Go Ahead, Call Your College Freshman

Mary Dell writes: Whew, congratulations, we survived month one! Since that memorable hug goodbye, we have spent the last few weeks trying to adjust to the absence of our college freshman. We miss them like crazy, long for their phone calls and are thrilled when they text! We follow the rules about not hovering and abide by the sacred parenting principle that states that NOW is the time to let our kids take the lead. But after we dropped them off at their dorms, does that mean we should drop off the face of the earth?

College freshman

 

Parenting college freshman, especially during this first semester, is a hybrid activity. No question that we must respect the fact that our kids are living independent lives. But fully acclimating to college takes time and, while that process unfolds, parents should look for signs that either their child has adjusted and is thriving and or is truly struggling.

In her article, Parents of College Freshmen: Don’t Let Go Too Fast, psychotherapist, teacher and author, F. Diane Barth, identifies red flags: “Eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, failing grades and other difficulties don’t happen overnight and aren’t a sign that a young man or woman is inadequate or bad. They are, however, signs of trouble and require adult intervention…Do not be put off by the advice to ‘let go.’”

She writes that parents who are concerned about their college student:

hear from friends, books, and the internet (telling) them to let their adult youngsters figure things out for themselves….But surprisingly, there are other professional voices telling parents not to let go so fast. In 2007 George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor, found that students whose parents were more involved were actually more successful at college than their “liberated” peers.

If you are, like us, trying to find the sweet spot in parenting your college kid, here are:

Nine Reasons Why You Should Call Your College Freshman

1. Schedule the Call

Make a plan to talk to your child weekly. Ask about his teachers, his roommate and other kids in the dorm. Ask about his weekend plans. If he bristles at what seems like an intrusion into his new-found independence, let him know that you want to stay in contact regularly, especially early on. As Barth writes:

Staying in touch is not by definition neurotic. It does not mean a parent cannot let go. It is an act of responsibility, a communication that you are letting go, but standing by to provide support and balance. And, as one colleague put it, “by listening to their voice on a weekly basis, you can tell how they’re doing – just as you could tell when you looked at their eyes when they were younger.”

2. Phone on the Weekend

Our kids learned how to drive only once they got behind the wheel. They will learn to drink with a cold one in their hand. Some kids already may have had painful lessons of being over-served while in high school; others will learn in college personally and/or by observing the behavior of other students. Schools try their hardest to get kids to understand about the downside of alcohol by mandating online awareness programs during the summer or at orientation. But painful learning can come with shots, kegs, or grain alcohol.

The results of this study,  Protective Effects of Parent-College Student Communication During the First Semester of College found that  “Encouraging parents to communicate with their college students, particularly on weekend days (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays) could be a relatively simple, easily implemented protective process to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors.”

Researchers theorized that “First, there could be a direct effect such that when parents express their concern about excessive drinking and suggest strategies for reducing harm, the students consume less alcohol. There could also be an indirect effect whereby interaction with parents may remind the student of shared values, internalized norms, or the importance of longer-term goals.”

3. Share Contacts

If there is a problem and you are unable to reach your son and daughter who would you call? There is a number for the Dean of Students but that may feel like calling the president of a company if your office computer is broken. Ask your child for his roommate’s number and ask that he give him yours, in return. Assure your son that exchanging numbers does not mean you will be sending texts with smiley-face emojis to his new friend.

4. Discuss the Game Plan

There is no returning to high school days with curfews but ask about the weekend plans. Is your daughter going to a fraternity party or the football game and, most importantly, is there a buddy with whom she will walk back home? Ask her to text you or send an email once she is back in her dorm. When you get up at 7AM on a Saturday morning and see the email at 2AM, you will feel great relief. (Note: I am, admittedly, more on edge about campus safety issues in the wake of a disappearance of a classmate of my daughter’s. We asked our daughter to text us and, as long as we make no comments about the time the texts come in, she is willing.)

5. Provide Warmth

Kids have emerged from the group hug that defined their high school years but they have not yet had the shared experiences that create deep friendships. They are on a campus of strangers and the gulf in closeness will be felt most keenly right now. Until they have developed the new friendships, you can try to fill in the gap with regular phone calls, a shipment of homemade cookies or periodically texting video clips of the family dog back home, this last one guaranteed to garner a response.

6. Support School Work

College and high school are like night and day in terms of work demanded. Your child may be completely overwhelmed by the volume of reading, the length and number of papers, the complexity of tests. Help him avoid an academic train wreck by making academics part of the conversation. If there is a problem, discuss the options the school makes available – tutoring, advisors, study sessions.

7. Check the Calendar

The fall is filled with campus meetings and deadlines. Foreign study, Greek rush, second year housing and course selection. Check out the academic calendar online and put these on your list of things to discuss. Do not begin a sentence with “You should…” but instead try “Have you given any thought to…” Be aware of dates and deadlines in case there is something looming that your daughter might have overlooked.

8. Look for Signs of Poor Health

There is a bounty of food at your child’s fingertips and comfort eating risks unhealthy weight gain. Does he need some new athletic gear in a care package for extra motivation to schedule working out into his week?

9. Plan a Visit

Whether it is a formally organized Parents Weekend, a home football game, or a random weekend after midterms, try to visit your child in college this fall. There is nothing like seeing first hand how your son is faring with his roommate, whether he is stressed by his classes or if he has gained or lost weight. Plus, taking your child out to dinner – with or without a group of new friends – and inviting her to spend the night in a hotel room with you will be a welcome break from dorm life. It will also give you a chance to do a little on site, and not merely long-distance, mothering. At this time of family transition, there is not much that can top a real life hug!

Empty Nest Rant: Come, Chat, Share, Rant, Brag, Complain

Lisa writes: If you were bringing home a new baby there would be blogs, online conversations and shared advice, galore. But your kid is moving out, or moving towards the day she will move out, and suddenly the internet has left you on your own. Here you are facing the second biggest transition in parenting and there seems to be no community for support. Not so.

Come join us, tell us your thoughts, begin a conversation and meet other moms who are very much sharing your experiences, or different ones. Tell us what you really think, why you love this stage or why it hurts and what you hope for the future.

Kids never call, feel free to rant. Kids won’t move out, we want to hear that too. You miss them until they actually show up with all their crap and decamp in your living room? Yeah we get that. And if you have found that nearly perfect balance with your young adult child, please share your secrets!! Come, chat, share, rant, brag, complain, make a new friend, respond to a post…in the comments section below.

