Confessions of a Stalker Mom

Marjorie Rosenblatt, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: I am a physician, and a writer, but first and foremost, I am a mother. While having our children grow up and move on is a natural progression, it somehow is not feeling so natural to me.

Stalker mom

I was never one of the “powers-that-be” mothers, able to ensure my child’s role in the school play or acceptance on a team as a result of personal contacts or social status. Nor was I ever a helicopter parent, preoccupied with the minutiae of the everyday lives of my offspring. I attended as many parent-related meetings and school performances as I was able. If I missed something, it was not lack of interest or desire for involvement but rather my rigorous work schedule that kept me away.

As a result, we ate dinner as a family every night, during which my children were subjected to painstaking interrogation regarding the details of their day’s occurrences. The fact is, however, that I was the primary breadwinner and therefore, my employment had to be a priority, leaving my husband to serve as the Friday “pizza mom,” the parent organizing “learning from our differences” and the yearbook photographer at the elementary school.

Thank you social media!! Now, with the ever-growing number of communication-oriented applications, as my children get older, I have discovered myriad ways to spy on them – to make up for lost time, if you will. I have become an obsessive electronic stalker. I wake up and check Snapchat to see if my son, now a college freshman, has posted any of his numerous drunken snaps to his story.

I proceed to see how many of his new snarky tweets can be found on Twitter. Instagram is the next stop on my surveillance train, where I view photographs posted by my ninth-grader, and then on to Yik Yak, where my two college student’s universities are readily accessible under the heading of “my peeks.” There I have the opportunity to learn what is “hot” at their schools, while silently playing the always-fun game – “guess which yaks were posted by my own children.” (For those unfamiliar, Yik Yak is an anonymous posting site, designed for college communities.)

Facebook is next, where I view the walls of all of my children; I note new friends (whose walls I may then also peruse), recent posts and, of course, photographs. Not surprisingly, I am not infrequently met with a look of disgust when my older daughter mentions her friend Jim, for example, and although I have never actually met either, I ask “Jim Smith or Jim Jones?,” oddly familiar with both from having previously surveyed their Facebook pages.

I may also review the Facebook pages of my daughter’s a cappella group, or my son’s fraternity, just incase a minor detail of their lives has escaped me. Finally, before I retire for the night, I examine Find My iPhone, intended to help trace a lost phone, but employed by yours truly to find comfort in the fact that my children have made it home safely yet another night.

Stalker Mom

Why, one may ask, do my children consent to what they refer to as my “creeper” behavior? The choice is not theirs. It is our house rule that when one gets Facebook, he/she must accept his/her parents as “friends.” Similarly, as we pay for the iPhones, we must be allowed to track them if lost. Neither my husband nor I ever comment on what we learn from our voyeuristic activity; it is our hope that as long as we stay in the shadows, the multitudinous modes used to follow my children remain in their unconscious…out of sight, out of mind. Alternatively and, I suppose, preferably, as they become adults, they simply may not feel they need to maintain secrets, as they did when they were younger.

I (and others) often question why I participate in such obsessive behavior. An easy answer would be that I feel as if I have missed significant pieces of my children’s youth, for which I am now over-compensating. It is also possible that I am overseeing, trying to make sure that they are employing good judgment and avoiding trouble. More accurately, I believe, is a need to remain connected with my children as each day they inch toward independence. Perhaps I am trying to diminish the sadness and loss that I feel, as they become more self-sufficient and create their own autonomous worlds. There are evenings when I crave having their once tiny bodies snuggled up against me in search of comfort. I am no longer the first face they see in the morning, or the last at night; in exchange, I have made them my first and last association of the day.

And so I stalk. Snapchat. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Yik Yak. Find my iPhone. These sites are enablers, supporting my pathology, and providing me a pseudo-sense of continued involvement in the daily lives of my children. The tiny bits of information I glean serve as few stitches in the gaping hole in my heart.

