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Monday, February 13, 2017

the evolution of a parent

Right now my oldest child is three hours away at college, fighting influenza A.  I'm texting her instructions to hydrate and alternate between ibuprofen and Tylenol. My instinct is to hop in the car so her mother
Wish I could send her a cat for comfort...
can lay a cold rag on her head and provide comfort. But she has told me to stay put. So I will.

The dynamic of parenting changes throughout the years, but the mysteries and challenges remain. By the time you no longer wake up in the middle of the night to a crying child, you're laying in your bed watching the clock and calculating what time they should walk through the door. Or in the case of a college student, you might  be analyzing the last Snapchat story and hoping she wasn't trying to send you an encrypted cry for help on a photo that merely appears to be the setting of a party.

Anyway, I happened to ask my budding investigative journalist to give me some thoughts on how to be a good parent to a college kid. (I asked last weekend, before she came down with the flu.) Her responses were not only enlightening, but profound. Here's what she said:

  • Answer any questions we have for you guys. It's our first time on our own, and this may sound like a given but half the time we're making shit up as we go. We realize how much our parents actually have it together when we have to stumble through the weird, legal lingo of our first lease...
  • Care packages go a long way. It doesn't have to be anything big, it could even just be a letter or a picture of the family. Especially in the dorms, getting mail is always a strange pick-me-up. Maybe it's because someone knows where you are when you're in a new place? I don't know, that's a question for a psyche major.
  • If you're able, come visit but not too often. I know plenty of friends whose parents can't get away to see their kids and it wears on them (I'm guessing both sides, but I'm not a parent so just guessing). It's comforting to see the people who have your back regardless, but if it's too often, the excitement wears away and independence is lost. It's like training a college kid off of dependence. You can't go cold turkey and throw them in, but you can't coddle them either because then you have a Failure to Launch situation. I think you guys have a good balance despite the fact you email me every other day ;)
  • If you do get to visit, BUY THEM GROCERIES. This is the biggest stress relief, seriously.
  • Talk to them without judgement. A lot of times we need advice but it's hard to cross over into that world where your parents aren't disciplining you anymore, but you still feel like if you're totally honest you'll get in trouble. Tons of weird situations arise in college that need to be talked about. Idk just be a good parent and help them out so they will talk to you. You feel like a quasi-adult now so you don't want to be dodging/lying to your parents anymore, that's just added unnecessary stress. And it's tiring, you just got through 4 years of it, and college is about moving on.
  • Tell them stories about when you were in college, or when you were that age. That's always fun to hear that your parents messed up like you did ;) Evens the playing field. Don't overdo it though.
  • From a liberal arts perspective, talk to them about assignments or projects they're proud of. You don't really get any recognition for doing well on specific things anymore but a lot of the work we do is important to us now, more so than high school. It is always the biggest confidence boost to have someone dote on your work for a minute, even if it's your mother and she's incredibly biased.

She signed off by saying:

That's all I've got right now, sorry if that wasn't helpful and please clean it up as much as you feel, I was just spit-balling as this is the first I've looked at my email this weekend lol

Pretty decent spit-balling. I've read this three times already–partly to make myself a list of "do's" and partly because I admire the wisdom of my daughter. Maybe her parents are doing some things right.

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