• The Most Important Lesson My College Kid (Still!) Needs to Learn

The Most Important Lesson My College Kid (Still!) Needs to Learn

College Students Chatting

When we send our kids to college, we pack everything they own, then immediately unpack ½ of it, and repack some critical college must-haves (including the damnable x-long twin sheets for beds that only college dorm rooms have).

AND then we attempt to squeeze in all the advice that we can force them to listen to, plus toss in a few handwritten notes (to reinforce anything they couldn’t hear because they were distracted by the necessity to roll their eyes and tap a foot impatiently).

All those notes get tucked into the odd places to be found while they are unpacking throughout the term. (Hints: inside a sock, in the front of a favorite book you know that they’ll open, between winter clothes in the suitcase, inside the fridge, taped to the back of the printer… oh, you can get very creative. And, as long as the advice is heartfelt and fun, the notes will be readand not automatically crumpled and tossed. Plus eye rolling tends not to happen when no one is watching. You may actually get a tearful eye instead.)

Notes from Mom to Daughter/College Student


I try to be a talk-with-teen Mom, not a talk-to-teen Mom or, worse yet, a talk-at-teen Mom. I reserve the right to lecture only for extreme and dire circumstances (or rants over litter boxes still not clean). That’s about it. Well, that and maybe an occasional, “Really, you are 18 and still can’t think to empty the dishwasher on your own?!”

But that one is a short lecture, so it doesn’t count.

Everything else is a two-way conversation. I listen. I take turns. I try.

It’s hard. And I try to resist the temptation to roll my eyes back at them. (Confession: I'm not perfect. I roll with the best of them.)

It’s just that I learned long ago that no one really listens or learns in a one-sided lecture situation – certainly not the lecturer (who is too busy ranting or covering every item in their mental or written notes to hear anyone else speak up or even ask a question) AND definitely not the ‘lecturee’ who is bored and losing consciousness and couldn’t give a damn. (Note to my college Psychology Stats professor: Please re-read this last para. Twice.)

So in my home, there is no mother lecturing except in life-or-death situations or litter confrontations.

Those moments and one other: When my oldest knew she was going to college.

This was lecture worthy. I had an important message. A directive really. And only one delivery was possible, though I tried to make it somewhat interesting with personal examples and a few threats (both of which I will spare you).

So has she listened to her mother? Absorbed any of it? Has she in any way truly adapted the message?

Let’s just say that she’s finished her sophomore year and I’ve given her this same lecture over and over and over again. And I am about to cover it yet again. Deaf ears? Stubborn?

Not really. The real problem: She takes after me.

The other real problem? I don’t want her to take after me! (at least not in this way…)

Here’s my spiel:

You didn’t have (enough? any?) fun in high school. You threw yourself on the college track, took every AP class you could; took PE and health in the summer to free up your schedule to take more foreign languages; studied so (too?) much; got involved in almost every honor society, the school magazine, the musical, the elite choir, the local youth film initiative. What have I missed? Plenty! You took language classes outside of school, online classes (void of interaction), and music lessons on several instruments. You had a ridiculously impressive transcript and resume that made me both proud and embarrassed because there was no stopping you. No holding you back. You were doing all the things you wanted to do. I could only support you and try to get you to lighten up.


So here’s the thing: In college, learn to have fun. Don’t wait until you’re 45 years old to realize that you are far too serious.

I’m glad you have a great sense of humor; it helps, but it’s not enough.

Don’t let another year pass before you suddenly realize that you are not fun or not having fun or that you have no idea what fun really feels like without being stressed. You have to know more than just how to spell “relax” and now “chillax”. You have to do it and be it.

Try a few random, out-of-your-comfort-zone things.

Have dessert before dinner. Do that. In the dining hall. On more than one occasion. Especially at weekend dinners when the food is notoriously bad.

Rush out to a party that you hadn’t planned on going to. If your friend decides not to go, then go anyway with another friend. Drag them along. Apparently, they need to have more fun, too. Because I said so.