Time to go…social media awaits…

Marjorie Rosenblatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marjorie Rosenblatt is a physician, wife and mother of three. She enjoys writing about her experiences and passions, including (but not limited to) her family, medicine and karate.

Photo credits: Baron Squirrel, David Goehring, Marjorie Rosenblatt

 

 

Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

Lisa writes: I recently heard the story of a friend, who turned to his wife as they dropped of their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

Empty Nest: Would You Do it All Again?

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

It would be easier to like living in an empty nest, if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than is possible to imagine. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover.

My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can now be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning.

No matter how much focus you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, they are in daycare, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

Activities that once felt like a burden, the carpools, the practices that ran late or the 11pm Saturday night pick up, were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that it are easy to miss now.

College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto their new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

Kids come with mountains of garbage from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

After decades in my home my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

And finally the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 

“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 

Katie Couric Joins Us in the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: Katie Couric is taking her youngest daughter to college this fall and I joined her show yesterday to talk about the empty nest along with our friend, Sharon Greenthal who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind. Here are two clips from the show (begin the first one at 1:50):


The episode was short and I was so glad that my family had a chance to jump in and share their ideas.  Here are a few thoughts, just personal opinions, that there just was not enough time to include:

The two biggest milestones in parenting are when our kids arrive and then, decades later, as they leave.  Each transition creates an earthquake in our lives, and hopefully, with each we adapt and thrive.

The “empty nest” is not a syndrome, but a sometimes painful, sometimes joyous stage in life.  Kids are supposed to leave, parents are supposed to care, this is life as it should be.  As the leave we will know them a little less, so is it any wonder that the change is bittersweet?

The journey to the empty nest is a very long process that starts when our eldest get their driver’s license and ends when our youngest have another place to call home.  For families with more than one child, this can be a decade or more.  The day we drop our kids off at college is but one step along the way.

During this long period we forge new relationships with our kids.  It is a bit scary and a bit exciting as we transition to being the parents of adults.  Technology and its gift of communication is transformative to parenting but negotiating the new terrain with our kids is truly journeying in uncharted territory.  I feel insanely grateful for the ways that we can stay, but not intrude, in each others lives.

Siblings will be experiencing the change too.  There were lots of kids book that helped us prepare our older children for their younger sibling’s birth.  Younger siblings may feel the departure of older brothers and sisters acutely as well.

As our kids leave, our youngest may for some time become an only, a moment to be cherished.

Sometimes it is hard to not think that our job is unfinished, that there was more we needed to teach our kids, more that we needed to share.  The good news is that our kids will look to us for many things for many years and that parenting never ends…

Joining Rob Lowe in the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: The moment our son grabbed the car keys for his first solo drive, I had the proud/heartsick feeling of watching him begin to separate from me. This August, when we drop our daughter at her freshman dorm, I will return to the very quiet house I first imagined as I saw him drive away eight years ago. While my kids have been growing up and increasingly growing away, I have been moving along the empty nest on-ramp. Soon I will arrive at my destination.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined

With nearly 22 million students attending American colleges and universities, I am part of a massive cohort. Turns out that one of my empty nest “buddies” is Rob Lowe, who described this moment in a parent’s life as well as anyone possibly could in Love Life:

I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?

It will be Lisa, not Rob, joining me at Starbucks to weep in our lattes. Friends since our soon-to-be-freshmen were in third grade together, we launched Grown and Flown to write about the stage of family life when kids begin to slip through parental fingers. Taking another lesson from Rob:

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I realize that writing about an empty nest and living in one are not the same thing, just like sitting, big-bellied and cross-legged on the floor while a Lamaze teacher talks about labor pain is not at all like enduring contractions. The only way to understand childbirth is to have a baby. Ditto the empty nest.