 

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

Mary Dell writes: We got a call on Monday night from our daughter at college who began by saying “Mom, I’m ok but…” At that point, my stomach twisted and every nerve in my body began to buzz as I waited for the phrase to follow. Surely something bad had happened.

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

She told me that one of her classmates had gone missing over the weekend. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, Hannah Graham, 18 years old and a second year student at UVA, has still not been found.

Since my daughter’s call, I have immediately opened emails to parents from the University and read the Graham family’s heartbroken appeal. Local and national media report every development and show each grainy surveillance video. I study the photos of Hannah, now missing, and cannot imagine how her mother is enduring the pain. After dinner with friends at 11pm Friday night, Hannah left alone, and has not yet been found. She texted friends saying she was lost at 1:20 AM and then, nothing. As I gaze at each photograph, I agonize for her family and think, that could have been my daughter.

I cannot imagine the terrible state her parents, brother and friends are living in while authorities search for Hannah. The school has made counselors available for students and staff. They have, again, published the phone numbers of the midnight-7am Safe Rides car service, late night buses, and cabs that will take kids home, charging the bill to the student’s account.

I feel an emotional wrestling match between my protective instincts and my daughter’s new-found independence. I want her to fully enjoy her college years, but as her mom, I cannot help but fear for her safety. I have a parenting double standard based on the gender of our children; our daughter is vulnerable to sexual assault (a widely discussed topic this year) in ways that her older brother was not. I know that she is making friends and becoming familiar with the campus. But until she is woven snugly into a friend group and instinctively knows her way around school and it’s environs, my concern for her will keep me up at night.

When our daughter decided on a college in a bucolic town with a picture book campus, I felt she was in a safe place. Charlottesville ranks high on lists of Best College Towns but no school is set inside a fortress, and “almost every college struggles with campus safety issues.” according to Don Tollman, the former assistant director of admissions at Colorado State University.

This summer, before they scattered for college, I sat in the kitchen with our daughter and a few of her girlfriends and asked about how they were feeling and what they would miss the most. They said they wanted to get along with their roommates, do well in school and make friends. Yet, they were concerned about their safety and one friend remarked, ”I will miss how comfortable high school was, having the same routine every day, knowing everyone, knowing what is safe and not. It is scary to go into an environment where you don’t know. “

In 8 Things First-Year Students Fear About College, Mary Kay Shanley and Julia Johnston explain,

There’s this little secret college-bound and first-year college students outwardly deny: They are scared sick about going off to college. In our interviews with 175 college students throughout the United States for Survival Secrets of College Students (Barron’s, 2007) students talked—sometimes painfully—about what they wished they’d known ahead of time and what they would have done differently. In addition to fears about being smart enough, liking roommates, making friends, and missing home, students also worried about handling the party scene, having sex, covering costs, and being safe.

Concerns about safety are real, especially in the “Red Zone,” the early part of the school year. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study discovered that  “more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October, or November. The CSA’s findings also indicate ‘that women who are victimized during college are most likely to be victimized early on in their college tenure.”

In a text from our daughter a few nights ago, she said what had happened to Hannah was “an eye opening experience….I always knew that college can be more dangerous but this makes it more real.”

So as we hope and pray for this young woman’s safe return, I double down on reminders to her to absolutely NOT walk alone at night, to not drink at all or too much, and to please, please be careful. She assures me that she travels to and from her dorm with friends when she goes out at night. She has the campus safety numbers loaded on her phone. I now have her roommate’s number in my cell.

I suggested this additional advice from author Kelci Lyn Lucier from her essay 15 Ways to Stay Safe While in College,

13. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Heading to a club downtown? Going out on a date? There’s no need to spill all the intimate details, but do let someone (a friend, a roommate, etc.) know where you’re going and what time you expect to get back.

At the risk of hovering when I should be distancing myself, if our daughter does not yet have a friend to check in with, she knows I will be that person to whom she can send a late night text saying she is back in her dorm.

Meanwhile, I try to not let my anxiety creep into our calls or text messages. I disguise my great relief when I see her phone number pop up on my screen. Trying to keep it light, I send her photos of her dogs back home, a baby goat video and, yesterday, one of a duck snoring. She responds “cute” and my heart melts.

The school urges us to help our kids continue their academic and extracurricular routines. The question remains: how can our daughter and other freshman girls, in particular, best manage legitimate anxiety while embracing an exciting yet still unfamiliar college world? And in the wake of a disappearance of an 18-year old girl, how will the balance between caution and adventure shift?

Update: 10/16/14: Authorities reported that human remains were discovered yesterday outside of Charlottesville. They have been transported to the Virginia chief medical examiner in Richmond and the case is now being referred to as a “death investigation.”

10 More Reasons Why I Love College Football

Mary Dell writes: College football is the second most popular spectator sport in the US after the NFL. Each fall, students and alumni pay homage to their colleges and teams by planning their Saturdays around kick off. My affection for the sport runs deep, beginning with childhood, building steam through my college years and becoming a family tradition that my husband and I share with our kids.

10 more reasons why I love college football
I have previously written about my gratitude toward college football during my son’s high school years.  It was our go-to topic where we ventured when all other subjects (homework, SAT prep, curfews, college applications) became toxic. And now, with a daughter who is two weeks into her college life, I see how football can be a perfect way for freshmen to make a deep emotional connection to their new home.

10 more reasons why I love college football:

1. Socialize

Game day is just that – an entire day where college football is the main course in a feast of activities coming before and after. For freshmen who are not yet involved in campus life, grabbing a roommate and a couple of kids down the hall and heading for the stadium can be a singular event helping them integrate into the community and feeling less like outsiders. To quote a recent college grad who offered her advice to freshmen, “when in doubt, go out.”  Making plans to go to the game is a perfect way to do just that.

2. Identify

Freshman committed to a college during senior year in what must feel like a lifetime ago. Though they have since told every single person who asked that they LOVE their school, the first weeks of college can be lonely. A college football game gives kids a chance to identify with the team and experience an us vs them sense of attachment, making their declared affection a reality. Games give students the chance to bond with classmates while sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bleachers. On game day, strangers who would never exchange glances while hurrying to class are all brothers and sisters.

