Sunday, January 27, 2013

R U there yet

Jack's acceptance to college and our recent "field trip" to see the campus have all been undeniable clues that as insane as it seems right now, our eldest child will be leaving home sometime later this year.

"Impossible!" my heart says.

But my mind keeps annoyingly interjecting, "Yup, it's happening, Lady, so you better just get on board."

The problem is that at this point there isn't a lot a parent can do to "get on board". We don't officially know yet which school he will be attending in the fall (other yes/no letters will be arriving mid-March) so there are still a multitude of unknowns. Start date. Location. Will we be driving or flying him to school? Will his northwest wardrobe suffice, or is he headed to sunnier skies and will be needing a bigger repertoire of shorts and flip flops?

(Actually, Jack never wears flip flops and I highly doubt any geographic location would change that. He wears some version of tennis shoes or boat shoes everywhere. School, pool, beach, casual dining, fancy restaurant, reception for the Queen...wherever...)

The thing is, I'm not a big fan of ambiguity. Or uncertainty. Or the unknown. This might explain why we have lived in the same house for 20+ years and have no plans to change that anytime soon. Adventurers and trailblazers we are not.

So, what I like to do to give myself the illusion of some semblance of control or certainty, when there is nothing that I really can control or be certain of, is to seek, gather and acquire as much knowledge as possible about any piece of the puzzle that I can put my finger on.

That desire has lead me to this book:

I haven't finished it yet but so far I would say that a lot of the information would be equally relevant to parents of children in their junior or senior year in high school. Not only does some of it relate to that age group as well, but I am finding it good timing to start thinking about the issues it raises before our first child leaves the nest.

Essentially, the point of the book is to look at how much technology has changed the way parents and their college-age kids communicate. Not surprisingly, with the advent of cell phones, email, texting, facebook kids and their parents communicate much more frequently and easily than they did even 10-15 years ago when cell phones were not so universally commonplace and instant communication like texting was still in its infancy. 

One of the things I like so far about the book is that the authors do not automatically point to the increased contact between young adults and their parents as being all bad. They demonstrate that their research and data shows that not only is communication greater between college students and their parents these days because it's convenient and simple, but also because the students and parents have genuinely close relationships and want to continue to share in one another's lives. Interestingly too, the contact is not primarily initiated by the parents as you might think, but in fact was found to be initiated almost equally between students and parents.

But as with any new advancement or shift in the cultural landscape, the question always becomes, how much is too much?

I don't really anticipate Jack being the sort of kid that is going to call me in between classes "just to chat" but when Ben got a text from him this evening when we were at a friend's surprise party reporting that his debit card wasn't working, it did make me think about how easily kids can cry out for help these days before having to even attempt to solve the problem on their own.

Reading this book is giving me a chance to think ahead, before we have had that last good-bye hug, about which things are appropriate for us to continue to offer guidance and help and which things we need to turn back to him to try and work out for himself. It's hard not to look back on that time in our own lives and think of all the myriad of troublesome situations we found ourselves in and remember that most of the time we were on our own to figure it out. Beyond the education you receive at a 4-year university, it's also as much about having the time to mature and grow and learn to navigate life a little on your own- while still in a relatively safe place with numerous grown adults you can go to for help (besides your parents).

I'll be the first to admit, I like the technology of today. I like the feeling of security, false or not, you get from being able to get in touch with your kids quickly and knowing they can get in touch with you. I like knowing that when they are driving across the city at night they have that cell phone (tucked away and certainly not in use while driving...ahem)- just in case. 

But reading this book has given me a new awareness of yet another job we have as parents. As our kids get older and approach young-adulthood, we have to be the ones to place limits on that easy access. We might need to make ourselves a little less available in the interests of pushing our kids out of the nest and encouraging them to fly on their own. We need to let them, or if necessary make them, grow up.

But I know...believe me, I know... it's easier said than done.

Holding on is's letting go that takes real muscle.


  1. I'm not normally into parenting books (I don't need to see all the ways I'm screwing up in print) but this really grabs my interest. Reagan will be here in town, but still . . . I'd like to see what people are doing as far as setting parameters.

  2. It's been interesting so far (if not a little repetitive). I think mainly it gets you thinking about what you think reasonable parameters should be. The reality is that contact IS easier than it used to be and I don't think you can curb that completely (nor is that completely necessary). I have been thinking to myself that while I might have talked to my Mom once a week or so while in college, it was probably for 30-60 minutes at a time and I'm sure we covered a lot of ground. So, some of the smaller contact throughout the week that kids have now is more like breaking one long conversation into smaller pieces. The bigger concern in the book are those kids who are still looking to their parents to help them make every decision, or fix every problem. Or, on the other side, parents who are still texting their child reminders to turn in a paper or want to know where their child is at all times.

    For the most part, you know I'm with you on the parenting book thing though.