So the question I ponder is how prepared I am for living a life that is no longer kid-centric. For both SAHMs and working moms, once their youngest leaves for college, life is never again as it was. This month I will say goodbye to much that has created structure in my life and taken up precious real estate on my September-June calendar. No longer will I volunteer for the PTA, watch my kids play sports, or sprint to the grocery store to pull together a family dinner.

What I may miss the most is sitting down with cheese and crackers and my kids at the kitchen table after school. I have adored hearing the precious bits they reveal about their days and know that much of the info I  get come August will be delivered in a text message, no longer face-to-face.

It has been our good fortune at Grown and Flown to have met, both on-line and in person, countless other parents who are nearing or already in their empty nest phase. Many are working hard to make this pivot point in their lives less about mourning the loss of little children in the house and more about personal re-creation. We have learned from and been inspired by them and many ask the same question: What next?

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of Teach Your Children Well  has written about this time in life:

The chaotic diversions inherent in raising children cease, and we suddenly find ourselves with time to reflect. What did we do right? Where did we fail? How do we spend our remaining time? And who will show up to help with the transition?

It wouldn’t be that hard to make this transition more pleasant — and more productive. First of all, it would be useful if we began to think about post-parenting years long before they arrive.

As my kids began to grow more independent, I began to change how I spent my time. I started volunteering with my dog at a hospital  and traveled more with my husband. I reconnected with my college, exploring the varied resources offered to alumni. But even with Grown and Flown to keep me busy writing and connected online, I wonder what else I should and can be doing now that my active, in-the-house-mothering days are drawing to a close.

Last weekend, ironically, while Mother’s Day was winding down, I finished a book that creates a framework for seeking the answers to the what next question. Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Possibilities had me at page 2: “It is a map and guidance system to help people navigate a new phase of life.” Written by bestselling author Richard J. Leider and Fast Company co-founding editor, Alan M. Webber, Life Reimagined is both a book and an interactive website  created under the auspices of the AARP.

There are personal stories of both ordinary individuals and celebrities like former Today Show anchor Jane Pauley  and musician/producer Emilio Estefan all of whom experienced trigger moments that lead them, successfully, down a new path.

It is this new path I will search for in the aftermath of saying goodbye to my youngest child. As Rob describes how he felt watching his son turn to walk back into the dorm:

I close in to hug him, but he puts just one arm around me, a half hug. “Peace,” he says, a phrase I’d never heard him use until he said the same thing to his little brother in the driveway. Then he turns on his heel and strides away. From his body lan­guage I know he won’t turn to look back; I know why and I’m glad. I watch him until I can’t see him anymore, until he’s swallowed up by his new friends and his new life.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined, a guide to answering your own What’s next? questions. All opinions are my own.

Why You Should Help Your Kid Get a Job

Lisa writes: Any parent who believes that the college process is unendurably stressful, simply has not been through the job search process yet. Worrying about which college our kids would get into, pales by comparison to wondering if they will get a job, given the high rate of unemployment for under 25’s.

help wanted ad, job search

This week in Time, Randye Hoder discusses parents, young adults and the job search in Want to Help Your Kids Get a Job? Back Off.  I stumbled upon her article as I was conducting an extensive online search of summer internships for one of my sons. Anyone who regularly reads Grown and Flown knows that I have shown little ability over the last two decades to discern the overparenting line. I usually find it when it is somewhere behind me.

So in reading Hoder’s article, I was getting my hands slapped from afar. Here she was telling me in her well researched/written way, that the best help I could give my son was to stop giving him help.

Nearly 40% of parents are involved in their child’s job search and experts are quick to point out the many ways we overstep our boundaries in helping college kids find internships and full-time employment. Parents, albeit a small number, are accompanying their kids to interviews, writing their kids’ resumes and cover letters and following up with thank-you notes after an interview, according to a survey done by Adecco.

