Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another Parental Rite of Passage

I just returned from a two-day orientation session for Mary at DePaul University in Chicago. Ed, Mary and I spent the first day together, and then they separated us for the second day, although I know many of the same topics were covered, albeit from two very different perspectives.

This is the fourth time we've been through a college orientation (and another milestone...it will be the last). While not all of them were at the same school, they do have a lot in common. The same things are covered...housing, transportation, scheduling, time management, getting banking set up, financial aid, and on and on and on. The real juxtaposition occurs when we parents sit in on sessions run by current student panels and staff, and are shown things through what I know (because I've been through this before) but other parents don't know (because they are first timers) are rose-colored glasses.

I wanted to stand up and say "Get real." a number of times when parents asked questions about co-ed dorms (which they pretty much all are now and have been for some time), having guests of the opposite sex in rooms (which has pretty much been allowed for some time), and the question which always comes up about alcohol use. I just want to say, "You've laid the foundation. If they want to make a poor choice, they are going to make a poor choice."

My philosophy is and has always been to build a strong relationship of trust with your children. If you do (or maybe I'm just lucky) they will come to you...they will come and tell you they screwed up, and it is usually after the fact because they are in some sort of trouble, or they just feel guilty about it, or they found themselves in a situation which they thought they wanted to explore and suddenly it frightened them. When they come to you, it is a time to ask them if they learned something. It is not a time to yell at them or impose an overly punitive consequence. Usually the experience is lesson enough.

That doesn't mean you have to smile and say "It's OK honey." You CAN express your disappointment and displeasure. It's such a balance. In one session the presenter asked parents to raise their hand if they had ever made a poor choice. I don't think there was one person who did not raise his or her hand.

I'm by nature an observer. I've always been on the quiet side in some situations. I like to stand back and just watch. I've learned from observing. I've seen parents do things and I've watched the results, and I've learned what not to do. I've told my girls from the outset that I am not their friend. Yes, they've said to me from time to time...so and so's mother and she are best friends. From my observations, nine times out of ten that girl is or will be in some sort of major trouble. I of course also tell them I'm not so and so's mother, I'm YOUR mother. I've told them there will come a time when we will be friends, and that is happening now, but not until they are through high school and possibly college (or close to it).

I am not overly punitive and strict. I probably should have been a little more so sometimes, but when I've watched the parents of some of my daughters' friends adopt a "no tolerance" stance on some issues, those are the very girls who live a lie when it comes to their relationship with their parents. They rebel. You have to give them some freedom. You trust them until they give you reason not to.

The dynamics of every family is different. Girls are different than boys, parents do things differently. No one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong. Maybe my philosophy is partly born of who my children innately are, how Ed and I have learned to balance it all, not only in dealing with things about which we have disagreed (which is sometimes REALLY hard to work out or maybe you don't even really completely work it out), but also in dealing with the distinct personalities of our daughters, and the interrelationships that exist in a family of six.

There are moments when your children come to you to own up to something, or to express how stupid what someone else their age did was, and you look at each other with a look that says "We did something right." It is very affirming. One of those moments was at orientation when we gathered back with Mary and she mentioned how a couple of the guys in her group were so immature. "Mom, one of them actually asked the Dean of Students...the DEAN OF STUDENTS, 'So what happens if we get caught smoking weed?' They are so immature!" Unless Ed and I are THE most naive parents there are, I have to say we have THE most amazing daughters.


  1. Despite the fact that I've gone to three schools, you've never been to a parent orientation for me! NYU didn't do them (which is a little weird, now that I think about it), and neither did AADA or Baruch. So there!

    God, I just realized what it must have been like to put me on a plane for my orientation. I was 18 and going to NYC alone. HOW WAS I EVER ALLOWED TO DO THAT?!

  2. I guess I was thinking of the "meeting" we had in your building. I don't recall the details of putting you on a plane for your orientation. All I recall is the drive to New York and you wanting us to leave right away. I don't think deep down inside you wanted that, but just thought you did. So like dummies we complied. I walked down the street with tears rolling down my face, and I think dad's heart was breaking. That was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. And it got worse before it got better, when for instance, you called me on my birthday to ask me what you should do about burns on your face and chest from dumping boiling water on yourself making EasyMac. And of course there were many many homesick calls, the first being I believe only a couple of days after we left you. All in all, your time at NYU was a horrendous experience for us as parents...and we were paying out the wazoo to be miserable???!! What was wrong with us!?