College Parents Discover a Secret to Staying Close With Kids

From Gabby, a Grown and Flown writer: In the spirit of saying goodbye to your child, we college parents want to assure you that “goodbye” isn’t for long….

college parents, college kids, family vacation at the beach, family vacation

My witty sister-in-law coined the expression “Forced Family Fun” when referring to the mandatory family gatherings in which she requires her reluctant teens to take part.  It has entered our family vernacular as we try to gather together all of the cousins, even those who are less enthusiastic about the “togetherness.”

In their final years of high school,  as my kids entered the house,  I would literally jog behind them to sneak in a few questions or requests as they raced through, changed their clothes and dashed out to another school event – a study session, a game, community service or yet another social gathering.

When I insisted that our family would be having dinner together on a Sunday night (alone or perhaps with cousins or visiting grandparents)  they would say incredulously
“But, Mom, I already told you (NOT), it’s my very best friend’s birthday gathering. EVERYONE is going to be there. I can’t  possibly miss it.” And so the negotiations would begin about SOME time that they would HAVE TO participate in “Forced Family Fun.” I often wondered if these exhausting conversations were worth it, even though the events were pleasant, when they finally came about.

Yet I persevered, as I believed it was my last chance ever to have time with them. I pictured us as college parents watching them depart for freshman year, with suitcase in hand, and then fast forwarded to visiting them in some far off place while they snuck away from their demanding career for one dinner out with us.

I longed nostalgically for those wonderful summer vacations when my three children begged to stay just one more hour on the beach digging sand castles, as the sun was setting.

My first glimpse that I might have overreacted came several years ago during the fall break of my oldest daughter’s college freshman year. The first day she was home she asked if I would come and sit and chat with her while she got her haircut and then inquired if she could go along with me to my exercise class.   In a daze,  I stumbled to the phone, reorganized my work schedule and cancelled much of the next few day’s activities to spend time with her.

This summer, with a heavy heart, I bemoaned to my husband that our three children’s schedules conflicted so that we couldn’t take a proper family vacation together. Our two oldest were saving money by babysitting (college graduate) and working at a summer-long internship (college student.)  My youngest was returning to her final summer of camp before heading into high school pre-season sports in August.  Yet…here is what happened. This summer I spent more time with my three children in various combinations and individually than I have in YEARS… much in fact that my friends wondered where I was.

The secret I discovered during these busy high school and college years is simple…just keep offering up options.  We have enjoyed multiple last-minute dinners on our patio, barbecues, outings to see fireworks, speed walks, running (no I can’t keep up the whole time), tennis, a late night movie or a new tv series at home, church, trips to the grocery store, weekend visits to the lake… in which one of them either suggested the outing, offered to come along or agreed to accompany me or my husband or all of us.  Often these consisted of bringing along friends or significant others or them joining in with our adult friends.

The summer is winding down and my youngest is already busy all day at high school and has just been invited to spend Labor Day weekend away with another family.  My middle child is back at college before classes start because he is on the newspaper staff and is probably organizing the party schedule at his Fraternity.  My oldest, the one who has graduated and starts her first full-time teaching job, requested a mother/daughter two-day getaway during this week as a graduation gift. So take heart at the college-drop because I’m off…..heading down to the beach now for a long walk with her.




  1. Lynn says

    Well said Gabby. I had the same experience this summer! It’s all about being spontaneous and flexible. Remember when they were young and there were days when you thought you’d never live through the tedious task of driving them from place to place? But out of those moments, the most wonderful conversations arose. I for one am glad I was there. As my children have all gone, one by one, I look back on how quickly it all went and it makes me realize why most grandmothers are so wonderful with their grandchildren. They have learned how to be in the moment and to realize how fleeting it all is.

    • says

      Lynn, how right you are. I look at the time my children had flown off on their own as a mini vacation until my grandchildren were born. How wonderful to have the time to stop with them just to watch a bird fly (no pun intended), cat scratch behind her ears, or just to smell the roses.

  2. says

    The spontaneous moments are usually the most enjoyable. Enjoying the moment is the key to enjoying life!

    • says

      So true – one thing that is wonderful about the summer is that there seems to be more time for impromptu gatherings….sorry to see the season ending.

    • says

      How right you are. It is the small things in life that defines who we are.
      “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions — the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimal of pleasurable and genial feeling”.
      Samuel Taylor

  3. Anonymous says

    These pieces are so apt. They ring true flooding me with memories. Even though my youngest is now a year post college I find there are still so many take-aways for me.

  4. says

    beautiful post. last year my daughter was home from melbourne and my son here from new york. she had found an old oyster house on the rappahanock river (from australia no less) we drove an hour and half to this little marina where we sat on a picnic table by the water and ate oysters and crabs fresh from the water for hours. it was the most perfect day ever. you’re right. it only feels like its over. there are wonderful memories yet to come.

    • says

      How lovely that you had your kids nearby last year. I am picturing the story you tell about the perfect day with them. thank you for adding this memory.

  5. says

    Being flexible is not one of my strong points. Especially when it comes to changing family traditions and rituals. But we have no choice, do we. The more options, the more likely the Forced Family Fun might not be so forced one day. Great post!

  6. says

    Forced family fun made me laugh out loud – so true of those kids in high school days. “You’ll come and you’ll have fun!” Flexible is really what = family fun – you’re right. Even more so when they start having little ones of their own and are busy, busy, busy. I often offer up options.

  7. BCE says

    I too had an amazing summer with my children and it came about by just being in the moment. My middle one left for NYC Friday for his first post college job, my oldest and youngest will leave in the next two weeks for grad school and university “across the pond” respectfully. I am missing them all already, but the memories of this summer when we all were together eating steamers, going for walks and yes, Sunday dinners will sustain me.

  8. IzzyMom says

    You tapped into all my fears of my kids slipping away as they get older and left me feeling less sad and scared about it. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  9. Susan and Greg says

    This is so true- the more we keep lobbing options to our kids, the more likely they are to think, “yeah, that sounds like fun…” My daughter left for college this past month, and she sent my husband a tie with her college crest on it with the most lovely note, saying she never really appreciated everything he has done for her – “always with a smile and a warm greeting and a sincere interest in my day”, until she heard some other girls saying how indifferent their dads are, how un-connected they are with their family, and how strange to see my daughter experiencing some homesickness. My husband, a former military guy with a pretty stoic nature, teared up upon reading this and proudly wore it to his office making sure to say, “My daughter sent this to me just to thank me for being her dad!” I’m sure she has no idea how much this one gesture meant to my husband, but I think she has just realized she has been the lucky recipient of countless little gestures her dad has made in her lifetime. And as for forced family fun, I think that’s a brilliant way of building memories together, and weaving the ties that bind all kinds of quirky personalities into a beautiful tapestry that we call family

    • says

      What a lovely thing your daughter did. They have no idea how they can touch us as parents, do they? You pour yourself in for years, forcing all kinds of togetherness and then in a moment you know it was all worth it. What a beautiful story…so glad you shared it.

  10. says

    When my kids were younger my husband and I took them on ‘hikes’, – easy walks in a city park or the great wilderness. As teens they tried to refuse. The oldest son, who we likely tricked into getting into the van for such an outing one day, bemoaned the ‘Sunday trudge’. Voila – the name was born – our forced family fun was the Sunday trudge and in truth, I think they liked it.


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