Why is this happening? Hoder points to the fact that millennials face a challenging job market and are exceptionally close to their parents. Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University, suggests that working parents may feel guilty that they did not have enough time with their kids earlier. He also notes that technology enables overinvolvement and that, as parents, we may also be overidentifying, “Their resume is a kind of extension of our resume.”

While parenting experts beat the “let your kids fail” drum, it is hard to stand by and watch them flounder as they take this first big step into adulthood. Is there is any help that parents can give without crossing over that difficult-to-locate line?

Most of the experts suggest that parents “be supportive.” But, this is just the kind of answer I hate. So, zooming in on some of the specifics, here are things parents might do to help their college student.

1. Give the kind of help you would offer a young colleague.

Parenting expert Hoder offers wise advice when parents are wondering how much is too much: think of your kid as a colleague. If what your kid is asking (or you are offering) is something you would do for any young person you mentor, you are probably okay.

2. Be there for advice.

Millennials are used to turning to their parents for assistance and advice and, in the Adecco survey, 18-24 year olds said they wished their parents had taught them the importance of networking and making connections (31 percent) how to make a good impression (25 percent), how to negotiate (23 percent) and have a strong work ethic (23 percent). Young adults, new to the working world, often need to be told things that are obvious to those who have years of work experience.

3. Proofread letters, emails and resumes.

This does NOT mean that parents write these important documents for their young adults, but rather that they weigh in on a near final draft. Any of us can make a typo, and while it won’t get you fired, it may cause a stumble at the starting gate. Inexperienced resume writers may not include enough, or the right, details and a few words from an experienced parent can result in a big improvement.

4. Brainstorm.

You have worked for years, your kid hasn’t. So when they are flailing around trying to focus on a career path, or ways to venture down their chosen path, bring real world examples to the discussion. By suggesting an array of possibilities, you might help them expand their job search and find success.

5. Interview prep.

Suggesting possible interview questions, conducting mock interviews and talking about appropriate attire are some of the things you would do with any mentee and your kid deserves no less.

6. Research.

Online research, does that cross the line? It is tempting (and I will say right now that I gave into this temptation) to search the internet for openings or to read about companies that might be of interest to your student. While this had the potential to go too far, forwarding job postings you happen to see or the name of a promising company that looks like it might be a good match for your student, can be helpful, as long as they do all the work from there.

7. Connections.

Here is blurriest line between helping and hindering. Some parents are in a position to make introductions for their kids or set them up with interviews. Suggesting a name and passing along an email address is helpful if your kid does the rest. There is much grey area surrounding parental connection and it is best for parents to tread cautiously.

8. Reality Check.

Searching for a first job can be tricky in so many ways. Should a graduate seek the highest paying job, or one in her chosen field? How much of this first job is an investment in a longer career? How willing are parents to provide financial support or welcome a move back home? Hoder points out that talking through these questions, and others, with your student will help guide them in their career search. Hoder suggests families have this conversation early so that college kids enter the job process with clear expectations surrounding money and parental support.

A big part of the experience that parents can bring to bear is the reminder that it is a long career, that the average person stays in their job for 4.4 years and, for millennials, the estimate is half that. Early jobs are a learning process and a time to gain skills that can be leveraged in future years.

The good news is that with time, effort and a bit of parental advice, your kid will probably find a job.  The bad news is the apartment search comes next.

Mother-Daughter Shopping with Graduation on the Horizon

Our daughter will soon turn in final papers and tests, which will wind down another year of school. This spring feels like no other because she is a senior and this is her season of lasts. During these final few weeks she will join her friends at the Prom, Awards Day, and finally Graduation to mark much more than just the end of the term. So in our daughter’s closet are the new dresses, shoes and accessories she will wear for these truly special occasions. For parents of girls, in particular, senior spring is also a season of shopping!graduation

Fortunately, she often includes me (and my American Express card) on her quest to find the “perfect” outfits and, according to The Wall Street Journal, we are not alone.

