College — what are you going to do about it?

January 12, 2018


I’m starting to gear up mentally and otherwise for sending my youngest off to college next fall, so I’ve been thinking about when we dropped our oldest off (wasn’t it just last week?). We were truly shocked to learn other parents were hanging around the campus for days helping to “decorate.” Then, on social media, we saw it was the same or even worse at other campuses, and not just during move-in week. It seems parents these days want to take care of every little problem with their college aged children that pops up instead of just letting them learn to find their own way in the world. When I recently heard someone say their high school senior still didn’t know how to do laundry, I guess I just . . . well, wrote this: 

Attention all parents who are planning on launching a child off to college next fall —  if they don’t already know how to do their own laundry, make a basic pot of mac and cheese and sew a button on their shirt, you are officially in danger of becoming one of “those” parents, and worse yet, your precious collegiate darling will be one of “those” kids.

Training your young Jedi to lead a life of independence begins with the magic phrase, “What are you going to do about it?”

“Mom! My green dress is wrinkled!”  “Hmm. What are you going to do about it?” the smart mom replies. “I have a huge paper due in three days!” And the clever parent says, “I’ll pour you a glass of iced tea while you figure out what you’re going to do about it.”

Lula Leigh loved her University and pledged a sorority that had pink as one of its official colors, which delighted her to no end. But her happiness was clouded because she accumulated demerits for missing important chapter meetings that taught her how to sing songs and hold a candle at the same time. It seems poor Lula Leigh had never kept her own schedule before. In high school, she relied on mommy dearest to coordinate her activities on a computer, phone, paper and a white board in their kitchen, and now without mommy, Lula Leigh was a lost pink mess.

Speaking of pink, Huck was no better. He had to wear pink socks and shirts every day since he ruined his laundry the first week of college, but found out girls love pink, so he was feeling pretty good until his car conked-out out because he didn’t know what to do when those little lights on the dashboard started flashing.

“Slow to launch” is the new name for “spoiled rotten.” Having parents micromanage and do everything for a teenager, from pouring the milk on their cereal in the morning to negotiating grades with teachers is shocking.

“I can’t find a parking spot” “I’m out of paper for the printer.”  “There’s a bee in my room” Are  real phone calls made by (helpless) college freshmen.  Instead of asking what they are going to do about it and encouraging them to find a solution, parents have actually jumped in their cars and driven a hundred miles or more to hold their hands, and sooth them with a pot of homemade stew, and as long as they’re there, they may as well clean the room and do the laundry.

Believing life-lesson chores can’t start too early, I told my elementary aged boys that a toilet brush was really just a fluffy light saber with magical powers to make disgusting toilets gleam like a shiny robot. “And if you are very good, I’ll also allow you to push the buttons on this very expensive, high-tech machine that will clean your stinky socks. Here’s where you pour in the magic chemicals (soap), and — just listen to that computer inside. It blinks and buzzes just like R2D2.”

When my friends and I started college, our parents dropped us off, gave us a quick hug, then hit the road. Move-in day on campus now, is sometimes an entire move-in week with parents spending their vacation days helping decorate little Tad’s room. Dad hangs the television set and artwork, while mom arranges the toiletries on shelves, then they take a break and drink coffee from the espresso bar installed the day before. The truth escapes them that within a month, their designer efforts will be covered in old pizza boxes and dirty clothes exactly like the other rooms — until mom shows up a day early for homecoming and tidies things up a bit.

At this point, if your high school senior doesn’t know the difference between a flat head vs. Phillips head, or how to hang a shower curtain or scramble an egg, the question also applies to you — what are you going to do about it? The good news is, you have time for a crash course in independence before next fall. May the force be with you.

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