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

 



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Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes

Mary Dell writes: With high school graduation behind us, Lisa and I are turning our focus to the day we will drop our youngest kids off at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it is time to get them ready for the tiny new living spaces that will be their homes away from home. Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip….in life. trash cans

1. NOT a School Supply List

My daughter’s college mailed a “What to Bring” list with seven categories and 82 separate items. Do not treat this like the school supply lists from your child’s elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, we dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on basic needs. Anything and everything else can be ordered later online.

2. Dorms are Miniscule

Keep this mantra in mind…..Less is More, Less is More. Dorm rooms are tiny and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and no room for extras. Forget oversize.

3. Kids are Pigs

Ever seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We are, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair. Some of the “dorm room essentials” you eagerly purchased in July will be stuffed in corners, unopened and collecting dust until they are rediscovered in May. College Dorm

4. The Container Store Savings

Everything about college is expensive, and that includes dorm shopping so look for some great shopping deals. If you live near one of 50 Container Stores staging a College Savings Event, July 13-27, your son or daughter can attend with a 20% off coupon in hand. Click on The Container Store Facebook events page for more info about each location and a downloadable coupon. Some stores will be having special evenings exclusively for collegiate shoppers with tote bags for early arrivers, prizes, music and water and snacks from Whole Foods. There will be a set up for “selfies” and in-store specialists waiting to help.

5. Underbed Space? You Have No Clue

This is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move in day. So those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don’t work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds. Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions.

6. Be Careful with Meds

This is one area where over buying is dangerous. Whenever our teenagers were sick, we knew which analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine to dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids do not and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test. So prescription meds, band aids, a thermometer, and Neosporin – yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. This is on the advice of none other than Dr. Travis Stork of the The Doctors so take it from him if not from us! (BTW, Target will give send you a free first aid kit bag if you purchase three items like band aids or headache remedies.) Dr. Travis Stork, The Doctors

7. Don’t Buy Crap

Even the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t pass muster.

8. Flying or Driving?

There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your child’s clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter and prescription meds. Seek out the “click and pick up” services from The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. If you are driving your kid, you may still want to use this service and have a far more comfortable ride.

9. No Room for Luggage

As adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived. college move-in day

10. One Pillow is Not Enough

Your kid’s dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study and the pillow he sleeps on will not be enough to lean back onto as he studies. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.

11. Power Struggle

Your kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe an iPod, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls will also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra plugs. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord. Some of these come with built-in USB port chargers, which can be very handy.

12. Eating not Cooking

A mini-fridge is a real necessity and the single piece of equipment that roommates need to discuss before move-in day. There is space for only one so rent or buy, decide to share the cost or someone can own outright. Plan on helping your son or daughter get this in-house before you turn off on the highway back home. The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I poured over every dorm room essential, checklist and must haves at every store with a dorm display. This time my approach is completely different. I will buy two sets of x-long sheets, my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We have an egg crate mattress topper to add to the slim pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes and electronics. Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers to fit. They will double as luggage for our drive. She will bring a poster for the wall with photos of friends, family and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies. The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.

Here is what will NOT make the cut:

  • Alarm clock – there is an app for that.
  • Furniture – there is no space for a futon or side table or anything decorative.
  • Kitchen – no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups or silverware that must be washed after use.
  • Media storage – no need for CDs or DVDs, all media comes through her laptop.
  • Pictures in frames – ditto, just flip open the laptop.
  • Plants – guaranteed to die.
  • Cleaning supplies – in our dreams, sadly, college kids don’t clean, so no vacuum, no mop
  • Desk Lamp – worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
  • Composition books, binders, dividers – some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your kid start class and figure out his own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes online and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don’t rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
  • Desk chair – be very careful here, most college provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
  • Printer – might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignment are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.

