Monday, April 26, 2010


What are MFO's? Mandatory Family Obligations.
A friend of mine coined the term years ago and I instantly adopted it! "Imitation is indeed the greatest form of flattery!"
MFO's are those non negotiable things that a kid has to do when being a member of your family. Everyone's MFO's vary from family to family, here are some of ours:
Learning to swim
Learning to ski in ski school (ski school, that's the key) through middle school!
Learning to sail / boat handling
Eating dinner with the family (you parents of teens know what I'm talking about)
Going on family vacations (another familiar tune amongst teens' parents)
Taking and passing the American Red Cross Babysitting course... (whether or not your kid ever babysits for others, it's a great thing for each child to know when they are left home alone or watching little brothers or sisters.)

As your kids are growing up, just think about some of the struggles you have, getting your child to do something. The power of an MFO is that there's no argument. Once you state this is an MFO, that's it. The importance is how you implement it and then your follow through. No wavering, parents, stick to your guns! We used MFO's sparingly, more bang for the buck.

We live on the coast, water is everywhere and when our kids were growing up we lived in California and pools were everywhere... learning to swim was non negotiable. Did we have tears, absolutely. But once over the hump, swimmers!

We ski and we wanted our kids to learn to ski so we could vacation as a family and participate in something together. There aren't many sports where you can do that. And going to ski school is the only way. They're with their peers, they learn the correct way, not Mom's Stein Erickson's method, and they actually have fun, meaning they want to get back out there the next day or the next time. Now our kids can tackle anything, with anybody, and they have a ball.

Boating skills? Since we do live on the coast, there are many times when there's an invitation to go sailing or boating and to have knowledge and (some) skill means another invitation because you're helpful, not to mention it's much more fun.

The eating together as a family is a tried and true MFO, always! There were definitely times when it became a real challenge with sports and extracurriculars, but MFO dinners were ever present at least twice a week.

MFO vacations, I've never understood those family friends that gave their kids the option of whether or not they wanted to join the family on a trip to wherever. It was always an MFO in our household.

And as for the American Red Cross' Babysitting course,I highly recommend it for any 11-15 year old. It gives your kid a real self confidence in knowing how to handle an emergency and feeling more comfortable if left on their own or in charge of younger kids. Not to mention Mom's piece of mind.

Now that the kids are older and living on their own in college or really on their own, it's harder to use the MFO moniker, but I'll confess, though I probably didn't have to, I did resurrect it for a wedding not long ago.
MFO gets their attention and they realize and understand the importance of something. It's been a very useful tool over the years.
What are some of your family's MFO's?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Roommates after college

Now, let's talk about roommates after college.
Similar questions as when they were in college, but there's a real difference, the kids may be moving to a city where they don't have any bffs or anyone they really know. Your Gen Yer may be making the decision to live in a particular city because of the roommate, they're bffs, and they've agreed on a city together, ya never know? The other important thing to note is that you may not hear much about this at all, until after the fact. After all, they are over 21. But you can inquire because you care or are curious (and you are the mother). But again, ratchet it back parents! This is their life, not yours. Besides, your kids now have had real roommate experiences (and oh btw, much more recently than you have). They know what they're looking for, what they can and can't do as far as what / who they can live with. Trust them.

One of our son's had a great idea and posted his move on Facebook, saying he was moving to Boston and looking for a roommate. Shortly thereafter a mutual friend from college connected him to a buddy of his from high school that was moving to Boston too and voila! It worked out great, that six degrees of separation thing is a good thing! I, as the Mom, really liked the whole idea much better than a random Craigslist listing, because there's comfort in knowing who someone's "people" are. :) Spoken like a mother, I know. Another son has FB messaged friends from high school that attend college in Denver, looking for a sublet situation for the summer. I thought that was a good idea too. If your student is looking for summer housing in a city because of work/internship, suggest they look into University housing. Our daughter did this. FYI: NYU offers summer housing to students even for non NYU students, they just have to prove they're a student somewhere (NYU students have first priority), so it's worth checking to see if other universities offer this. In this housing situation it was much like freshman year, you don't know who they're going to room you with. It's only a summer though, right?

What about a roommate of the opposite sex?
Are they a friend.... or more? Is this "living together?"
I've heard of and know of a lot of different situations, so it really depends. Not that as the Mom you have much say,but hey, you're asking. If it's a "just friends" scenario, then questions that come up are:
Are you going to be able to relax comfortably, ie., wear your jammies on a Sunday morning while reading the NYT? Are you comfortable sharing a bathroom? Now you'll probably get the eye-roll or the equivalent look that we gave our parents, that "you're such a square"-look. And you may be asking these questions only if you have a daughter (sexist, I know), but ask. It's worth throwing out there, so you know your Gen Y kid at least thinks about it.

