Sunday, September 27, 2009

Your Job as Parent.... ongoing!

I remember thinking, when my kids went through middle school, how different it was parenting.

Yes, it was physically busy, transporting them from here to there. Being "on them" about doing their homework. Running around gathering their supplies, their sporting equipment. Going to their games, their performances, attending their science fairs, volunteering on their field trips, chaperoning their dances....the list went on. Very busy. But the shift really was in the emotional quotient piece of parenting. These young people were experiencing real life stuff. Hurt feelings, emotional highs and lows (which usually involved their friends), not making teams, receiving grades for the first time (no longer the "need strengthening stuff", the VG's, etc.)... and all of this stuff would eventually end up at home in some form or other. I remember feeling that I wish I could take on some of their pain, some of their emotions, so they wouldn't have to suffer. I also felt like that, if one of my kids ended up in the emergency room from some injury and they were in pain. Crazy I know.

Well, this role of emotional supporter sure does continue long past middle school, all through high school, through college and long after they've graduated. If you think your role as parent is "done" when they go off to school...wrong! Their "problems" or emotional experiences take on a considerably different ability in parenting. I've found that I've really had to hone my listening skills and I can't take on their pain and upset. The "voice of reason" comes to mind as I'm writing this. No one tells you that as a parent of young adults you're really a jack of all trades: counselor, consultant, psychiatrist, cheerleader, spiritual advisor... there are a million adjectives to use for parenting skills.

It's a big transition to college, and the rest of the college years! This time can bring about big changes in a student's life! It can be the first time they are dealing with a lot of issues: depression, displacement, eating disorders, self confidence issues, friends with problems, divorcing parents, roommates, etc. Even if your child showed no signs of issues with these problems in high school, a lot of times these things pop up in the 4 years of college: more often than you think. So, as a parent, be looking for changes in patterns with your child. It can be anything from changes in voice tone, sleeping schedules, calling home (or not)... it could manifest in any way, you know your child best, and you know what is normal/ not normal for them, so listen and pay attention! If you notice changes, then encourage your kid to talk to someone: use the college counselors, it is not embarrassing, more students use the counselors than you would think, for a wide, wide range of issues, both large and small: anything from feeling homesick, to being stressed, to being worried about a friend, frustrated with a roommate, or just wanting a third party to talk to, they've got support, they've got resources. Encourage your kid to ask.

This is tough stuff, and as a parent of Gey Yers, it's a balancing act too. You have to realize when you're hovering and there too much, and when you have to let them make their own decisions and choices on things. You need to encourage them to use their resources. You're not always going to be there, nor are they going to want you, so they need to know where to seek help and advice if you're not. I'll admit that I have an underlying assumption that as parents, we've laid the foundation. We've been talking to our kids all along, about loads of different stuff. Our kids are used to us asking them how their day was, or "tell me about the game," so as they get older we should be able to talk to them about the tougher stuff too, like sex, drugs, their feelings... We have to have confidence that our kids will make good decisions, based on that foundation; the value system you've helped them establish, will inform those choices, those decisions.

Will there be mistakes, "98 and 3/4% guaranteed", but they'll learn from those (you hope). Just remember, you did!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Parents' Weekend is coming! It's all about the Visual!

That's right, it's about time you get to check in on your little darlin'! They've been in school since mid August, or maybe the beginning of September and now it's time for the onslaught of parents. I highly recommend going if it's your kid's freshman year. It's a great way to get a visual! And I don't know about you, but I'm ALL about the visual!
You can check out their digs, meet some of their friends, get a gage of what's going on on campus, go for a re-supply of some of those basic essentials (like detergent, deodorant, toothpaste....), maybe go to a class or two...

I must say, after going freshman year, when you make a return trip the following years, it's a kick to see their friends again, or reconnect with some of the other parents. By graduation, you have your own little network of familiar faces to at least say hello to! From my perspective, Parents' Weekend is a welcomed "new" tradition on campuses across the country. I don't remember this event when I was in college? I don't know when they started them, probably for us demanding Baby Boomers, but I quite like them. And if we don't go on the actual designated weekend, try to go on another weekend in the fall, so you can achieve some of the things I previously mentioned, like the all important visual!

OK, true confession, the college designated Parents' Weekend is great freshman year; you're a newbie, the college/university puts on "the dog" for the parents, they strut their stuff, other parents are there to meet, the college is sparkly clean, there is loads to do on campus because they're expecting you... but after freshman year, it's kind of nice to go on a "quieter" weekend. Then you get the real story, the straight scoop. I guess the potential bummer is that your kid is on their own for Parents' Weekend, no free dinners, but MAYBE one of those nice other parents that go will include your child?!? Just like you will include theirs when you're there!

Golden Rules for every generation!