Well worth considering:

  • Shoe racks for the closet floor or hanging over the closet door. Shoe space is very limited and this creates a bit more.
  • Closet storage maximizers that hang from the closet bar provide a great place to put sweaters, sweatshirts or any bulky items.
  • Fan if the weather/air conditioning suggest the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in steamy dorm rooms, no need to buy a big one.
  • Hooks that tape to the wall are handy for jackets, towels or jewelry to keep thing (wishful) off the floor.
  • Small rugs are worth considering but be wary this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
  • Shower caddy – first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this might be a necessity. If the bathroom is close at hand and shared by few, a waste of money.
  • Mattress pad and bed bug protector, money well spent!
  • Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
  • Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? A small electric kettle or the mini Keurig might be a big money saver if they are used to a couple of daily cups of caffeine.
  • Towels – consider monograming or a distinctive color.  Basic white are too easy to mistake for anther’s towels.

One final thought about move in day. It will be crowded, it will be hot, and there will be lousy parking. You child will come face to face with her new roommate for the first time and you will also shake hands with your counterparts. Help her make up her bed and pull the sheets snug. Drive her to the nearest store for shampoo and her favorite body wash. Help her stock the mini fridge.

Finally, slip her a letter  telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you  know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.

And from our readers:

From our own Carpool Goddess: Swap out warm weather for cool weather clothes when they come home during the holiday breaks, as space is limited. Linda has some great Get Ready for College Suggestions HERE.

Jill Rutherford Hall:  Dorm rooms have their own special smell.  A few of those odor absorbing jars would not go amiss! Disposable cleaning wipes may the the only thing they use.

Wendy Roever Nelson from My Kids College Choice: A dry erase board is a great to do list mounted on the wall

Theresa DePaepe: A small tool kit is very handy, will be in demand among dorm mates and they now come in nice colors for graduation gifts

Cindy Redd: Look for those pop-up air fresheners to sit on the desk

Sally Neely Nix: 3M strips for mounting pictures on the walls where nails are forbidden.

 

Dorm shopping



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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.



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Knowing My Sons a Little Less

Lisa writes: So this is it. The third and final time. Next week I will sit through my youngest son’s high school graduation. Like every parent in that audience, and in every high school auditorium and football field, I will burst with pride and more than a touch of sadness. We will have weeks and months before he leaves but experience has taught me that once he crosses that stage, once he takes his diploma in hand, he will begin to drift away. The first time this happened I wondered how I would survive. The second time I braced myself, knowing just how bad it would hurt. And it did. So now, I am girding myself knowing fully how it feels to have a child move on. Yet still I ponder why the pain is so sharp.

boys, sons

Parents who regret their children’s departure are chided for their hovering ways, reminded that they should be proud of their offsprings accomplishments and that clinging to their teens is both unhelpful and unseemly. In a wonderful excerpt from his biography, Rob Lowe brings this into focus,

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 have berated myself for being a wimpy mom, the parent who cannot walk away without tears, the mother who misses her kids every day. I have given myself the stern talk about being overly attached to my sons and told myself a hundred times that it is not about me but about them. I decided that there must be something wrong with/missing from me or my life if saying good-bye was this hard. I have wondered, endlessly, why it hurts so much when they go.

Like so many aspects of parenting, this was a case of overthinking. It just wasn’t all that complicated.

The simple reason that it is so hard to let go of my kids is that the moment they walked out the door for nursery school, middle school, college or their “real life,” I will know them a little less.

They are beings I have loved even before they beheld their first breath. They have made my world bigger and brighter in every way. Being a parent has allowed me to see all of humanity through very different eyes. Speaking only for myself, it has made me a better person.

I will never love anyone more than I love my sons, so why would I want to know them any less? How is it possible that my life will not be diminished by their absence.

sons, boys

 

Experiencing the world without me began the first morning I left them with the nanny and went to work. As their school days grew longer and their experiences further afield, their separateness from me increased. It was all as it should be. The change was gradual and while it was easy to get wistful from time to time, each transition was seamless. Their lives took them on sleepovers and to the movies with friends, on trips further and further away, yet at each step they were ready. And I happily made do with the post-mortem.

If you asked me who in the world I know the best, my sons would be right at the top of that list. From the time they were babies I have understood the rhythm of their lives. I have known what would nourish their bodies, minds and souls. At times I have felt that I knew them even better than they knew themselves.

When they were tiny they seemed to speak in stream of consciousness, to filter almost nothing from my ears. By middle school they were more circumspect, sharing their world and their thoughts, but starting to holding back. And high school? I am not sure that any high schooler could or should tell their parents everything. So the walling off began, the natural and to be expected process of knowing them just a bit less.