10 more reasons to love college football

3. Inspiration

A good college football game is absorbing and a great game, unforgettable. It can also be inspirational as UVA English professor Mark Edmondson writes in his new book, Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game:

There are a number of ways to wake up and learn to aim your spiritedness. But I believe that football is one of the best. It’s a game in which you get knocked down over and over and have to get up and start again. It’s a game that awakens your passion and then can help you direct it at a worthwhile object: getting better at the game and maybe helping your team to win. When you have that model for how to deploy the spirit, you can use it for other aims in life.

Though he is referring specifically to playing the game, the heroics and perseverance of the players inspire the fans.

10 more reasons to love college football

4. Multi-sensory

Turning on the flat screen at home and easing back into a comfy couch for the afternoon is the way millions of fans watch college football. It is an easy stroll to the kitchen and the bathroom, televised camera angles get up close to the action, and the WiFi doesn’t fail. But the experience of walking into a football stadium on game day is visceral. Adrenaline begins to pump and each sense remains on overdrive. These things do not happen while sitting in a lazy-boy: hearing the roar of the crowd, jumping up to watch a receiver sprint down the field to score a touchdown. Cheering, high-fiving! Sweat trickling down foreheads during boiling-hot September games and wrapping up in blankets to keep out a chilly October night.

10 more reasons to love college football

5. Students First

Football fields are typically walkable from dorms with no complicated or time-consuming logistics required to go to a game. Both our kids have gone to schools where only their student IDs were required for admission. Some colleges are making even greater efforts to make sure students attend games in the face of a drop in attendance: “Average student attendance at college football games is down 7.1% since 2009,” according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. This is an ideal time to take advantage of any student incentives offered for attendance.

6. College Traditions

Freshmen are just beginning to figure out the hand signals. They are building their team color wardrobe of t-shirts and sweaters. They might not be sure when to clap, or understand the differences between the fight song and school song. One game into the season, they’re experts.

7. Family Traditions

College fight songs are filled with clapping and spirited, shouting lyrics. If you attended a big state school like I did, perhaps you sung your school song to your kids as lively lullabies. My sister and I learned to sing the Aggie War Hymn (Texas A&M) from our dad and I taught our kids The Eyes of Texas, Texas Fight and when to get your horns up (University of Texas) when they were little. Our daughter is attending my husband’s alma mater and we have made plans to join her for a game later this month. The chance for the two of them to lock arms, swaying and singing The Good Old Song (UVA) will be a priceless moment in our family life.

10 more reasons why I love college football

8. Alumni Connection

College football games are the perfect excuses for alumni to return to campus. Students see older grads in attendance and take note. Games on campus help build connections across generations of students, binding them in loyalty to their school. Since football is a sport with roots dating to 1876, read about the history of the football program helps to gain an additional layer of understanding about the school itself.

9. Ice Breaker

Conversation in the early school weeks revolves around the same few questions – where are you from, what are you majoring in, where are you living….over and over. Going to the game and having a shared experience with classmates makes it easy to talk about the team, the game, the schedule, big plays…. topics open to everyone, paving the way for friendship.

10 more reasons to love college football

10. Moms Back Home

It has only been two weeks since we dropped off our daughter at her freshman dorm. To say that I miss her does not begin to describe my longing to see my youngest child. Watching the game last weekend on TV was exciting and the best part for me? Hoping against hope that the camera would catch her cheering in the crowd. I don’t plan to miss a game.

10 more reasons to love college football

How to Find Success in College: 9 Things the Research Shows

Lisa writes: For years college feels like an endpoint, the focus of so much of our kids’ energies. But it turns out to be just a beginning. We have looked at the view of one experienced professor  regarding successful students and we have asked graduates for their input as well. Now we have reviewed what experts have found through years of research and present nine findings on how freshmen can find success in college.

How to Succeed in College

Stick to Your Own Definition of Success in College

Students who did best in college were not motivated by outside factors like jobs, or grades, but rather a genuine desire to learn.

“Intrinsically motivated by their own sense of purpose, they were not demoralized by failure nor overly impressed with conventional notions of success.” “These movers and shakers didn’t achieve success by making success their goal. For them, it was a byproduct of following their intellectual curiosity, solving useful problems, and taking risks in order to learn and grow.”

Take One Small Class, Every Semester

Students who took one small class, defined as less than 16 students, had a higher level of engagement and actually worked harder, according to Professor Richard Light of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Another study showed that students who took a small freshman seminar (thus had an early experience in a small class setting) were less likely to drop out of school.

“Students who choose at least one small course each semester have, on the average, a significantly better overall experience than those who do not. [They] are noticeably more engaged, by their own rating, than students who take only larger classes. …Either small classes demand more time or students choose to invest more.”

Engage With Faculty, Early and Often

Every study seemed to confirm that students who engaged with faculty, in venues outside of the classroom, had better educational outcomes. The studies concluded that for most students, more contact with faculty was always better.

“Informal student-faculty interaction activities—being a guest in a professor’s home, working on a research project with a faculty member, talking with instructors outside of class, and serving on committees with faculty—are positively correlated with student learning and development.”

How to succeed in college

Don’t Just Look to Get Requirements Completed

It is tempting freshman year to look at the list of graduation requirements and to try to knock off a substantial portion of them freshman year. Professor Light suggests being careful with this strategy, because when sophomore year begins, these students have little idea of what subject matter genuinely interests them.

“When talking with freshmen, I stress this point especially heavily. I urge them not to just choose a series of large, introductory courses during freshmen year. “

This is Not High School, Work in Groups

In many high schools, individual work is stressed, but this is not high school. Students who seek out study groups and connect with their peers over academic content have greater academic success and satisfaction during their four years.

“Not only do students who work in small study groups outside of class commit more time to their coursework, feel more challenged by their work, and express a much higher level of personal interest in it—they are also much less likely to hesitate to seek help. The critical point is that the relationships are not merely social. They are organized to accomplish some work—a substantive exploration that students describe as “stretching” themselves. And almost without exception, students who feel they have not yet found themselves, or fully hit their stride, report that they have not developed such relationships. “

If it is an Option, Live on Campus Freshman Year

Every school is different and not all students are offered on-campus housing their first year or any year. But multiple studies showed that living in freshman housing increased social engagement. Students living on campus were more likely to be members of study groups and get involved in extracurricular activities, both markers for success.