The mother-daughter shopping trip is expanding into new territory. Moms and their girls follow the same retailers on social media, trade photos of clothes and create joint pin boards of looks they plan to shop for, whether online or in a traditional trip to the mall. 

In a recent survey of 12- to 19-year-old girls, 74% said their parents were “very involved” or “involved” in shopping with them. According to the Futures Company, a consulting firm; 78% said they respected older family members’ opinions. Mothers, meanwhile, are adopting youthful looks retailers say. The result is women’s and girls styles are converging.

Shopping together has given me a front row seat to watch our daughter evolve from “little girl cute” to a young woman who has her own unique, slightly-preppy sense of style. During the hours we have wandered in stores and shopped on-line, she has learned basics of consumer economics – she gravitates toward the sale racks and pays attention to return policies. She reads the fine print about fabric care (avoid costly “dry clean only”) and watches for the purchase threshold for free shipping.

My newest lesson for her comes courtesy of the Amex card I have had for decades. I recently added Amex Offers to my card which, frankly, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Here are the features that I love:

1. Personalized Offers

Offers are curated for me based on where I have shopped in the past. That makes this a highly personalized program.

2. Simple to Connect

AmexOffers.com is simple to navigate. Just click on “Save” to add any Offer you choose. I downloaded the app onto my smartphone. I look up rewards in any location, while I’m on the go. You can also connect your card to social networks and add the Offers to your Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or TripAdvisor accounts.

3. No coupons!

There are no codes to complicate the process or coupons to forget on the kitchen counter. Thank you for this, Amex, truly.

4. Savings are Significant

Substantial savings await. Currently more than $15 Million in savings for card members are available for the taking. Discounts I have nabbed range from $5 for iTunes to $75 at Elie Tahari – there is a wide range and variety so take a look to see what works for you! In addition to the retailers where I have taken advantage of offers this spring I have Amex gift cards in mind for the other grads on my list.

Delighted that Amex Offers are helping me and my daughter as Graduation looms ever larger on the horizon.

I received compensation in exchange for writing this review.  Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Sweepstakes

BlogHer will randomly pick a commenter on this post to receive a $100.00 AmericanExpress® GiftCard at the end of the sweepstakes period (May 31, 2014.) All you have to do to enter is comment below with the answer to this question: What do you like most about Amex Offers?

 

Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#AmexOffers” and “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 5/5-5/31

Be sure to visit the Amex Offers brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

National College Decision Day and Next Steps

Lisa writes: This is a moment to rejoice. Your child was accepted to college and all of your effort and his have resulted in this success. There may be some small disappointments, there may euphoria and there may be some big decisions ahead, but this is one of life’s big moments and it should be noted and celebrated. Let your nearly grown child know just how proud you are and acknowledge how much of his effort it took to get to this moment.

Once your family has taken a time to savor this special moment, there are a few more practical matters that need your attention, especially with the May 1 deadline of National College Decision Day.

college library, Columbia University

Get ready to listen, talk, then listen again.

For many seniors, they are facing the single biggest decision of their lives.  Each school has its pros and cons and it soon becomes clear that, while the options may be exciting, as in life, nothing is perfect.  For teens this can be both confusing and frustrating and parents are at their best as sounding boards in this process.

On the waitlist?

If your kid has opted to remain on the waitlist for one or more colleges, please know that, according to the authors of our favorite college guidebook, College Admission, “The waitlist works in different ways from college to college.”  For the comprehensive advice about how to manage the process, take a look at their writing on the subject here.

Orientation dates are scheduled. See how they work into your calendar.

Orientation dates will be in the summer, fall, or both, depending on the school. Look now and see if you, again, need to book air and hotel rooms. Maybe your kid will go on her own, maybe this is a family adventure, either way, once the college decision is made, it is time to start planning.

Seek hidden funds.

While your child’s chosen college may or may not offer merit scholarships, some exist for the parent who goes looking. Employers, local service organizations and others offer support for deserving students. Your child may be in a swirl of AP exams, Prom prep and end of year activities, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot be researching scholarship opportunities.

