Seven End-of-Semester Survival Strategies For Your College Student

I have two seniors – one graduating from high school and one graduating from college. Both are barreling toward that (figuratively) dark time in the school year – that time when the sun is finally shining, summer seems this close, and no one, not just seniors, wants to buckle down and study.

Yep, it’s that time again – second semester finals.

I feel like I have the same conversation with my boys around this time every year: “It’s just four weeks. You can do anything for four weeks.” or “Yes, I know you’ve run the calculations and if you fail the test you won’t fail the class but do you really think that’s the best option?” and “Yes, I know, finals are stupid.”

I get it. I remember not being able to focus and thinking that there was no way I could fit another bit of information into my brain let alone remember any of it for a test. I dreamed of chucking all my books in the garbage can on the way out of the library and running away from campus.

If your kids are also feeling the pull of summer and struggling to get through the semester – whether they are freshman in high school or about to graduate from college – feel free to pass along these Seven Survival Strategies For Finals (and the end of the semester) that I wrote for Collegiate Parent.  Because sometimes all your kid needs is a sounding board and a plan.

7 Finals Survival Strategies To Help Students Finish The Semester Strong

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Should You Help Your College Student Get a Job?

My college senior is in the throes of his post-college job search and I am trying hard not to meddle. I want to help him as much as I can but how much is too much? Should I offer him a list of contacts? Proof his resume? Nag? (FYI – don’t nag)

I am very happy to help my friends’ kids with their job searches but with my own kid I don’t want to be “that” mom. So, after some research on the subject I think I have a grip on what I can and can’t do – and of course, a list of all of the things I’ve done wrong already (at least I haven’t tagged along on my son’s job interviews!)

I wrote about the dos and don’ts and even why it’s ok to be a little involved for Collegiate Parent*. You can find my article, How Parents Can Help With the Job Search here:

http://www.collegiateparent.com/prepare-to-launch/3-academic-career/how-parents-can-help-with-the-job-search/

 

 

Have you helped your college student/grad with his or her job search? If so, how? I’d love to hear from you.

*Collegiate Parent is an online resource for parents who want to connect to their student’s campus community and find the insider information they need and want.

It’s Not Personal. It’s Parenting.

For a long time if one of my kids looked at me with disdain, snapped at me, or rolled his eyes, my blood would boil. How could they? I would wonder. I do everything for these kids and this is how they treat me?!?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized most of the time their bad attitudes have nothing to do with me; I’m just a safe target for my boys’ frustrations. Is it fair? No way. But at least it’s not because they don’t love me or appreciate me it’s because they trust me that they lash out.

Seems like a raw deal, I know.

This phenomenon – of lashing out at one person because you are mad at someone or something else – isn’t something that only happens between parents and kids. Often when we feel powerless or stressed or overwhelmed by something, we lash out at someone we know won’t fight back, like a parent or a spouse. Psychologists call this phenomenon “displaced aggression.” I admit I have displaced my aggression on someone else. Like my husband. Thankfully he ignores me or, when I’m really being a bitch, he calls me out on my bad behavior and I can take a step back to figure out what is actually going on.

I gotta say, though, I am not as good as my husband is at ignoring crappy behavior.

Especially from my kids.

It’s really hard not to take it personally.

For instance, just yesterday, as my 17-year-old sat at the kitchen counter enjoying a breakfast of eggs and bacon that I made for him, I asked him if he was cold. Before the words, “Do you need your sweatshirt?” were even out of my mouth, he snapped, “I don’t need anything.”

I’d like to tell you that my first thought was, maybe he misunderstood? Maybe he thought I said, “I am going to dump every single item that you treasure in a big pile on the front lawn and set it all on fire.” I mean, why else would he snap at something as innocuous as an offer to bring him a sweatshirt?

But, in reality, my first thought was actually: Fuck this. Let him freeze.

Thankfully those words did not escape from my lips. See, I’m a grown up (sort of), with a filter (sometimes), and many years of learning how to bear the brunt of my children’s displaced aggression (this part is 100% accurate). There was a time when I would automatically assume that my children were reacting to me – personally – and I would be upset. I remember when my oldest was two or three years old and refused to take a nap. I was POSITIVE he was doing it to spite me. Seriously. I finally figured out that he was just being a two-year-old (besides, he didn’t do things to spite me until he was at least 5).

Now I know there are definitely times when my kids’ anger and stress are absolutely, and properly, directed at me. The difference between those disagreements and displaced aggression, however, is that one situation has context and one comes out of the frickin’ blue. For example, if I say to my son, “No, you can’t sleep at a friend’s house tonight,” I expect an argument and the possibility of a slammed bedroom door. But when I say, “Do you want a sweatshirt?” I don’t expect a normally reasonable and respectful 17-year-old to be so salty.