And then they left home. They woke up one morning like they have thousands of other mornings and by nightfall they were gone. At first I told myself that it was like camp (my capacity for self-delusion appears to know no bounds) but after a few months I had to let go of this little lie and contend with the fact that college is leaving home.

The pain that comes with empty nest is partly just missing their joyous presence, the way our lives are filled with our love for them. But the real pain of the empty nest comes with the knowledge that no matter how close we are to them, no matter how much we stay in touch, as their lives diverge from ours we will know them that tiny bit less.

Every year they will have more and more experiences that we only know from photos and their retelling, and more experiences we never hear about at all.

The love for my children remains untouched as my knowledge of them is diminished, not in the big meaningful ways, but around the edges. Have they ever tried Paella? Who did they study with last night? Is that a cold coming on or just allergies? Did they work out this afternoon or blow it off and go out for a cheeseburger? They have professors I will never meet and friends I will never know. Now, I get a photo of something that strikes them as funny or strange, texts of random thoughts, and phone calls to catch up. But the day-to-day rhythms of their lives are their own.

boys, sons

But here is the thing. Nothing about them ever stopped being fascinating to me. I never found their recounting of their day any less interesting, nor felt less concerned about their well-being. They may have outgrown telling, but I never grew tired of hearing.

So why is it so hard to let them go? It isn’t that I wanted to hold them back or to play the role in their lives that I once did. It wasn’t that I needed them to need me. These are the three people I have loved beyond reason, have loved more than I ever knew was possible to love, and I just don’t want to know them even a little bit less.

graduation, cap and gown, college graduates



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The Great Graduation Gift List

Lisa writes: It is graduation time in my house, times two. And, Mary Dell’s family is rejoicing in a commencement as well. While we have been here before with our older kids we were stumped for ideas of gifts and reached out to our band of experienced moms for some wonderful suggestions to create this graduation gift guide.

graduation, cap toss

We have included gifts for both high school and college, for both young women and men. We have covered a broad array of price points and tried to include both the practical and the frivolous. Have a friend with a grad this year? Please share this post with them.  And, if you have more great ideas to add to our list,  we would love to see your suggestions in the comments. 

The number one gift for graduates is money. It is what they ask for most often and what is proffered. As a nation we will give about $5 billion in graduation gifts and 58% of this will be in cash. But if money is not on your list, or you are looking for a more creative way to offer it, here are 38 suggestions from our friends and family.

1. Tuck a Check Inside Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening by Becky Blades, and you’ll be giving your grad what she wants but doesn’t know she needs: her mother’s loving counsel. The beautifully illustrated book covers topics from laundry to forgiveness to creative living. Directed predominantly at young women, my college boys laughed out loud and read it cover to cover. The best part: pages to personalize. All this wit and wisdom is available for $13.99.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

2. And for Help with that Laundry. We love this suggestion from Bespoke Custom Gifts. A personalized laundry bag with instructions and the meaning of those tricky laundry symbols printed right outside. Any mother who has received a phone call from a laundromat knows the value of this great idea. We ordered one as soon as we saw them.

3. Monogrammed Towels or Towel Wraps. Now that they are setting their own laundry schedule, kids can never have too many towels. Monogrammed towels will not get nabbed in the dorm laundry or city laundromat.

laundry bag, Bespoke Custom Gifts

4. Who Are We Kidding? Tuition, room and board, spending money for four years…that was the gift.

5. Dorm Essentials. At some point every high school grad seems to find themselves in The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target searching out XL sheets and an array of storage items. Gift certificates from these national retailers will get them on their way. Items can be ordered at your local store to be picked up later in the store closest to your child’s college campus.

6. Wheels. College grads moving to cities with limited public transportation will rejoice over any help with car insurance, payments, or money towards a car lease. For some, those days of walking are over.

7. Two Wheels. College kids on bicycles is an idyllic image, but not if your kid’s bicycle was the small one they got for the holidays in sixth grade. If they are going to attend a university that is suited to a bike, and most are, this may be the single most useful gift you can give.