The road ahead will have some bumps.

It seems that once the good news has arrived, once both parent and teen are assured that the latter is going to college, the stress should fade and it should be smooth sailing until move-in day. This is the fantasy. The reality is that a massive life change is ahead for both parent and child. And while this period will be filled with many of life’s highlights, it is also filled with some pain and dislocation. Teens getting ready to leave have (despite their protestations) mixed feelings about going out on their own. Some take it in stride, others can become difficult (but you knew this!) as they push us away. Anger and frustration can rise up in us as we attempt to mask our own sadness at their departure, as excited as we are for them.

Academic requirements and advance placement are no longer theoretical.

If your student has not already poured over the pages of the academic requirements and AP policies, now is the time to do so. Colleges vary widely on what they accept for course credit and placement (which you may already know.) AP, SAT and SAT II tests (again, depending on college) might be used to give credit for requirements, and your child still has time to sign up for the May or June SAT II tests, if they are relevant. Additionally, official scores for these tests may still need to be sent to your child’s chosen college.

Book Parents Weekend for the fall.

Many small college towns have limited hotel and restaurant facilities. When your child has pushed the button on their college of choice, be sure to book what you need for Family Weekend in the fall.

Get ready to cheer.

Football fans? Take a look at the calendar of home and away games and see if any of the dates work into your schedule. Might not be easy at all to score tickets but it could make for a fun, non-official parents weekend with your freshman and their new friends.

Avoid Thanksgiving traffic jams.

If school is a plane trip away, take a look at the academic calendar around Thanksgiving and book airline, train or bus tickets. Amtrak often sells out weeks in advance and flights to small towns can be limited. This moment of practical activity will help you remember that it isn’t very long before your freshman will be right back home.

Wait to go shopping for college.

Every kid will need provisions for their dorm room but you may be tempted to over buy as you desperately want your child to be prepared to manage….without you. Other than two sets of extra-long twin sheets (a true dorm necessity) it is best to wait on buying big, bulky things until you know the configuration of your child’s dorm room. Bunk beds? Underbed storage? If so, what is the clearance? Knowing this will make a big difference in determining true “dorm room essentials.” In the meantime, locate the Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target closest to your child’s college. You can order online and arrange to pick up all your son and daughter needs (and them some) without overstuffing your car for the drive from home.

Take a deep breath and exhale.

Your family is about to make one of its biggest changes. It is a wonderful, heart wrenching and seminal moment. While we watch out kids pass into the next stage in their lives there are more than a few little matters we can attend to help them on their way.

As two moms getting ready to say goodbye to their youngest kids this fall, we have also learned the deep support that friends can give in dealing with the big change that is coming into our lives as our days become our own and our houses get much quieter. As deeply proud as we are of our young adults, this transition can be tinged with a bit of sadness. Good luck to your high school senior and many congratulations to you for helping her on the way.

Our continuing thanks to our photographer, TB Kilman, for her lovely images including the one above of Columbia University’s library and the track below at Bucknell.

campusbanner

 

Clean is Sexy and 58 Other Bits of Advice for Young Men

Lisa writes:  If your life is filled with boys staring into the precipice of adulthood, stay right here, read on and then give us your thoughts. Here is what Mary Dell and I might say to our nearly grown sonsif they ever start listening.

clean is sexy, advice for young men

 

[Read more…]

Competitive Sports and College Recruiting: Time to Pry Them Apart

Lisa writes: Competitive sports and college admissions often get intertwined, as if the only reason for the former is the latter. But aren’t we confusing two issues? If there were no college recruitment would there be no competitive sport? And, are there advantages to kids and teens to competing athletically at a very high level, regardless of collegiate outcome?

soccer, boys soccer

The reality is that most kids, even those involved in an intensive athletic experiences, will not be recruited to college. Getting recruited to play sports in college is the dream of many athletes, but the facts surrounding this process can be bleak. There are over seven million high school athletes and more the three million kids playing competitive soccer. Only around 5% of high school athletes will compete in the NCAA. And, it is a mere 1 percent of the seven million who will find themselves on a D1 team with scholarship money.

