Recently both of our daughters came home for the holiday break. Their return brought us a new set of parenting concerns. When kids go off to college, they suddenly consider themselves adults. They feel the old kids’ rules from their high school years no longer apply. So it can be stressful to know how to parent your almost-adult child now that they’ve concluded they no longer need to listen to a word you say. That’s why, in the most loving way possible, you should periodically remind them – roughly every two hours – about who is paying for their college and how you’d be delighted to spend that money on a Mediterranean cruise for yourself if they don’t clean up their act during their brief time home.
I would like to share my best parenting advice for how to get your kids to cooperate when they come home from college. I really would. But I can no more decipher the code for how to parent college-age kids than I can explain why some people pay $200 more for a cell phone custom-colorized to match their purse. But I will try to impart some wisdom just the same.
Challenge #1: The pit stop. Many parents experience the short-lived joy of welcoming their kids home for winter break only to become annoyed as their child vanishes seconds after their arrival, shouting, “Hi, Dad. Gotta go. Meeting Bridget to go shopping.” It’s easy to feel like your kids are only using your house as a place to crash at night, but that’s not true. They are also using your house for the free food, free laundry service, and free use of your Lexus. Oh, and just in case you were wondering whether your child might be heading off to shop for a Christmas present for you – they’re not. They’re going shopping to swap out the color pattern on their swaggy new cell phone so that it can perfectly match their – well, you get the picture.
This weekend I have the whole house to myself. Our elder daughter Rachel is a college freshman and our younger daughter Emily (who apparently really admires her dad – who knew?) is with my wife this weekend, visiting the college she’ll be enrolling in next fall. For the past few days, it’s been eerily quiet in the house – and eerily tidy. It’s weird to walk into my bathroom and not see my daughter’s curling iron, dirty towels and jars of makeup, eye liner, and moisturizing creams piled up in my sink. I barely recognize the kitchen now because there are no stacks of dirty dishes covering every square inch of the counter.
This got me to thinking about next fall, when for the first time in 19 years, there will be no kids in our house. We’ll be joining the ranks of a rapidly growing demographic: Happy People (otherwise known as “Empty Nesters”). Many couples look forward to this phase of life. But for me, it’s going to be a difficult adjustment. So I took time this weekend to look at old photo albums and watch old family videos. It brought back wonderful memories of many happy times with our daughters.
Like the 1,284 times I changed our daughters’ diapers when they were young (which, according to my rough estimate, is approximately 1,284 more times than my father changed his own kids’ diapers when we were young).
Every year about this time, thousands of families endure an emotionally trying ritual: Sending their young high school graduate off to college – or in the case of my neighbor Bert Zablinski’s under-achieving boy Freddie, a four-week correspondence course for road construction flag operators. For many distraught parents it means driving hundreds of miles in a tightly cramped car filled with college gear, then coming to a startling realization – they forgot to bring one essential item: Their child. Don’t let this happen to you.
The experience of sending your offspring to college is different for every family. But there is one feeling almost every parent shares: a desperate hope they’ll have the winning Powerball lottery tickets so they can pay for college. That’s their Plan A. Most parents don’t have a Plan B, now that by latest estimates the average cost of four years of college recently has surpassed the GNP of Uruguay.
[This week’s column is written by veteran sitcom writer/producer Miriam Trogdon. I am privileged to turn over the reins to Miriam this week. – TEJ]
I hear so many of my baby boomer friends complain that they never hear from their children.
- As soon as my son turned eighteen, he was out the door. I thought he might return for his belongings, but instead he got two jobs and bought everything new.
- My daughter graduated from college and stayed out east. She started working, got a loan for a car and asked to be taken off our phone plan.
And the most common sad tale:
- I thought for sure my kid would at least need us for health insurance, but no. He made sure his new employer had a great plan and then he moved out for good.
Sound familiar? Then you’re certainly not alone. Most boomers would give their eye teeth to have their semi-grown children living back in their homes, but alas, no matter how hard they try, they are unsuccessful. But not I. My husband and I are proud to reveal that our 24-year-old daughter moved back into our home after college and remains there four years later! And I want to share some of the ways we make sure this ideal situation doesn’t change.
Now that school’s back in session, high school seniors are scrambling to pull together college applications. It’s an anxious time for parents like me. Some parents may be sweating more than others. Take my over-achieving Microsoft senior executive next door neighbors, David and Judy Wong (recent immigrants from Shanghai). They’re frantically hoping their little first violinist, chess champion daughter Vivian gets into Harvard or Yale.
Even with her staggering 6.8 GPA (I have no idea how either), in this competitive environment, Vivian might have to settle for her safety school, Oxford. In our family’s case, we’re just hoping we don’t have to fall back on our daughter’s safety school, the Louisiana Truck Driving Academy for Asian Drivers.
Here at VFTB, our expert staff of college planning advisors and part-time Wal-Mart greeters has assembled a strategy guaranteed to get your child into the Ivy* League college campus of their choice (* we’re talking of course about Ivy Tech Community College with 30 campuses throughout Indiana).
About 18 years ago, my wife and I committed a horrible lapse of financial judgment. We are still paying for this reckless mistake these many years later: We became parents. At first it seemed like a great idea – staring into the innocent, helpless eyes of our two adorably sweet, tiny angel babies we adopted from China.
If only someone could have intervened – stopped me from boarding that plane for Hong Kong – and pointed out that over the next 17 years, these little angels would morph into retirement-savings-draining, eye-rolling, “take me to the mall now” moody, fashion-obsessed teenage drama queens who would eventually become legally permitted to drive my car and whose primary function on this planet appears to be texting their friends about how lame their parents were for not letting them go to a party simply because we don’t know the boy or his family… if only somebody had intervened back then and told me what we would be in for, I would have undoubtedly made … the same reckless decision. But that’s beside the point.
My point is this: Raising kids is expensive. The return on your college investment is highly speculative at best, particularly when you learn your son has decided to major in Medieval French Gender Studies. For many parents a far less risky investment would be to put down their entire life savings on the trifecta in the second race at Belmont Park.
Greetings, Class of 2011. My, don’t you all look so grown up in your elegant caps and gowns and iPods blasting out Death Cab for Cutie at full volume. It seems only yesterday that you were stumbling around in Huggies and toddler booties and iPods blasting out Raffi at full volume. Graduation Day is upon us for millions of American college seniors like you. As has been my tradition for the past 17 years about this time, this week’s post is my annual Advice to you, the College Graduating Class of 2011.
My advice to you? Don’t pay attention to anyone who tries to give you advice…. except for the advice I am about to share, of course. It’s important that you make your own choices in life. So make good ones. In looking back on the choices I made in my youth, I realize I made some poor ones now and then. If I had it to do over again, I wished I hadn’t taken three years of Latin in high school. I’m not Catholic so becoming Pope is probably out of the question. So exactly when would I ever have used it? Never.
I also should never have taken Post-Modern Latvian Studies in college. That [#bleep#]-ing bastard Professor Yuri Švābe was a cruel old son of a bitch. I wish he would die a painful, wrenching death for totally messing up my GPA… I mean, er, um, I found him to be rather draconian in his grading methodology. Perhaps most of all, I deeply regret rooming with Tony Markowitz of Monmouth, New Jersey for two years in college. Not only was he a complete slob and never did the dishes, but he always smelled like bass and routinely ate my Lucky Charms cereal without asking. I urge you to learn from my youthful mistakes.