8. $50 in Quarters. Think of it as a year’s worth of laundry without wandering the dorm every week or two looking to see who can change a couple of dollars. But we did hear something about a quarter drinking game….

9. It’s Always Coffee Time. College kids pushing though late night studying or graduates who are now waking early will appreciate their own single serving coffee maker. Keurig makes all different size machines for any dorm room or apartment. This is a gift that saves time and money. If your graduate is a tea drinker a small electric kettle is just the thing, here is a $58 version that comes in four colors, including lime green.

10. Money Disguised. If handing over a fist full of dollars is not what you had in mind, turn that cash into silver coins or a mint set from the year your graduate was born. The coins are commemorative, can be save and cherished, or turned right back into needed cash.

11. Overnight bag. It might be time to stop using grocery bags as luggage. A small canvas duffel or tote will come in handy on visits home, away for weekends or traveling to, hopefully, job interviews.

Filson bag, duffle bag

12. Help with Student Loans. A full 70% of college students graduate with debt and the average loan burden approaches $30,000. Any and all help with those payments is truly a graduation gift.

13. The Party. Graduations are a time for families to gather and celebrate. They are milestones of great meaning and joy, but that doesn’t mean the festivities are free. As parents,  the party can be a gift to our kids they will never forget.

14. A Journal. A beautiful blank book, given in advance of a graduation party, can be passed among the guests. The real gifts are the thoughts and bits of advice that family and friends can record, making this a gift both deeply personal and meaningful.

15. A Beautiful Piece of Jewelry. Graduations are one of life’s big milestones and, as such, perhaps a moment for a first piece of real jewelry. A set of pearl earrings or subtle gold necklace can be worn on special occasions or taken out for job interviews.

16. Let the Tailgating Begin. A small portable grill works either outside the stadium or on an apartment rooftop. Grill tools need to be part of this package.

17. Unbreakable Cups. Tervis makes 329 unbreakable mugs, with school logos. College kids are not the most careful with their possessions, so heavy emphasis on the unbreakable.

18. Gift Cards for Local Eateries. For many kids graduation means a new city, either for college or a job. Gift cards from local restaurants will be a great treat in the new neighborhood.

19. Personalized Belts. Smathers & Branson, a luxury retailer of needlepoint goods, will make a personalized belt with meaning for your grad. They also sell wallets, key fobs, hats, flasks and coasters all embroidered with Collegiate or Greek Logos.

default-hero

20. Get Rid of the Backpack. For kids facing their first real job, a brief case, good handbag or okay, an upmarket backpack, might be the thing to send them on their way. Quality leather goods do not come cheap, but the last for years to come.

21. Fleece blankets, with Monograms or Photos. One of my friends gave fleece throws in college colors with their embroidered monograms to our kids and all their friends. With drafty dorm rooms or extra friends spending the night, this is a gift that will get used. Shutterfly will put your photos on a machine-washable blanket for $43.

22. Gym Membership. For those leaving the college campus the days of free exercise facilities might be over. Give the gift of health and fitness, or at least a place to de-stress after a long day at the office.

23. Wallet or Business Card Case. Something everyone needs and it can be upped with a gift card inside.

24. Campus Gifts.  For high school or college grads, sweatshirts or other item from their to-be alma mater or for high school grads, a gift certificate to the college bookstore are classics.

25. Manners Never go out of Style. Personalized stationery may not make them jump for joy but they will never again have the excuse, “I had nothing to write a thank you note on, so I sent an email (or worse, a text!)”

stationery, note cards

26. J. Crew. We are pretty sure that it is not possible to have too many J. Crew gift cards. College grads need clothes for the world of work and high school grads may need warm weather gear now that they will be doing much more walking.

27. Experiences, Not Things. Tickets to concerts or shows, or if your budget stretches to accommodate it, a trip. Many parents mentioned the lasting joy of a post-graduation trip if it fits into the family finances.

28. Money Lei. Feeling crafty? Take those dollar bills and make a traditional lei. One part origami, one part Hawaiian necklace. a quick search on Pinterest will show you a 100 different styles with instructions.

29. Tools of the Trade. Unassembled furniture? A hinge that is coming loose? A small but well equipped tool box might just be what your grad needs. Here are suggestions from The Container Store.

