I have always said that 80% of parenthood involves good old-fashioned detective work. From those early days attempting to read the signals from your newborn to interpreting preteen sighs and grunts to identify those elusive smells — parenting is gritty work.
However, a parent’s inner Magnum PI never becomes more heightened than when a child leaves for college. So many questions and little interaction leave us searching for answers and reassurance. Yet, if we listen and read closely, our kids always give us clues. There are a million ways our kids say “thank you” and “I miss you” without the embarrassing task of using those actual words.
Hidden meanings (most of which are taken directly from my phone) of texts from my college son
- The dining hall food is terrible. This is your student saying I miss your cooking and should have been more grateful when I was home. It is hard to resist an “I told you so…” here but try.
- My classes are so far away. Your kids fondly remember all those carpools and time spent traveling to school and activities. They realize that getting where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be it is time-consuming and stressful.
- Can’t I just throw all my laundry together? The hidden message is that laundry stinks, and having to lug laundry all over the dorm and suffer through separating colors makes me miss how easy it was at home.
- Look at this YouTube video. By sharing random videos with you, your child is trying to stay connected and share everyday things they enjoy.
- We hooked up the tv and hung lights! My son was so proud of himself for handling all this after we had moved him in and appreciated the space and autonomy of doing it with his roommate on their own. The message is, “I will be fine..”
- What is that stuff we put on the popcorn? Sometimes kids just want to be reminded of home, which means tracking down the shaker of spices that makes popcorn yummy.
- Are you watching the game? My son misses watching tv with the family. It could be a game, show, or movie that he wants to share with us virtually to recreate that togetherness.
- I don’t feel well. This is the good news, bad news scenario. Your child may be ill, but they still look to you for comfort and advice.
- I sent you a paper to look at. I would always rather my kids have another set of eyes review papers before turning them in. They have the option of the writing center, but they want you to know they care enough about their grades to ask for advice and value your feedback.
- That exam was hard. I am worried I might not do well, and I don’t want to disappoint you.
Is there a chance I am reading too much into these mundane communications? Perhaps. But I am giving my kids the benefit of the doubt by assuming they want to say a million things to me but don’t know how.
However, as every good detective knows, nothing replaces intuition. If your child is not communicating, they are soaring with all the skills you’ve imparted or having some adjustment issues they don’t want to share. You’ve been working on this case for 18 years; you have the tools to identify patterns, weigh the evidence and act accordingly.