students relax on a college campus quad
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My daughter started college, and I’m back at Mommy 101

As a new mother, I had a dedicated bookshelf for parenting books. Classics such as “What to Expect the First Year,” “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” and “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” shared a shelf with books about potty training, ages and stages, and raising good eaters.

I soon realized, however, that most of these books were making me feel worse, not better, so I tossed them.

Despite all the joy that eventually came from nursing, it was difficult in the beginning. If there was a womanly art to it, I missed that chapter. Dr. Ferber assured me he’d solve my child’s sleep problems, but it didn’t feel right to let my kids cry it out as he suggested. And despite my earnest attempts to understand my babies’ needs, the secrets of the baby whisperer remained a secret to me.

I wanted to read a book by an author who would tell me not to worry, that babies and toddlers do things on their own time, when they are ready. I wanted a parenting expert to reassure me that everything I was doing was good enough and OK.

I remember the first time I took the kids out to dinner at a restaurant. My hubby was away on business, and I’d had enough with the feeding, cooking and cleaning and decided to go out. I sat in the back of the restaurant, nursing my son quietly while my daughter and I ate — my first uninterrupted meal. No one cried, needed their diaper changed or spilled juice all over the floor. I remember my daughter and I laughing that night over something silly. It was nothing, and yet it was everything.

It took time to figure things out. Eventually, I found my footing and my mom groove. Things got easier.

Fast-forward 18 years, and I’m feeling a bit uncertain again — this time not with a newborn baby but a college-bound one. And it brings me back to those tenuous early mommy days.

I printed out a number of online articles about necessary dorm essentials. I made lists and made myself crazy. Ultimately, just like those parenting books, I tossed the lists. No, she didn’t need the handheld steam iron or the doorstopper. And we didn’t need to spend a full 10 minutes at Bed Bath & Beyond contemplating the right laundry hamper to buy from the various dorm lists. We figured out the “essentials” just fine, and anything we forgot, she could always order.

There were far too many articles I read about the dangers on campus that I needed to make my daughter aware of — as if college is a breeding ground for scary things and not an exciting time for young adults to grow, make new friends and stretch themselves. I did have “the talk” with her, though she rolled her eyes and told me she knew it all already. Still, I wondered, did I cover everything I was supposed to? What if it takes her a while to settle in and make friends? Do I need to nag her to go to Hillel? Can I call once a week, or should I wait for her to call me? Is talking twice a week too much? Will she do her laundry?

It’s helped me to reflect back to those early infant years to remind myself that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting college-age kids, just as I learned there wasn’t one for parenting babies. Besides, our daughter will figure things out in her own time when she’s ready, just like she did when she was younger.

I had to adjust to life as a new mother, and I know it will take me time to adjust to life with a college-age daughter. What I don’t need are books, articles and checklists telling me what I need to do. I’ve learned to trust my own instincts, and I’ll take my daughter’s cues, too.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.