Which is how I know it had nothing to do with me.

The sweatshirt fiasco took place about 90 minutes before my son’s AP Calc final. Was he stressed? Tired? A little bit of both? Probably. Does that make it ok? Ah, no.

Normally I would have said, “Let’s try that again with a different tone, please,” and possibly thrown in a short lecture on displaced aggression because I can’t help myself. This time I decided to let it go, for that moment at least. (Finals, stress, yada, yada…)

I waited until he came back home – when he was all happy and relaxed – and said, “Hey, remember when I asked if you were cold earlier and you acted like I asked if you wanted me to pour boiling water on you to warm you up? Well, your response was snippy and disrespectful.”

Blank stare.

I pressed on because, you know, it’s my job to teach my kids to be better people. “If something else is bugging you,” I explained. “Please don’t take it out on the wrong person.”

“Sorry. I don’t remember saying anything snippy.” he responded, genuinely perplexed. “I was really tired…and cold.”

Sigh.

 

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Do you take your kids’ actions personally? How do you deal with it?

 

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When Your College Kids Come Home for Winter Break: Expectations vs. Reality

The anticipation was high. I hadn’t seen my baby (i.e. my 18-year-old college freshman) in two (2!!) months and he was finally coming home. I expected family dinners and family game nights, trips together into the city to see a play, late night conversations and laughter.

And then there was reality.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad – there were plenty of moments of togetherness – but my Norman Rockwell reunion was not to be. My son had friends to see and sleep to catch up on. Treks into the city were not on his “to do” list unless, of course, they involved his girlfriend.

Sigh.

I’m on my 4th winter break (my baby is now a senior in college) and I can tell you it’s much the same as it was when he was a freshman. And, although I know better, I can’t help but hold out hope that every break will be a little different. So here are the top expectations I have every year for my college kid’s winter break and what I should know by now but clearly don’t:

Expectation 1: The first night that my son is back home we will have a long family dinner where he will tell us stories about school and his friends and we will all stare at him with adoration and laugh at all of his funny tales.

Reality: We eat dinner together. It takes about 10 minutes then his friends come over to pick him up and he leaves with promises to tell us stories when he comes home (and that doesn’t happen because I am old and asleep by 11).

Take away: But at least we shared a meal!

Expectation 2: We will all gather together to watch a holiday movie, snuggled up on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn.

Reality: Everyone agrees to watch a movie but no one will agree on what movie. I feel dissension in the ranks so I demand that they stop bickering and watch Elf/White Christmas/Bad Santa and like it – damn it! About 30 minutes in I notice that my husband is asleep and the two boys are watching something entirely different on their respective computers only glancing up once or twice to watch the movie.

Take away: But at least we are in the same room!

Expectation 3: We will decorate the Christmas tree together – sipping hot cocoa and reminiscing as we pull out ornaments.

Reality: I tell everyone we are putting up the tree. Everyone says they can’t at that moment and I have to wait. So I wait. About an hour later I ask again and get the same answer. I insist we put the tree up NOW, reminding my family that it only takes 15 minutes – tops – to pull out the tree and hang the ornaments. I am met with more resistance. I threaten to cancel Christmas. Everyone begrudgingly walks to the living room to put up ornaments and I am sad because this was NOT what I wanted.

Take away: I should put the tree up by myself. Of course that would result in whining from my family that I didn’t wait for them so basically it’s a no win situation. Maybe I should invite friends to help and offer wine?

Expectation 4: I love going out for breakfast and he loves to eat so I will take him to this great breakfast place I used to go to in college that has the most amazing, over-sized, gooey, iced cinnamon buns.

Reality: He sleeps until at least 1:00 pm. every day and the restaurant closes at 2:00.

Take away: Take him to lunch or dinner.

Expectation 5: We all go Christmas shopping together!

Reality: We buy everything online because after one trip to the mall I remember how much I hate being at the mall around Christmas.

Take away: Start shopping around Halloween?

Expectation 6: We will head to the city to see a play/ eat dinner/see the Christmas lights and it will be magical – just like when they were little.

Reality: When the kids were little heading into the city to see a play/eat/see the decorations was usually a nightmare and did not improve when the kids became teenagers who would rather have been hanging out with their friends.

Take away: Let them bring friends and give them LOTS of advance notice and constant reminders or you will be met with: That’s tonight?!?! when it’s time to leave.

Expectation 7: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school.

