: Supporting Young Adults through the College Years. Each chapter tells stories of mothers and their college students, along with spiritual advice and space for journaling. The book, which came out last month, is hopefully the start of a series to be published by the group.
Harper volunteered to write the book after meeting with Howanitz and other members. She drew inspiration from sending her four children to college and from the spiritual wisdom she gained working at a retreat center and attending small groups. “I love applying the faith to real life circumstances, (of) telling stories of women and sharing the incredibly practical ways that God shows His love for us,” said Harper.
In researching the book, Harper learned the different ways parents cope with their children leaving the nest for the first time. “In our culture, (sending kids to college) is the unique hard line in the sand … that moment is a real rite of passage,” she said. Some mothers are much more affected than others, she said. The transition can be even more difficult if their child becomes ill, has difficulties in school or is still homesick.
Both the book and the group remind mothers that their role as parents will change but remain vitally important. “(It) shifts from being hands-on to being long distance,” said Harper. “Instead of carpooling and making lunches, it's now the time for us to re-center and encounter Christ and to radiate that experience (to them).”
The way young adults relate to their parents will change, she said, but they still need that strong example. “It's like the 2-year-old - they cling and (then) they push away, and we have to be steady and inspired, and really, that's where the prayer comes in,” said Harper.
In the book's foreword, Father Paul D. Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy and director of the diaconate formation program, wrote about the surrender and accompaniment that comes with parenting a college-aged kid. “This is not a book about how to get control of your college child but about how to hand over control to God,” he said.
“Sharing the faith means more than just praying and certainly more than lecturing. It requires walking with them, being with them in their struggles and searches.”