“…living on campus had a direct, positive effect on learning outcomes, and educational aspirations had the greatest indirect effects on learning and intellectual development. In fact, living on campus had the greatest total effect (i.e., the combination of direct and indirect effects) on learning outcomes of any institutional characteristic. “

Pick the Right Friends

Students should think carefully in choosing their friends because no influence seems to be as forceful as peer group pressure. A student’s peer group, according to one study was, “’the single most potent source of influence,’ affecting virtually every aspect of development—cognitive, affective, psychological, and behavioral.”

“Peer interactions are particularly important with regard to social integration because students are more likely to stay in school when they feel comfortable and connected to other students with similar interests and aspirations. … In addition, institutions with higher levels of student social interaction also have higher levels of student educational aspirations.”

Parents Still Matter and Our Kids Need Our Encouragement

Even as our kids move on with their lives, it appears our influence is still very relevant. College can be a daunting and far more challenging experience that high school, requiring a great deal more self-direction. Some kids stumble their first year and can become demoralized. Research shows they are aided by a reminder that their parents’ confidence in them is undimmed and support unreserved.

“Aspirations and family support foreshadow student success. … On balance, it appears that students perform better and are more likely to succeed when their families affirm their students’ choices and encourage them to stay the course; this is especially important for underserved populations.”

The Effects of Success in College Linger Long After Graduation

A 2014 Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates showed that it is a few simple things that increase the odds of turning a successful college experience into satisfying work life. Every freshman should know that the positive effects of constructive relationships with professors, meaningful work experience and extracurricular activities and in-depth academic work, can last a lifetime.

“ if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.”

 

Advice to College Freshmen from Recent Grads

Lisa writes: I would love to send my soon-to-be freshman son off to college with a fist full of good advice from me. But let’s be honest, it has been a little while since I was in college and there are those far younger and more knowledge than I who can help him on his way. Luckily I was able to corral some recent college grads (and current seniors) and here they share some very wise and relevant advice for college freshmen. college, campus

Very Wise Words

Find a Constant

There is an extraordinary amount of change you will encounter as you transition to college – find something to hold on to, something you can carry with you throughout college as you encounter a new living environment, schedule, friend group and set of academic expectations. Your constant might be an activity you’ve done your whole life, a new hobby, a book series you re-read for comfort right before bed, a TV show, a “splurge” you indulge in once a week at the local (overpriced) coffee shop, or something else entirely. Regardless of what your constant is, you should practice making it as routine as brushing your teeth.

For me, it was running outdoors and exploring my new environment. It was a different kind of hard work that allowed me to set goals for myself, but was not something to be graded or judged by teachers or peers. Finding a constant is a gift that keeps on giving; even after you graduate – or whenever you encounter intimidating transitions as you move forward in your career – you’ve got it in your back pocket to keep you grounded.

Now, the Nitty Gritty

Freshman Fall

Put yourself out there in the beginning of freshman year and meet as many fellow freshmen as you can. It is such a unique time where EVERYONE is in the same boat – no one knows each other and everyone wants to make friends.

The early days can be tough…if you think you hate your school and want to transfer, at least give it your all until after Christmas break. It gets better once you’re settled and find a good crew of friends.

If you are feeling lonely or homesick, you are not alone. We think about college for years and yet when we arrive it is a huge adjustment. All of the freshman around you are making the same adjustment, even if they are not showing it.

My recommendation to college freshmen would be to push yourself outside your core group of friends from time to time and try and meet lots of new people. Your core friends will always be your friends, but you may be glad you met a wide circle of people if you end up in a new city or country one day. Then a peripheral friend may become your new best friend!

Find a group to join early. Even if it doesn’t last, even if it isn’t something you are passionate about, join a club or a team because it will give you an activity and friends right from the beginning. The earlier you meet people and find a place to belong the sooner you will enjoy school.

The days of high school gym class and healthy home cooked meals are over and the Freshman 15 loom as a very real challenge. Less time in the cafeteria line and more time at the gym is the only answer. Find a workout buddy and keep each other on track.

When in doubt, go out.

Academic Advice

Take advantage of all the amazing professors you have at your disposal as a college student. Go to office hours, contact professors in a field you’re interested in and ask if you can get coffee and chat about the field and their work… get to know them! They’re there for you.

Take classes you’re actually interested in!! If you’re interested in that 8:30am Friday class –  take it! Get your butt up, go to class, and then you can sleep the rest of the day (another beautiful thing about college). You’ll regret it later on when you’re not looking at “Intro to Fairy Tales” on your transcript instead of something more useful and productive.

Just because you don’t need to keep up your grades to get into a good college now doesn’t mean stop working hard. Even three years of hard work after freshman year can’t erase a year of not trying at all.

Don’t be shy about getting academic help even if you have never had it before. College is a big step up. Struggling academically will ruin your first year and a tutor can get you on the right track. Many schools have academic support easily available. If you need it, get it.

Group work, study sessions and other academic collaborations are the norm in college. This is a change from high school. In college it is expected that you will work together academically and it is a great way to meet new people. Get into study groups early in the year, before the midterm rush.

Finally, for the Planners

If you are a planner, and always have been, get ready for some bumps in the road. After graduation nothing will go as planned – which might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. The job you expect to have for years will change, your friends and where they live will change, you will get married sooner or later than you had anticipated, and everything you had once dreamed your life would be after college will be different. Life is full of surprises and the best ones are still to come!

campus, freshmen advice, college students

 

 

That Perfect Letter

Lisa writes: You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their kid’s camp bags or college duffels, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime momentos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Everytime I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college kid,  I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise myself, next time.

Love stamp And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college I will once again fail to write that perfect letter, here is what I might have said, if I could get my act together.

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this in no way takes away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing and focused almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus think through the sweep of human history and try to guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you have acknowledged just how rare and special this gift is, will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times and it may be true, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity and resources together in quite this heady combination. If these are to be the very best years, you must make them so.

First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you and there will be none of the social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity, it will never come around again.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now in a place where alcohol is both tacitly allowed and legally forbidden. The only thing that stands between you and a very bad experience is your own good judgment. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgment at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly forever.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune to never have lived in a place where no one loved you or frankly cared a whit about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college you will have no real friends. Sure you will know some kids, but these are not true friends, yet. They are still just acquaintances you really like. It is better to live amongst those you love, but it takes time and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself, I Was 18

When you look at me you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you that you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, knowledge you want to gain, friends you want to make it is now entirely up to you.

Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, a Conversation with Lacy Crawford

Lisa writes: Lacy Crawford is the author of the wonderful new book, Early Decision: A Novel(William Morrow.) For fifteen years she served as a discreet college admissions counselor to the super rich, shepherding their children through the maze of applications and essays. From August until acceptance, two or three times a week, she worked with students helping them research schools and draft, rewrite and polish their essays. While Lacy was employed by parents to guide their children, it is clear that those who hired her were in great need of her help as well. (BTW, Lacy can be reached via twitter at @Lacy_Crawford)

Early Decision, Lacy Crawford

After years of working with high school seniors Lacy faced an even more daunting task, filling out applications for nursery school for her own baby. “I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years,” Lacy recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “But there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, ‘I know how this ends.’ This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college.” It was then that she began to take the notes that would turn her very real experiences into a superb work of fiction.

Mary Dell and I met Lacy at the book salon of the incomparable Aidan Donnelley Rowley and, while I politely bought the book as I love to support authors, I had no intention of opening its cover, or even taking it out of the bag.

As the parent of a high school senior, I feared Lacy’s book would be like touching the third rail, an act so foolish and painful that I would instantly regret it. Yet one night I mustered up the courage to peek inside and then could not set her volume down. I grabbed it as I left for a flight to London and read my way right through the night and across the Atlantic. Don’t get me wrong, there was more than one moment of painful, excruciating recognition, as I saw my parenting self in the beautiful fictional narrative of five sets of parents tangoing through the harrowing college process with their beloved 17 year olds. But still I turned the pages.

We were lucky enough to get the chance to ask Lacy some questions about her experiences in college admissions, working with teens, and becoming a highly successful novelist.

Lacy Crawford, Early Decision

G&F: Is it possible for parents to face the fall semester of senior year without losing your mind? You ask, it may be rhetorical, but for parents out there staring into the jaws of high school, how do you do it?

Lacy: Short answer: no, not really. You’re going to feel a little bit crazy, but that’s good: your child’s future matters to you, and the stakes are high, and you care. Good for you. And wonderful—truly, wonderful—that you’ve raised a child to the point of considering excellent four-year colleges, that you’ve made that possibility a reality. As the mom of toddlers, I salute and admire every single parent facing down that college cannon.

However, there are good choices and bad choices, and when a student reaches senior fall, her parents have one year left before they’re packing her up and dropping her off in a dorm somewhere, and for heaven’s sake, one wants it to be a good year. How to do that?
Play the long game.

When your child is 30, 35, 40, you aren’t going to care what diploma’s on her wall. You’re going to want her to be deep into a vibrant career she loves, devoted to a partner, healthy and strong, with or without a family, whatever—but really engaged in her life. Not slogging away at a job she took because it seemed like the next “right” thing to do, or having a nervous breakdown in her custody battle with the wrong person who seemed like the “right” one. If you’re already in the position to be sweating which four-year college your child will attend, you’ve already secured for her a certain set of privileges that will translate in the job market. What matters now, and will matter forever, is that your child has the courage of her own conviction: the ability to imagine her own future and take concrete steps toward building it. Honor this, and let the chips fall where they may. She will remember that you supported her, and it will make her stronger.

Day by day, in practice, during that most difficult season, a parent must get out of the comparative register. Because someone’s kid will commit to an Ivy for soccer or badminton or whatever, and someone else’s kid will have a godmother who’s a trustee, and someone else’s kid will have been born on Mars, and it will seem, some days, that there is no way to make your wonderful, exceptional child stand out, and that is crazy-making. But it is only crazy-making if you consider a certain college or set of colleges the end game. That way lies madness, whether the child is admitted or not. Trust me on this; it does. The real prize is your child’s developing character: courage, confidence, resilience, curiosity, the willingness to dream, the willingness to work. You’re in it for the long haul, here; you are present at the beginning of a long and rich life. So work on the application, yes, but then let it go. Luck has a very heavy hand in this process. Your child’s folder may come up for discussion at just the wrong time in the admissions office. Someone has the stomach flu, someone else with your child’s name was just admitted or not admitted, Mercury is retrograde, who knows? When the numbers are so steep, fate is fickle. We can’t control these things. But if you pile on, and believe that the decision handed down is the end (or the beginning) of the world, then you’re giving your child a value proposition that is really dangerous. Because then your child’s future is out of her hands, has already been determined, in one direction or another. And this is ludicrous. The world is just opening up.

The people I most admire in life, the ones who are, to me, most successful and most worthy of respect, are the ones who figured out early on that institutions can be terrifically powerful in society, but that they are imperfect systems, and for the individual they cannot confer success. You get a diploma and you still have to go make a life. Is it helpful to have the Harvard network at your fingertips, the Harvard name? Sure it is; use it all you can. But you’re going to be up against kids who have less entitlement and more willingness to fail, kids who have distinguished themselves in other, more varied pools, kids with different experiences to bring to bear. Competition is a fact of life. There is no getting around that; there is no safe perch, no way to coast. We make a good life by determining what we love and what we need, and trying to build in that direction.

You describe a world in which rich parents disable their kids over decades with tutors and paid assistance at every step of the way. How, in the final stretches of their time at home, was Anne (your fictional college counselor) supposed undo a lifetime of damage and help her students stand on their own two feet?

That “learned passivity” that Anne cites, and that children can exhibit when they’ve been tutored and coached in every aspect of their lives, doesn’t usually come from ill will—it’s the long-term result of parents wanting to help raise their children up, to make them competitive and successful, to ensure them good lives. Things we all want for our children. The problem, I think, lies in sending the steady, implicit message that the results are more important than the child. We must help our children to be diligent, yes, and teach them discipline and focus, and often success will follow. But not always. I believe that the child who is never supported through failure will not learn to build his own life. For Anne, the first task with her students is to reverse the message they’ve been raised with: to say, I don’t care where you get in, I only care about you. If you’ve made an honest, authentic application, then you’ve succeeded, no matter what happens next. Does this mean that you stand back and let an unengaged child torpedo his future? No, of course not. But you engage a young person by accompanying them through their process, not leading them down the path. With Hunter, for example, a character who has significant motivation problems, it would be exactly the wrong approach for Anne to pile on and tell him how much she cares about his college career. Paradoxically, what he needs is for everyone else to stop being anxious on his behalf, so he has a chance to feel some anxiety of his own. So first thing, Anne tells him she doesn’t much care whether he goes to college at all. Hearing Anne’s lack of investment in his success gives him a chance to get a toehold on his own hopes and ambitions.

