Staying a parent

As I near the end of the two-year mark, two years of my son being a proud Eph, it seems time to consider my own progress as a Williams parent. When he left his home in the Rockies to travel to distant Massachusetts, I carefully read all of the material available about how to be a good college mom. In particular, I studied the suggestions students had made for parents, available on the Williams website. The students’ advice fell into four main categories.

Firstly, I was told to communicate. Don’t call too much to be a nag, but do call. Unless we’re busy, then don’t call. E-mails are better than phone calls. Write real letters; don’t just depend on texts and e-mails. And don’t expect immediate responses. Understand our lives are busy. Secondly, don’t obsess about our lives. We don’t want to compare our wild and crazy student days with yours, nor do we want to account for how much time we spend studying as opposed to sleeping, having fun or doing other activities.

Next, be supportive. We may not know what we want to do with our lives yet or quite how to get there, but we appreciate you standing by us. We know you spent years anxiously waiting for our report cards, SAT scores and college acceptance letters. Now it is time for us to manage our academics. Trust us.

Finally, and it seemed most importantly, send care packages. Really, send packages. Big ones, small ones, it doesn’t matter. Just send them!

So how do I assess my parenting? I figure I fell in about the B+ range (yes, grades don’t disappear just because schooling has ended). I hope so, at least. It definitely depends on how important those care packages really are.

I land more into the texting and e-mailing group than the phone calls. While I love to talk to my son, catching him in a moment when he can actually exchange more than three sentences (“Hello, I’m fine” and “Talk soon”) is rare. Scheduling times sometimes works but are just as likely to have the same conversational base (“Hi, I’m good” and “Text me”). He’s not the only culprit, although we like to blame him. My husband and I actually go out to dinner more and gasp, see a movie now and then.

What I didn’t realize was that there appears to be a difference between texting and e-mails. Texts get answered quickly; e-mails, not so much. But learning a new skill is not such a bad thing, and I can proudly claim that I picked up the habit a full year ahead of my husband! Call me technologically progressive. The best thing about texting, from our perspective, is that the occasional “ARE YOU STILL ALIVE????” message gets an immediate response. It’s amazing how easy it is to express displeasure at being in a communication blackout.

I’m definitely guilty of wanting to obsess about my son’s life, but I try to remember that my own college years coincided with Star Wars mania. Princess Leia had yet to discover that cinnamon buns did not make good fashion muses, and Harrison Ford was still playing leading men rather than 70-year-old crusty baseball managers. My son’s life is as far removed from my glorified college years as, hopefully, it is from Animal House. Not only does he not want to discuss how he spends his free time, but I think it actively embarrasses him to hear me reminisce about nickel beer nights (Pearl, on tap) at Ivy’s Dance Hall. The idea of dancing the Cotton-Eyed Joe, mixed in with a few two-steps, waltzes and polkas just doesn’t compute. Yes, I went to school in Texas.

Being supportive is easy. I want my son to make his own decisions. However, it’s hard not to step in with thoughts and advice. Like all parents, I want to smooth my son’s path, to make his life easier and his choices less painful. When does that desire to help cross into interference? It is hard to say. Hopefully my attempt to live up to the communication part has given me a better idea of when my input is necessary.

Pulling back on wanting the details of his academic life has been much harder. I hate the idea of being a helicopter mother, who never ceases to hover, but I am used to knowing his grades and to receiving input from his teachers, and it’s hard to break that pattern. This is partly because his grades are one of the few things that give me insight beyond what he reports about his life. It’s not so much that I want him to have top marks. More, it’s that poor marks or a sudden drop are signs that things are not right.

Finally, I must admit my deficiency at sending care packages. Let me take this time to apologize profusely and publicly for my failure in this area. I have not baked cookies and packed them lovingly in tissue paper. The good news, it’s not too late, and if one is aware of such deficiencies, one can fix them, and so my son can look for a box in the future.

I have no intention to tell you, my fellow parents, how to parent. What I will say is that it can be hard to be as aware of one’s parenting from across a continent as one would be from across the room, but it’s equally important. You don’t need to rate yourself based on what students list on the website, like I did. You should, however, consider evaluating yourself in some way. Could your child use a couple of extra phone calls? I don’t know, depends on the kid, but you should.

Claire Huffaker is the mother of Chris Huffaker ’15, opinions editor. She is a teacher who lives  in Calgary, Alberta.

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