So if you are a parent whose kid has been playing hockey/lacrosse/soccer/football/basketball or you name it, for 10 years and they did not get a place in college, or if you are a parent staring down the barrel of those 10 intensive years, the question is are the time, money and effort you and your family put into sports wasted?

[Read more…]

The Real Reason I Love Longhorn Football

Mary Dell writes: Fall is my favorite season. Along with the just-turning foliage comes the return of my preferred spectator sport – Longhorn football. My passion stems from the Friday Night Lights elements of my upbringing and the four years I spent in Austin as a student at the University of Texas.  I am a genuine Texas fan and spent many happy game days at DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium.  But the real reason I love Longhorn football is that our son is a big fan, too.  Now a fun and shared pastime, following the sport during his teenage years was more like a lifeline that kept our relationship afloat.

UT Football, Longhorns, college football, UT stadium, Texas Longhorns

While he was in high school, he developed the evasive skills that all teenagers acquire fielding questions from well-meaning neighbors, family members, and perfect strangers. Where do you want to go to college/ have you taken your SATs/ what do you want to major in? Against that backdrop of inquisition, we had moments when our disagreements over studying, tests, and college applications would have made for excellent reality television.

[Read more…]

Take Your Child To Work Day, In Reverse

Lisa writes: According to The Wall Street Journal, the generation that invented “Take Your Child To Work Day,” is hoping their offspring will return the favor.  An article in the Journal this week discussed the practice among many large companies of involving parents in their child’s employment. And by child, I mean adult.

Corporate giants, like Google and LinkedIn, have held “Take your Parents to Work Day,” a sort of cosmic payback for the generation that so enjoyed the annual rite of taking their kids to work.  One large insurance company invites parents of interns (again, just noting these are adults) to open houses so that they can become familiar and comfortable with their college children’s workplace.

take your child to work day

This is wrong, as they say, on so many levels.

[Read more…]

Last Call List for Senior Year

Lisa writes: Here I am, 365 days out from the empty nest.  The temptation is to spend a year boring you with lasts.  The last first day of school, the last birthday at home (trust me, this one is the real killer), or the last varsity game. But I am going to try and resist the pull to be maudlin and instead create a Parent’s Bucket List for senior year in high school, perhaps better thought of as the Last Call List….Everything I wish I had done before my older kids went to college.

senior year, senior year before college, off to college

 

1. Pay a professional photographer

Try for that one perfect set of family pictures that no amateur can capture.  It seems like the kids are grown, that the need to document their gorgeous faces has lost its urgency as the transitions slow.  Wrong.  That just-finished-childhood-not-quite-adult look is fleeting. Get someone who knows what they are doing to capture it.

 

2. Talk about failure and tell them of your failings

Tell them why you failed and how you recovered and how, for some period of time you thought you might not.  We loom so large in our children’s lives, as the people who once held superpowers. Let them know how those powers have often failed you as both an adult and a parent.


3. Buy them one beautiful thing

This moment, these last days, are worthy of commemorating and do not let them slip by unmarked.  Jewelry and watches are traditional choices for senior year, but beauty and meaning, not expense, are the salient factors in this purchase.

 

4. Tell them secrets

Disclose what they just might not know, things about your life that you, perhaps, glossed over, but now realize that they are old enough to understand.  You will be letting them know that things are not always as they seem, and that they are a trusted near-adult confident, worthy of sharing family secrets.  Talk to them like the adult that they will soon be;  it will fill them with the confidence to get there.