Over and over again, I found this successful in beginning work with a young person. Thereafter, I listened carefully and closely. And students began to talk. It’s not magic. We are all built this way, I think. If you care to help people grow, back off of your own desires for them, and listen well to their own desires for themselves.

For years you worked with kids as an independent college admissions counselor. In the New York Post you described yourself “as working under the radar, a hired gun who slipped in and out of penthouse apartments and jogged up the side steps of brownstones like someone’s mistress.” Why did the parents who hire you want so much secrecy?

To preserve the shared fantasy that college admissions is a meritocracy, of course. To the public, one says, “He did it all on his own!” And inside the home, one says, “Tutor’s coming at five.”

Your book contains full-blown college essays, what was your thinking in composing and including these in a book of fiction?

I love the way teenagers sound, and when I was working with high school students, I marveled at how they could write their way into a better understanding of their own desires—how, once they learned to understand what a dead sentence looked like (the ones they wrote by rote, the ones they imagined their English teachers would like) and ignored those for the sake of the real, live ideas, they could discover feelings and hopes that had gone largely unacknowledged in their days. A lot of the work I did with young people happened on the page, between drafts, and it wasn’t about punctuation, it was about helping a student to learn to hear her own voice. I don’t mean “voice” in sole terms of some written quality, a female or a male voice, etc., but in terms of the clear, authentic impulse to thought and logic that makes good writing possible. A student who is busy trying to impress someone, or who has been corrected at every turn by overbearing parents or endless tutors, won’t dare to reveal this true self. But anything else leads to hollow writing, however polished. I wanted to dramatize this process of coming-to-hear in the book. In order to do that, I needed to show the evolution of essay drafts. A significant part of the work of characterization was done in the essays themselves. Also I hoped they would provide a little variation in the prose, some modulation of form and tone that would add to the storytelling.

How did the students feel about their parents hiring Anne to work with them and do you think it has any lasting impact?

Each student in the book has a different response to Anne’s guidance. But it’s safe to say that no one is surprised; their parents’ bringing in outside help is further evidence of each parenting approach (over-involved, under-involved, whatever). Those are deliberate choices in the book, for the sake of the story.

In real life, what interests and upsets me is the very common phenomenon of a college counselor’s retention (often at exorbitant rates) reinforcing for a student that outcome is more important than process. In other words, parents seem to be saying, Where you go is exceptionally important, but how we get there doesn’t matter—we’ll do whatever it takes, no matter the price, to you or to us. This happens, and it can be very cruel. For a student, there’s a short emotional step to take from “my parents don’t care what it takes to get me in, as long as I’m in” to “my parents only care about where I go, and not who I am.”

Your book is set among the urban super wealthy, a group seemingly willing to spend almost anything to help their children gain entrance to the college of their choice. On the one hand you have said that over 10 years your success rate (as defined by a child gaining admission to the school of their choice) was 90%, on the other hand you implicitly recoil from a system that so tilts the playing field. Do private college counselors really make a difference and, if they do, isn’t that a problem?

Yes and yes.

Tomorrow look for Part 2 of our conversation with Lacy Crawford, author,Early Decision: A Novel (William Morrow.)

Princeton Mom vs. the Facts, Grown and Flown in The Atlantic

In last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Patton (known as The Princeton Mom) penned an op-ed  “A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk in which she advised young women by saying, “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career—and you should start doing so much sooner than you think.” While her advice sounds dated, the more troubling aspect is that, in our view, it is simply wrong and not consistent with the facts. Grown and Flown took a look at the research and Lisa has written a rebuttal which shows that marriage has changed radically and our views of women’s roles need to alter as well.  Her story appears in The Atlantic.com.

Princeton Mom vs. the Facts

Susan Patton is attracting a great deal of attention with her polemic on the virtues of attracting a husband in college.  Her underlying theme, that the university setting is the ideal feeding ground for husbands, leaves many women up in arms over the suggestion that the goal of getting a guy should be right up there with getting a degree. In what can only be described as scare tactics, she offers her version of motherly advice, which is that women need to find the smartest guys in college and pursue them as marriage prospects.  It may be in her upcoming book she will fill in the facts that back up her many assertions, but her argument does not hold up, not because the message is offensive, although it is. Rather, because the argument does not square with the facts.

LisaHeffernan. College educated women and marriage

college educated women

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Professor Offers Best Advice for College Freshmen

From Michelle, a Grown and Flown friend: A year ago, when my nephew was beginning his first year of college, I put together a top-ten list of advice for college freshmen based on my years as a professor and the advice of colleagues and former students. Last week I checked in to see if my advice had been of any help. The original column appears below, with comments from Elias, now a rising sophomore.

1. SHOW UP.

Attend every class session unless you have a contagious illness. (Woody Allen was right: 80% of success is just showing up.) And don’t sit in the back; I can practically predict a student’s grade based on where he or she sits. Slacking in the back row = bad grades with very few exceptions. Elias says, “I can’t say enough about how important this is. Two-thirds of the students in my 9:30 class, where lectures were posted online, never showed up for class. I went to everything, and as a result I developed terrific relationships with most of my professors.”

freshman year, college professor

2. INTRODUCE YOURSELF.

Find an excuse to go to office hours, not just once but two or three times a term.  Take a draft of your essay to a TA or professor for review; once graded work has been handed back, go back and ask for advice on how to improve it. These people will be your references, advocates, and possibly even friends later in life; you want them to remember your name when the semester is over. And don’t be afraid to kiss a little ass. If your professor is giving a talk or performance, show up — and make sure he or she knows you did.  Helpful hint: always remind said professor, adviser, or TA of your name when you encounter them; they will be eternally grateful. 

3. ENGAGE.

Come to class prepared enough to ask a perceptive question or make a useful comment. Don’t be a wallflower, but don’t dominate either – your fellow students will not love you if your hand is always the first one up. When you e-mail a professor, do it for a good reason and be respectful (don’t address us as “dude” or by our first names unless we’ve asked you to). Turn off your cell phone and do not text during class. We can tell.