30. The Classics. You can never go wrong with these tried and trues. Watches and pearls might go to the office the first week of the new job, or be tucked away for the first special occasion, but this is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

31. Family Photos. They may have snapshots of the family in their phones, but that is not the same as a beautiful professional photo for their wall or desk. Consider a family photo shoot, complete with family dog, before the kids leave home.

32. Lean in for Graduates. Sheryl Sandberg has rewritten her manifesto for women’s empowerment for the 20-something set. For any young women just starting out, here is a road map.

33. A Picture is Worth….iPhoto, Shutterfly and WeMontage all offer parents an easy way to create a book of memories. Our computers are jam-packed with photos waiting to be liberated. We can pull them off our kids’ Facebook pages and upload them into a perfect keepsake.

34. Time to Make a Home. Think about vouchers from Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Design WIthin Reach or Sleepy’s. Credit at any of these stores, or many others, will be appreciated by anyone with an empty new apartment.

35. Their Life on the Page. What are you going to do with all those old report cards and iffy school photos? Here is a chance to put their lives on paper and make a scrapbook with mementos you have saved for years. This is not a last-minute job, but more like a suggestion for parents of juniors.

36. Cookies. Who wouldn’t love a voucher from mom for baked goods that will be sent the following year?

chocolate chip cookies

37. Family Memento. Grandparents looking for gifts might consider some of the family mementos or jewelry that their grandchildren can treasure forever. Passing on family heirlooms (and we use this term broadly) is a moment with meaning for both generations.

38. Steal a Little Time. Finally, one of our wonderful readers suggested something that tugged at my heart. For kids graduating college with jobs, the days and weeks after graduation will be one of the last extended periods of time they will have. A one-on-one parent and child trip, even just an overnight, is an opportunity that will not soon arise again. There really is nothing like the gift of memories.



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

Lisa writes: Our brilliant friend, Becky Blades, has just published her gorgeous book of advice for young women, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone. Nestled among her beautiful pages were 270 pieces of advice that mothers would give, if they thought their daughters were listening. As a mom with boys, I simply had to weigh in with my own advice for young men.

clean is sexy, advice for young men

If you need a graduation gift for a young women, go right now and buy her book.  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.

[Read more...]



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Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

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Loosening the Ties that Bind: Growing Up with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week.

We have read Liane Kupferberg Carter for years and hope that her writing, below, will touch you, as it has both of us:

Liane Carter, autism, Autism Awareness Day

I don’t know how to do this.

There’s no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron’s. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There’s no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We’re making it up as we go.

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Time to Redecorate the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: Our college kids and young adults come in and out of our homes but we tend to leave their childhood bedrooms frozen in time, shrines to their younger selves. But once they depart for their own nests, isn’t it time to take a hard look at the space they vacated and redecorate it for our primary use? These photographs by Dona Schwartz of parents moping in their children’s abandoned bedrooms motivated me to get to work on our son’s room now that he has his first job and first apartment. (Yeah! and Yeah!)

Lyn Peterson

My friend and neighbor, Lyn Peterson, is the founder of Motif Designs, a Scarsdale, New York, design company.  She is also an author, mother of four, and grandmother to three. She has first-hand knowledge of these transitions in her own household and has helped hundreds of clients transform their homes as their children grew up and out. She offers her advice here:

Mary Dell: How can we convert a “child’s” bedroom into one that reflects her collegiate status, rather than that of a little girl?

[Read more...]



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Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone: The Wit and Wisdom of Becky Blades

Lisa writes: Mary Dell and I have read Becky Blades’ beautiful volume, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone,  and we love it. We don’t just love it because we have high school (and college!) graduates this year. We love it because it is the perfect gift of wit and wisdom for any girl/young woman, age 15-25, and because of the messages of empowerment, understanding and optimism Becky conveys.  It is a little manual for life, and who doesn’t need that?

Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone

But Becky’s book is even better with some of the back story. Her slender and beautifully illustrated volume is very much a “mom story” that so many of us can relate to, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her to hear  firsthand.

Interview With Author Becky Blades

Lisa: You say in the book that you wrote this as a reminder to oldest daughter before she headed off to Harvard? Why did she need reminding and why didn’t you just tell her what you had to say?