 

5. Let them go before they are gone

I kept my kids on an insanely tight leash senior year.  I monitored their every movement and made them check-in constantly.  In short, I drove them crazy.  And then I didn’t.  Once they were on the downslope of senior year, once everything they could do for college admission had been done, I let them take some victory laps, the well deserved privilege of senior year. They broke curfews, went out on a few school nights, and had a taste of freedom to come.

 

6. Have those painful talks

Sit down and have the discussion, the one you will wish you had had if, God forbid, anything ever goes wrong.  Sure, you can tell them where the wills are and how you hope to see your possessions disbursed.  But this is not that talk.  This is the talk where you recognize that you are speaking to a near-adult and you tell them why you love their other parent, what makes a good marriage, how shocking it was to find yourself a parent and yet how marvelous, what kind of wife/mother husband/father you hope they will one day be.  It will feel sad, and poignant, but while you are still in that day-to-day high school routine, take a step back and talk about the really big things in life.


7. And just for a minute grab them tight and hold them close

Give them the morning hug that had slipped out of your routine, and the kiss on the forehead that was, for years, a nightly ritual.  Sit by their bed with a hand on theirs because this is the time to try and capture that feeling forever.  This is the moment for that final squeeze, the brief moment when we clench them even tighter, hold them close enough to take our breath away and then let them go.

Stalking My Kids

Lisa writes: When my kids were little they stalked me.  They followed me from room to room, they banged on the bathroom door and almost never left my side.  Sometimes I loved it, sometimes it made me mental, and sometimes I worried they would never successfully separate.  I wondered why they wanted to be with me so much, stalking day and night.  I thought it might be a little like our Labrador who follows me around every evening hoping to be fed.  Yet they still seemed to want to be with me even after they knew how to open the refrigerator door.  Now I find,  it is me, stalking my kids.

NYC nightlife, NYC

Sometimes I would say to them, why do you want to come with me?  I realized that whatever I was doing would be slowed down by their presence and when I was in a hurry, I felt frustration.  But they wanted to be with me, even if the task was tedious, and irrelevant to them. If I just wanted to roam, they wanted to know where we were going. I loved being with them, loved everything about their presence, but their questions could wear me out.  They seemed happy just to be with me.

Then it struck me.  They wanted my life.  They wanted to be able to go where they wanted and do what they wanted.  They wanted to call the shots and be the person who made things happen, even if it was just going to the grocery store or, on a good day, Toys R Us.

Now they have that life.  Two are grown, out the door, and the third is in possession of a driver’s license.  The eldest has an apartment for the summer and the middle one left days ago to squat on his brother’s couch and soak in the City Life.

And now I find I want to stalk my kids.  I want to be 21 years old and see New York City anew. I want to live in an apartment with almost no belongings and hold impromptu parties on Friday nights feeling no compulsion to provide my guests with anything other than cheap beer.

So last night I was stalking them.  With the feeble excuse of bringing some extra sheets for the couch surfing brother, I drove into NY to see them.  I followed them from room to room looking at the apartment, I talked to one through the bathroom door and helped carry garbage to the downstairs.  I wandered the building’s basement and asked where the laundry room was and if the closed door was a gym.  I asked about work being done in the hall and why they had left the air conditioner on when they went out.  They looked at each other, with an expression that could only have said, “This would have been faster without her.”

When we left the apartment it was late and dark and I asked where we were going.  I was told, “We will find something, Mom.”  We stopped at a small take-out and picked up falafel and humus.  We wandered over to a teeming Union Square with bags of wonderful smelling food.  All the benches were full and my kids sat themselves down on some steps. The ground was dirty, my pants were white and I had a handbag that I would not have set down on my own clean kitchen floor.  The air was sticky and humid and teens swirled around us on the skateboards. The person next to me was blowing smoke in my direction and there were buses idling on the road nearby emitting noxious fumes.  But I was just happy to be with them.

photo credit (above): Tasayu Tasnaphun

+ Lisa Endlich Heffernan