Reality: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school and I will forget all about my failed attempts at togetherness which is why I repeat them Every. Single. Year.

Take away: Look for the spontaneous moments of togetherness and don’t worry if your plans fall off the rails.

 

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!

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On CollegiateParent – How Holiday Traditions Change As Kids Move Away

I am pretty excited to introduce a new collaboration with a site for parents of college students. CollegiateParent is a great resource dedicated to helping parents navigate their child’s college years from move-in day through graduation and beyond. I stumbled on the site when I was looking for some college specific content before my younger son and I set out on college visits but I kept returning to the site for the parenting advice.

My first piece as a freelance contributor for the site is about the shift that happens to your family traditions when your kids leave for college. Even though I expected some changes when my kids got married or moved away I was a bit thrown that we were expected to adjust long before either of my boys had even graduated from college. You can read What Happens to Family Traditions When Your Kid Goes to College here.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Managed Expectations

i suck as a parent

I just returned from a four-day tour of colleges with my son and aside from my scratched cornea and a cough that has forced me to sleep upright on my living room couch, we got nothing out of it.

I had grand plans for our trip. We were going to talk and laugh and bond over our weekend experience.  We would discuss the high and low points of the colleges we visited and laugh about the ridiculous questions that other parents asked (questions like, “How many volumes does the library have?”). We would return home with private jokes and be closer than ever.

Instead we bickered and fought and I threatened over and over again to fly home without him. Our discussions about the schools we visited were reduced to single sentences like:

“This tour guide is TOO happy. I don’t want to go to school here.”

or

“I really…

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The Last First Day of High School

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When I first quit my job to stay home with my kids I had big plans. Being with my kids was my only job and I was going to make the most of it. Those warnings about “appreciating the time with your kids because it goes by so fast” were not going to be lost on me!

I learned, rather quickly, however, that it’s really hard to appreciate EVERY moment, like the ones when, sleep-deprived and delirious, I would curl up on the floor of my younger son’s bedroom, praying that my mere proximity to him would help him drift back to sleep at four in the morning. I wasn’t trying to wish away his babyhood but, at that moment, while he giggled and babbled at me through the slats of his crib, clearly not going back to sleep, I would silently repeat the mantra, this too shall pass.

Then there were those mind-numbing days when we would make our daily park/library/grocery store circuit, desperate to fill the hours before bedtime. Soon they will start school full time and I will finally be able to get things done, I would think.

Once they were in school I longed for the days when they would be able to do their own homework without my nagging, take care of their own things, and eventually be able to drive so I could skip the carpools and late night pick ups. Just this summer, for instance, as I waited up—again—for my youngest son to get home, I caught myself thinking, once summer is over and he is back at school I can finally go to bed before midnight.

This too shall pass…

And then it did.

And now summer is over and it’s my youngest son’s last first day of high school and I’m wondering what happens when this passes??

What happens to me when my nest is empty?

When I dropped him off for the first day of his senior year of high school I thought I was simply sad because it had all gone by so quickly; he would be heading to college next year and, given his uncommunicative nature, I would probably rarely, if ever, talk to him. But then, when I realized that at this time next year I will have no one left to drive to school (or pick up after or make dinner for or dote on…), my unease grew rapidly. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of doing whatever I want with my time and I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be.

In my rising panic I turned to my good friend (who also happens to be a therapist) to help me deal with my immediate need to calm the f**k down. Christina Jones, LCSW, suggested that I view this new phase of my life as a time to figure out who I am today and who my “future self” can be.

“What if you see this as an opportunity to discover who you are now and accept that it might not be who you used to be, even as a mother?” she asked me.

I could tell this was not going to be a quick fix.

“You can never really go back,” she added, “But you can take who you’ve been – in every chapter in your life – and figure out who you are now. That can be exciting.”

Hmmm…exciting, terrifying, anxiety provoking, all of the above?

This isn’t the first pivot I’ve had to make. When I decided to go from full-time lawyer to full-time mom, I went into a bit of spiral, as well. I would joke that I was a “retired lawyer” instead of admitting that I was a stay-at-home-mom – I simply couldn’t let go of that persona even though it was my idea to make the change. It took me a while to let go of who I had been—or thought I was—and to come to terms with the idea that my focus had shifted and continued to shift with each new phase in my and my family’s lives.

And here we are again; new phase, new focus.

This time, as I plan my next act, I will try to be more mindful of the passing days and try to embrace even the moments that can’t end fast enough. In a year I will be a “retired stay-at-home-mom,” and who knows what else. Maybe “the mom who has to nag her college graduate son who moves back home for a year to save his money while he works before grad school”?

This is very exciting.

 

 

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