4. AFFILIATE.

Take advantage of what campus life has to offer – clubs, events, service trips, religious groups. Join something the first week; student activities start-up right away and there is no better way to meet non-freshmen. Try out any and all groups that seem interesting until you find your niche. Research shows that students who are affiliated with a campus group or who have a part-time job are less likely to drop out and more likely to progress through college on time. More important, it enriches the experience.

5. LEARN A LANGUAGE AND/OR LIVE ABROAD.

Once you leave college, language classes are expensive and hard to schedule. Take advantage of the daily classes and language labs that are included in the price of tuition. Try to study abroad. Even if you can’t get away for a whole semester, find a short-term spring or summer program and, when it comes to choosing where, the more foreign the better. Elias says, “This is one of the best things you can get out of college. I am sad I didn’t get to start taking language,” Next year, Elias plans to start Chinese language study, and he recommends going above and beyond the school’s language requirement.

6. STAY HEALTHY.

Don’t neglect your health. Eat well and be sure to get enough sleep. Getting sick means lots of missed classes and lots of missed fun. The recreation center, gym, or intramural sports are great ways to meet people and will help keep your mind clear. Do not abuse any substances, and do not kiss anyone who is sick. Elias says, “I had a lot of colds, although they weren’t debilitating and I could still get to class. Maybe it was being around sick people, maybe too much alcohol.” Whatever the case, he did not stay healthy and, sadly, “I did not go to the gym a single time.”

7. TAP INTO RESOURCES.

Career and professional advice; funding for internships, study abroad or travel; opportunities to work with professors on research; mental health counseling and disability support services – these are all offered by most schools, but it is up to you to recognize your needs and make use of such resources.

8. BE SOCIAL.

Leave the door of your dorm room open much of the day and cultivate a broad group of friends. Don’t walk around campus texting. Make eye contact. Chat with kids in class. Set up a study group of three or four people to share ideas, questions, and notes if you have to miss a class (see #1). Michelle adds: I neglected an important piece of social advice – practice safe sex! Nothing can put a damper in your college experience, and that of your partner, like an unplanned pregnancy. Elias says, “There was a lot of risky behavior going on – alcohol abuse, selling of prescription meds, people who wound up in the hospital because of drinking too much, girls who needed to take Plan B pills for unprotected sex.” Elias’s worst experience of the year was two car accidents less than a month apart. In both cases, the person at fault (not Elias, thankfully) was texting while driving. “I just don’t put up with that anymore. I would never drive with someone I thought would drive while texting.”

9. SAVOR YOUR INDEPENDENCE.

College is a time to grow up. Make the place where you live a home away from home so you have a measure of personal comfort. Create a positive atmosphere that will nurture you. Keep your support system – friends, family – in place, and call them when you need them, but don’t be afraid of loosening the ties. Elias says, “If anything, going to college has strengthened my ties with my family. It made me much more appreciative of having a stellar home life. I met people who were so happy to be away from home that they never wanted to go back. It made me really value my family.”

10.  MAKE THE MOST OF EACH DAY. THE YEARS WILL FLY BY.

best college advice

College Prof Top 10 List for College Kids 

College Graduation and the Parenthood Abyss

Mary Dell writes: My son, our eldest child, will celebrate his college graduation this weekend. Today, while I sit in the kitchen, I read the fine words of another mom whose child recently graduated. I begin to imagine the moment when our son’s name is called and he walks onto the stage to receive his diploma. I feel a familiar maternal adrenaline rush beginning to rise and recognize it as the same one I have felt every time I waited for my child to stride onto a stage or take his place at home plate.  But I also sense a new ingredient. After the ceremony concludes and we drive back home, he will no longer be our “school child.”  Exactly what will replace that two-decade long identity takes me to the edge of a parental abyss.

college graduation, schoolhouse, school, college

No longer will his schedule, and ours with him, be dictated by a calendar of September- May. The school schedule, with its rock-solid predictability, provided the foundation on which his life in the classroom and the sports field was built. For three months each summer, the structure relaxed but sprang back to life in the final days of August. Then, before the first class began, we bought new school clothes (last year’s were always too small, too short) and new supplies to load into a crumb-free backpack. The obligatory first day of school photos now fill our albums, shoeboxes and flash drives.

After Sunday’s college graduation, we will begin a new era with our son.  We will place graduation photos in last pages in his childhood photo album, close it and put it away.

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Good Parenting Gone Bad

Lisa writes: I have a parenting confession to make.  I have gone to one of my sons’ dorms and done his laundry.  I have scraped every dirty sock and jersey off of his bedroom floor, carefully separating his debris from that of his two roommates which was all commingled in one large reeking mass.  I then carried these teeming piles, along with every sheet and towel I could lay my hands on, to his basement and ran six loads of laundry.

I did this once on a Parents’ Weekend and, just when I thought I had lost it, taken my overparenting to a new level, his roommate’s mother looked at and me and said, “Too bad the boys don’t have a vacuum” and then proceeded to take a lint roller out of her handbag and roll their entire carpet on her hands and knees.  I was stunned. Was I outparented or had I finally discovered the line I would not cross?

parents weekend

College Dorm, dorm room mess, messy college kids, boys dorm room[In my defense, this is not a stock photo.] 

I thought I was doing some good, after all, my child had run out of clean socks and underwear and for two decades I have been the purveyor of everything clean.  But when I read the headlines today, that new research has shown hovering can harm, I wondered if I was doing my son any favors.

According to a new study titled “Helping or Hovering: A Parent’s Dilemma,” parental involvement is associated with “positive child outcomes” if that involvement is age appropriate.  However, when a parent is excessively controlling in a child’s life, particularly when that child is, in fact, a college age student and, in reality, a young adult, the outcomes are not so positive and include depression and anxiety. It is scientific proof, we are told, that helicopter parenting is in fact not helping.

The problem arises, according to the authors of the study, when our parenting becomes age inappropriate.  They concluded by finding that college kids who had over-controlling parents were more depressed and less satisfied with their lives than those who had “autonomy supportive parents.”

The researchers readily acknowledged that prior studies have shown that college students with highly involved parents actually had increased personal and social development and a greater satisfaction with life.  Involvement in our children’s lives is not the problem, it is the nature of that involvement they argue, that has the potential for harm.

This study I fear does not give us great insights into when we have gone too far in our parenting.  In order to conduct the research, the team investigating looked only at the mother-daughter relationship.  As those relationships form only one-quarter of the child-parent dyads, I wonder if it is fair to draw too many conclusions.