This about sums it up:

Ann Landers " Golden Rules for Living"

1. If you open it, close it.
2. If you turn it on, turn it off.
3. If you unlock it, lock it up.
4. If you break it, admit it.
5. If you can't fix it, call in someone who can.
6. If you borrow it, return it.
7. If you value it, take care of it.
8. If you make a mess, clean it up.
9. If you move it, put it back.
10. If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it.
11. If you don't know how to operate it, leave it alone
12. If it is none of your business, don's ask questions

These are displayed in my grandparents' summer spot in Maine. I think my grandfather took Ann Landers' rules and tweaked them a bit.
Don'tchya just love the Maine humah!

Home Rules:
If you sleep on it-
Make it up.
If you wear it-
Hang it up.
If you drop it-
Pick it up.
If you eat out of it-
Wash it. (or put it in the dishwasher) (this was added in the last 10 years)
If you step on it-
Wipe it off!
If you open it-
Close it.
If you empty it-
Fill it up.
If it rings-
Answer it.
If it howls-
Feed it.
If it cries-
Love it!

Rules to live by!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

$$$ College kids and Money! $$$

It's not to late to have a conversation about money with your college kid! It's one of those things that seems to slip through the cracks and before you know it, either you're A) getting a phone call from Johnny saying he's out of dough B) you go online to transfer their allowance and you realize their account is overdrawn (yikes!) and you hit the roof, C) your kid says to you that they can't buy their books for the semester because they don't have any money
("I'm just hearing about this now? What have you been doing for the last three weeks?") get the picture.

So before you experience some of those scenarios, take my advice: Have a conversation.

This conversation varies from household to household, but the common thread is:
Spell out your expectations! If you agree to an allowance, how often will they receive it, every month, every semester. The beginning of the month, the 15th, the end. What is that supposed to cover, exactly what are incidentals anyway? Shaving cream and toothpaste? Pizza and a movie? A pair of jeans? Whose money pays for what? Ideally they've got some money of their own from their summer job, or Aunt Harriet or something and that may be the fund they dip into to support their concert tickets or the train ticket to visit a buddy at college in the city, whatever. Maybe you expect them to pay for their own books? Believe me, this is not figured out through osmosis. And your idea of what their allowance covers compared to theirs can vary a great deal too. For example, I've always told my kids that we don't pay for beer, they do. (Of course they have to be 21!) That Wii their desperate to have for "down time"....sorry. But shampoo and toothpaste, yep. Vitamins, covered. We'll even cover that Broadway ticket for that freshman field trip. There really needs to be some clarity around whose money this really is. Is it their money, after all it's their allowance or is it your money, because you've made the deposit? It's OK to say that you'll be happy to discuss this over the school year/years. Adjustments to what you originally agreed to may need to be made. You might even get a phone call from your son saying, "Mom, I really don't need the amount of allowance you give me. I know things are tight, please ratchet it back. I'm able to cover my expenses with X instead of Y." Really? Really.

And maybe your child has to get a job on campus to cover some of these expenses. There seem to be all kinds of jobs for students on campus, some are a one shot deal, like being part of a research study for a Sleep and Dreams professor and sleeping in a lab for a night (really) or maybe it's being a tour guide, or working in the "stacks' checking student id's, or being a lifeguard at the school's pool....but again discuss your expectations, should this be part time, and just how "part" and what happens if their grades start to suffer? Communicate!

When you look at the meal plan that's been purchased and the "university dollars" that are on their student card, side note: as each of our kids have gone through the different colleges those univ. dollars seem to cover more and more. Thank God the roll of quarters for the washing machine and dryer seem to be a thing of the past in more and more colleges. Boxers just may get washed! Maybe their sheets too, at least once. If all they have to do is "swipe" the card, how tough can this be? At any rate, a lot of their basic needs are billed by the college, but certainly not all, and depending on the meal plan that your student has chosen, they may not be fed on the weekends, so "incidentals" may include groceries or full meals out. Who knows? What I do know is that it sure adds up and as in any relationship, money is a funky conversation to have.

Believe me, this is a good way to help them start to really think about budgeting and how expensive things are and prioritizing.

Another lesson they learn along the way is who pays for what amongst their friends? Hopefully it just happens once when your son agrees to pay for the burgers, hot dogs, chips, charcoal, etc. for a tailgate, thinking that he'll be paid back by all of his frat brothers and guess what? Not. That can be an expensive lesson, not to mention the ill will that he feels because his "brothers" are slugs. If your kid has a car on campus and you've given her your gas card, watch out, she'll be doing all the driving for sure, but if you tell her that she's paying for her own gas, very quickly she figures out that either she doesn't volunteer to drive or she gets her riders to pitch in for gas.

I knew upfront that I was never going to be able to go home for Thanksgiving. Not when my family lived in CT and I was going to school in CA and Thanksgiving break was 4 days. It didn't really "hit me" until there was this mass exodus from campus that first Wednesday afternoon. Geeze, that was brutal! I made a very tearful call back east begging my mother to let me come home. Can you imagine receiving that call? Many years later she confessed to me that that was one of her toughest moments as a parent, having to calmly say to me that "I knew upfront, that I'd be home in just a few weeks and to wipe my tears and certainly there would be an invitation coming my way from a local family." Well, there was! Thank goodness, but I think my kids would tell you that I sometimes spell it out a little too clearly and a little too much in advance....