Becky: My firstborn, Taylor Kay, was a driven child, and busy, busy, busy. Every minute seemed so intense – with few of those hang-around-and-chat moments where topics just come up. When we WERE in the same room, I shared her attention with the crowd of people who were texting or Facebooking on her phone. Since she was working so hard, and I didn’t want every conversation to be an argument, I gave her a pass on that, and other things – like doing her laundry.

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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 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 the 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.



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8 Best of the Empty Nest

Here are our 8 Best of the Empty Nest, the handful of beautiful musings that we feel encapsulate the journey from parenting in our homes full of little kids to parenting young adults striking out on their own. Some of these amazing writers offer us up their pain, most their humor and all their love.  Each tells their own story, and like all good writing, it becomes our story.  In no particular order:

 

1. Anna Quindlen, Flown Away, Left Behind, Newsweek

Anna Quindlen

Three rooms empty, full of the ghosts of my very best self.

 

2. Michael Gerson, Saying Goodbye to My Child, the Youngster, The Washington Post

Off to College

He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.

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Kids Going to College: Getting Your Heart and Head Ready

Lisa writes: When we published a post last summer about our kids going to college, we thought we had missed a most important moment and had one only chance left, when our youngest leave.  We were wrong.

College Move-in, Dorm Move-In

Parenthood has two big transitions, when our children arrive and when they leave. Mary Dell and I managed the first and, with our older sons, we have faced the second. Our youngest children are leaving for college in a year, a moment we have looked forward to and dreaded for almost two decades. A year ago when we considered this topic we were struck by the real wisdom offered by  Marshall P. Duke, Professor at Emory University in this wonderful piece he wrote for The Huffington Post.

“It is a moment that comes along once in a lifetime. Each child only starts college once. …Such moments are rare. They have power. They give us as parents one-time opportunities to say things to our children that will stick with them not only because of what is said, but because of when it is said.

Here is what I tell the parents: think of what you want to tell your children when you finally take leave of them and they go off to their dorm and the beginning of their new chapter in life and you set out for the slightly emptier house that you will now live in. What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick? “Always make your bed!”? “Don’t wear your hair that way!”? Surely not. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.”

Professor Duke suggests a letter, that I did not write, to impart to  your now independent child all the important things you want them to know.  This letter, he reminds us, will not be deleted but kept and the message absorbed.

When I read his exceptional piece and all I could think was, “I blew it.”  I have sent two sons off to college without any attention to the profound.  I was saddened  for the missed opportunity and hoped I might be redeemed with my third and final opportunity when my youngest son goes to college.

And then I read the very wise professor more carefully (as I urge you to.)  Our children will, hopefully, cross many important thresholds in their young adulthood.  There will be first jobs and real loves.  There will be engagements and marriages.  They will face heart-wrenching disappointments and the joys of parenthood. At each of these moments, if and when they occur, we have a chance to quietly offer our thoughts to be accepted or rejected, but to be heard.

For many of us, the milestone moment on the horizon is our kids going to college. While Professor Duke offers advice for the heart, here are practical suggestions from BTDT* moms.

Off to College:

Last year we asked a group of very experienced moms to share their collective wisdom on saying goodbye to the kids going to college. Their advice spans the gamut from the very practical to the very personal, from the trivial to the monumental.  Other friends, the authors of the great book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, offer professional advice:

In the end, our job as parents is to leave them with both the right size sheets and a sense that they are well equipped for this next, independent stage of life.  The challenges are no greater or lesser than when they arrived eighteen years ago.

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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.
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Ready to Go?

Lisa writes: After high school, many of our kids go on to college.  Unlike in other countries, this transition is made seamlessly and without more than a summer break.  We send our eighteen year olds off to their next stage, often without knowing if they are ready to go.    Many have the option to stay home and attend a local university or community college but legions march off into dormitories every year for their first real taste of living alone.

When my older kids made this journey, I was, at first, unsure as to whether they were ready to go.  I looked at them over their high school years and could not fathom their independent life.  But then things began to change.

How did you know your kids were ready to go?

ready to go?, little child walking alone, child

[Read more...]



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