The study also asked students to comment on some characteristics of their mother’s parenting.  Helicopter mothers were defined as those who monitored who their college kids spend time with, where their kids were, how much they exercised and ate and would be ready to intervene with a roommate or a professor if there was a problem.  Even for those of us well-practiced in overparenting this seems excessive.

The question that plagues parents of college students is where is the line between enabling and disabling, when does our love keep them from growing up? Most parenting is not as extreme as that portrayed in the study, but that doesn’t mean that it is not damaging.  This week alone I have doled out medical advice to two sick college sons, proofread employment cover letters, given advice on resumes and acted as a personal financial advisor.  Did I go to far?

I knew when to tell my five-year old that he needed to tie his own shoes and had no trouble deciding when to let middle schoolers go to the movies without parents or to let high schoolers finally stay out until midnight.  But sometimes this is harder.  As parents, we harken back to our own college years, but a world in which parent-child contact consisted of one Sunday evening call a week does not provide much guidance.  This letting go has fewer clear lines and demarcations.

When the authors looked at over parenting and depression they were forced to admit that it was very hard to pull apart the causality and interactions.  Few college students manage to sail through four years of college without a few rough emotional moments, and most parents know the sound of that heart dropping phone call.  I think one of my sons had it right when he said college is a time of high highs and low lows.  Suddenly we find that our otherwise cheery college student has realized that she hates her roommate, he has earned the first C- of his life and despairs of Law School, and they have been dumped by the love of their young life.

Our heart-strings are pulled and we are unable to do more than listen, offer well-meaning platitudes and send chocolate chip cookies.  Sometimes these disappointments can leave our kids hurting for days or weeks or even months. And then we hover a bit.  We call more often and ask more questions.  As the those who love them most, we stay close until the episode has passed gauging whether our child is managing or perhaps should be encouraged to seek help.  We hover because our child is anxious or down, they are not anxious or down because we hover.

The study concluded by calling for more research on the hovering-depression casualty and suggesting that researchers even look to see if parents hover because they themselves are depressed.  Such research, I fear, will not be helpful until it looks at more mainstream intensive parenting rather than parents exhibiting the most extreme behavior.  The question is not whether to hover versus help, but rather when should we hover and when should we help and when we should stop doing their laundry.

By Grown and Flown Parenting From the Empty Nest

Christmas Morning, It’s Childhood All Over Again

Lisa writes: Like every parent I struggle to understand where the years have gone.  I gaze at three full-sized humans towering over me and feel like I just watched a movie on fast forward and would give anything to see it again at normal speed.  And while that might just be a mom fantasy, Christmas morning is the one chance to rewind the tape and watch a small segment of my sons’ childhood played over again.

Christmas Tree, Christmas Gifts

Barbara Brotman of the Chicago Tribune threw out a terrific question, “Anyone else have grown children who turn into excited kiddies at Christmas?” Her family has a wonderful tradition of packing lunch and going off to the zoo, and although her daughters are well into their 20s, the family tradition is going strong.

Her question she got me thinking about why I so love Christmas morning, a ritual new to my life.  The answer I believe is that when we rise on December 25, my family rolls back the clock. For one morning a year I get to gaze upon my grown and nearly grown sons as they once were, small boys bursting with excitement.
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12 Most Wise Things to Remember When Your College Kids Come Home

Lisa writes: Our college kids. We love them, we miss them — and then, when they come home for school breaks… we are ready to kill them. At Grown and Flown, we have explored life through these tumultuous years as we help our kids ready themselves for the adult world.

12 Most

Here are some things to remember:

1. College kids love us but they love their friends too

Don’t be hurt when they give you the hello and goodbye and head straight out the door to see their old high school buddies. [Read more...]

Christmas Traditions – Somewhere Between the Old and the New

Gabby, a Grown and Flown Writer, sent us this post as she prepares for the holidays: My youngest child complained recently that we don’t make as big a deal of Christmas traditions and celebrations as we did when her older brother and sister lived at home. Ironically, it was just about the time I had decided to skip decorating the house for Thanksgiving, something I have always done. And since we planned to be away for Christmas, I was also entertaining the notion of a “quieter” version of Christmas lights and decor.

I’ve written before about all the advantages my third child has in terms of my experienced and wiser approach to parenting, but I have not often considered the downside.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade spider man balloon, parade balloon, Macy's parade, Christmas traditions

I vaguely recall my youngest sister complaining that the focus of our family always seemed to be directed at the lives of her two older sisters.  Whether conversations were about college, first jobs or partners, she was always in an earlier stage and her life was never the topic of family discussions.

There are several precipitating occurrences which have inspired my “toned down” approach to our Christmas traditions. If I am honest with myself, weariness, boredom, and a little bit of cynicism are among the darker factors. However, at the same time, I am working hard within this second phase of life (along with my family) to remake myself so that I can shed certain outdated personas and make room for more originality, purpose and depth…..and isn’t that the point of these holidays to begin with? Finally, there is no denying that we have been forced to shift things around, both to adapt to our children’s new lives as they enter adulthood and also because of  the aging of the generation ahead of us.inflatable balloon, family trip to parade, Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, Kermit the frog, Kermit balloon

As an example, this was the first time in 20 years that I did not have a household of extended family for Thanksgiving.  Instead, I hosted an early celebration with my husband, our three children, friends, significant others and some extended family before all but four of us traveled in different directions.

Yet in what might become a new tradition, I did something I have wanted to do since I was a little girl….my husband, two of my children and I went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

During past years when I flew around the house cooking up multiple meals for multiple days of visitors, I wistfully watched the TV’s rendition. This Thanksgiving there was room for a new (perhaps one-time) holiday tradition and I was mindfully present holding my youngest child’s hand as we watched those magical balloons drift by.

Don’t worry….right after my daughter complained, I pulled out the pilgrim candles and went out and bought my kids and my nieces and nephews chocolate advent calendars. However, with the run up to Christmas, I ask fellow bloggers and readers this question.  How do you keep the magic in your Christmas traditions…..while mixing the old with the new?

“Your concern  is not so much to have what you love anymore but to love what you have-right now.” Richard Rohr

Thanksgiving traditions, watching the Macy's parade, Christmas traditions,Thanksgiving in New York City, watching the parade