Everybody handles this a little differently and it's even handled differently within the same family. You know your kid best, and you know just how much dot connecting you need to do when having this conversation. You also know what you can and can't afford, so communicate with your son or daughter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Helicopter parents...ugh!

You know the phrase. The media has coined this term for us. Can you imagine!?!? :) Me a helicopter parent? A friend forwarded me a segment from 20/20 about this subject and I have to say, watching it made me cringe, made me a wee bit defensive, and quite a bit of "I don't do that" ... do I? No, I don't. What I do do is definitely struggle with "letting go". That's why running things by my friends who've been here before me, or are experiencing this with me with their own kids, are saviors.

I remember way back when my mother strongly urged me to send our eldest to cooperative nursery school. It was good advice. Not only was the price tag more affordable, but there I was able to see once a week my daughter with her peers, I got to know other parents to bounce ideas off of, I got to check and see if what my daughter was doing was on par with the other kids...we didn't have the internet then to compare notes or have discussions on blogs with or websites to go to, we depended on that interface, on that exchange. It also paved the way or should I say sealed the deal with being sure to volunteer in the classroom when the kids were going through school. That was another great way to find out what was going on. But now that they're "launched", just how involved can or should you be? The million dollar question.

I really like the analogy Deborah Golder, Dean of Residential Education at Stanford University uses on this subject of 'letting go' and allowing our kids their independence and to live independently from us and we need to learn to live independently again too. "It’s like learning to hit a ball. In the end, the student has to swing the bat. If your parent is there, holding on to the bat and not letting go, you can’t learn. Parents can stand on the sidelines and give advice, like “keep your eye on the ball.” But let the student be the one out there swinging the bat." Hear! Hear! Well said.

I blogged about this idea of letting go and not being that helicopter parent they talk about before. Check out Transitions: Part One from High School to College.

It's a constant struggle, I won't lie. And it seems to be ongoing, but for now I'm watching the game from the sidelines, and loads of "keep your eye on the ball!!!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Destination vacation!

I've got to let you in on a little secret: Some of you may have already figured this out (I'm just a little slow on the uptake): destination vacation with your Gen Yers!

With two kids out of college and two kids in college, vacations have become a real challenge! Each of our college kids have different vacation schedules (of course) and each of our working kids have highly coveted, allotted, paid-by-their-employer vacation days, to the tune of maybe three weeks / year. Not to mention our vacation schedule (the parents)! Trying to align all of our schedules and to presume that our kids actually would WANT to vacation with us or spend their vacation with us, that's the goal, right?

Well, through some trial and error, mostly at the expense of our eldest kids, we (us parents) have discovered:
If we choose a desirable destination
A week that conceivably could work for everyone
Let our kids know that that's where we'll be and when
We're paying....
They come!
You know "Field of Dreams", "if you build it, they will come?" So true!

It's fantastic!! We're just back from our 2009 vacation. This year was in the Rockies and it was terrific! All 6 of us under one roof. What's so great about this destination vacation stuff, is that there are no friend distractions. Selfish? You betchya! The problem with them coming home for their vacations are that you never see them! They may appear for a meal or two, but they spend most of their time visiting with old friends! And mom-here gets to do their laundry! Just love sorting through whose boxers are whose? :) Of course we're guilty of being distracted too when we're home, so this is a win-win proposition!

Before we enter into the next phase of life, with significant others, spouses, etc., this has been a welcome change to our previous vacations. We were a family that always vacationed with my parents. Wonderful, for sure, on so many levels...and as my siblings started having kids they started joining us too...really great! But there's middle school, high school and college between my kids and my sibs' kids, so it's a totally different dynamic! About three years ago we decided to mix things up, and we head out on our own once a year. It's been great!

It's evolved into different people taking charge! Take meals for example, what a kick that is to witness. Some are better sous chefs than others, some prefer clean up to cooking, others prefer to "direct traffic" in the kitchen...all while music is blaring, laptops are humming with Facebook or Gchat (unbelievable) in the husband is still usually the one to man the grill (everyone's leery of "hockey pucks" as burgers). And as for the day's events and the planning, everyone chimes in on their wants, the usual sibling and /or parental pressure is applied to that person that "doesn't really want to go for the hike today." And in the end, we all go, there are loads of laughs, some blisters, and so many conversations about so many different things...did you know that you can video chat on Google now? Who knew? Or what goes on with pledging a fraternity and the numerous warnings/or advice an older sib gives a younger brother. BTW, pledges and cars; your kid will be running errands for the older "brothers" and if there are lots of seat belts available in that car, many miles will be logged on that vehicle for whatever "road trip" the frat decides to go on....who's paying for gas??? And that one of your kids can put you in Facebook pergatory (my words, not FB), only allowing you to see some of their posted pictures????
These are important topics! I learn a ton on these trips!

I highly recommend this vacation strategy with your Gen Y kids, who knows, maybe when we do enter the next phase this will be an "established precedent?!?" In the mean time...where should we go next year?
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