As for the "living together" scenario.
It's a big commitment. And I think the pivotal word in that sentence is "commitment." They're not a "roommate". It's more than that, it's very different. Some of you may be asking, "why don't they get married?" and others are saying: "living together is a good idea. How else are you going to know if this person is "the one."
It's a personal discussion, one that needs to happen between the couple and if either one of them chooses to speak to their parents about it, then as parents, we listen, we offer advice if asked, we ask questions that they may or may not have thought of, (going right for the jugular) ie., "what happens if it doesn't work out? How do you separate?" And you may get a response like: "We're certainly hoping it DOES work out, but if it doesn't, it's really no different than when you move out from a roommate that is your bff and you lived with them for a few years." And you think and may even say, "not exactly. I'm just hoping you've thought this through and that it all works out." And then you smile and think, this is their life, their decision. All I want for them is to be happy and happy with their choices and decisions... and so far, they sure seem to be.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Roommates after freshman year of college

Let's talk about roommates. Remember freshman year? Think back. Most colleges and universities assign freshman roomies. I blogged about it last Spring. Well, now I'm talking about roommates after freshman year and beyond. Your Gen Y kid gets to choose.* Last week a friend of mine shared that her son called to just bounce some thoughts off her about what he was thinking.

*Please note: This is not a time to insert yourself as a parent! This is their choice and decision. But if asked, well then. Otherwise just be a sounding board!

It made me think about those times when my kids called and did the same:
Do I live with just one person or
Do I live with three, four, or five?
Do I try to go for a single?
I really like these guys but they're all a bunch of slobs and I don't really want to live in a pig stye for a year.
I get along great with her, but she has a boyfriend and I really don't want to "live" with him too. Or
She has a boyfriend and I know since he lives off campus, she'll be over there most nights, so I will be virtually living by myself.
I know it'd be really fun to live with him, but I'm afraid it'll be too fun and I won't get anything done.
A couple of different guys have asked me to room with them and they're from totally different "groups," how do I say "yes," to one guy and "no thanks" to the other, because we can't all room together, it wouldn't work out.
I want to live in housing that has a kitchen, so I can cook my own meals, if I live with her I know I'll be the one always doing the dishes, what should I do?

Some of my throw back responses were along these lines:
Do you want to live on your own? Will you be lonely?
If you're thinking about more than one roommate, do you get your own room? If not, how are you guys going to decide who actually rooms with whom?
Are several girls too much drama? Are several boys too much like a frat? Is that a bad thing?
What about the boyfriend thing? The girlfriend thing? Really think about that. You may feel that it's a bonus to have a "single," but then again you may really want a roommate.
If there's a kitchen (or a private bathroom for the suite), how are you going to keep it clean? What are you going to do about food purchases? Your own separate shelves? Purchase together? What's mine is yours and yours is mine?
Things to think about.

Bottom line with roommates: Expectations should be vetted BEFORE moving in together. I think it's probably safe to believe that if people go into a roommate situation expecting that everyone is going to get along then most likely, they will.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fronting the money, does that make sense?

Sometimes you have to learn from experience.

Here are some examples in the money category: Your Gen Y kid fronts the money for something and is told that they'll be paid back (by their friends). Well, not exactly:

1) Getting a storage unit for the summer. Your college student has got to move out of the dorm, move his/her stuff into a rental storage unit and it makes sense to go in on this unit with a few friends. The rental company requires payment in full for the three months, your kid takes care of it and his buddies say they'll pay him back. It takes months and months to collect after many very uncomfortable conversations, emails, etc.

2) Your kid is on a club sports team. He volunteers to help organize a BBQ after the game with the other team. He heads to Costco and makes all of the purchases, paying for the shopping spree himself. He's already communicated with his teammates that everyone needs to chip in X dollars. Collecting the money from each team member proves to be a real challenge. He's left holding the bag to the tune of a few hundred dollars!

3) Your college kid puts the money down to secure an apartment for next year's housing. He's not flush with cash, so he's counting on being reimbursed for half by his future roommate right away. They talked about this upfront. The roommate doesn't ever get around to paying him back.

Needless to say, each of these scenarios leaves a person feeling:
disappointed in people
upset with oneself
irritated that they volunteered/signed up to be the "front guy"
questioning one's own judgement
feeling differently about someone that you thought was your friend
and not to mention: out the money!

In a word: Lousy.

What are some of the learnings?
And.... Where does Mom come in? What kind of advice do you give or do you?
Well, I listened, I chimed in when asked (OK, maybe even if I wasn't asked), but I think I've learned through the years and my kids that listening and then "couching" your comments in a way so that your kid feels like you're bouncing ideas around....much more effective, much much! So...
The "tough" advice and obvious: Without the money upfront from everyone, there's no BBQ, no storage unit, no.... whatever.
If that's not an option and the money's been spent, one of my kids did this:
First, asked repeatedly for the money he was owed. When that got more and more irritating and uncomfortable, then he sent out an email to everyone (bulk, so all could see) who paid + owed money and specifically highlighted those that have paid. That got a few more to pay up. And for that last couple of stubborn people that just would not pay him back, he sent an email (again copying everyone) letting everyone know that a letter was going to go home to the parents about the money owed to their son's college friend. This worked (before the letters went out). But I'll tell you, it was months and months before he was fully reimbursed and it certainly left a sour taste in his mouth.
As for the BBQ? That was a very expensive lesson. (My son didn't choose to listen to Mom, but in his defense he may not have chosen to share with his mother until after the fact and he sure didn't want to "hear it", at that point.)
And the apartment? Haggled over the first and last month deposit, the roommate had to anti up more to make up for the IOU. Mom's advice.
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