Find a random concert of totally unknown music and go; maybe you’ll gag, but maybe you’ll love it. Then go to a different concert next week.

Go to the movies. On campus. Off campus. With one friend. With a bunch of people. Or, by yourself and say hi to someone you recognize when you get there.

Invite random friends to your room to watch a movie online. Eat popcorn. Let there be crumbs. (You can vacuum later.)

Show up at a sports event that you may never have an opportunity to ever see again (until you have athletically talented offspring that clearly don’t take after you). Scream wildly at any team that scores. Because you can. Then laugh at yourself while others look scandalously at you.

You don’t have to drink (though one safe drink with a friend at your side is okay). Just be smart about it. Drinks often taste good. So drink slowly, eat while you drink, and enjoy. If you realize you are not enjoying it, that’s a good stopping point. Being sick later is not so fun. If that happens, don’t sweat it; it really is something you have to learn for yourself and for what your body can tolerate. Just be with friends to learn it. And be a friend to others. Some things can only be learned experientially.

Don’t do drugs (no matter how many friends are with you). It’s not safe. There is no reason to experiment. Totally not cool. And you know that. Easiest way out? Your feet. Just leave. You don’t have to be rude or a prude about it; just decide that you want to be somewhere else and go. Feel free to blame me. As in, "I forgot. My mom is waiting for me to call her back. Bye."

Never do anything you don’t want to do or stay anywhere that you don’t want to stay. There is always a way out. Any ‘friends’ whom you might lose along the way weren’t worth keeping in the first place.

Learn bridge and/or canasta and/or gin rummy. And stay up all night to do it. (But don’t get addicted to it so that you keep staying up all night. Believe me, it’s not that worth it.) Ditto video games. Back to that “everything in moderation” concept. Fun is more fun in moderation. Addictions are not fun. Find a fun game and learn it.

Take walks. Randomly. Into town. Around town. With friends. On your own. Clear your head. In fact, take a lot of walks. Clear your head a lot.

College offers your major classes, your minor classes and some unusual classes in subjects that you may never have the opportunity to easily learn anywhere else – take THOSE classes.

But college offers you so much more than classes. Find that “so much more” and do as much as you can. Because you can.

Here’s the point: For you, college isn’t about buckling down to work harder. For better and for worse, you are one of those kids who has already mastered that. For you, college is about unbuckling a notch or two. Get a few B’s. Don’t let a C rule your entire life. Be happy. Laugh a lot. Stress less. Sleep a little more. Work smart. Play smarter. Join in. Take care of your physical and mental health.

Remember that you are young, no matter how old you think you are. So be young.

You will look back at these years and know that you “did college”. Your transcript will show what you learned – academically. No one (okay, almost no one) will ask to see your academic transcript. But everyone should ask to see your social transcript – if one existed – as proof of whether you are balanced human being.

Life itself will tell you if you used these years wisely. Have no regrets at 25. At 35. At 45 or beyond.

So go sing off key – okay, you can't, but you should try to! Color out of the lines. Do the interpretive dance on the quad lawn at midnight; then do it again at noon – even better!

Find your quirky self again and let her rip.

End of Off-to-College Lecture


It is now 2 years down with 2 to go and I am still giving that same damn talk.

My daughter is stressed with her double major/double minor combo. (If you must know, it's International Relations & Environmental Science with German & Mandarin minors.) She won’t give anything up because she loves it all. If she could, she’d force the college to let her be a triple major. (Fortunately, they don’t have enough classes in Linguistics.)

So I am doing just what I don’t like to do: talking again at my beloved, unbalanced, quirky, serious, funny, stodgy-around-the-edges, anxious, perfectionist, caring, narcoleptic daughter:

Go ahead and love it all. But love yourself more.


It’s time for a change.

I’m your mother. Don’t be like me.
And, remember that I love you. A lot.

And yes,
we can talk about this more later.
Just the two of us.
I’ll listen.
I promise.

But, I am right.
And you know it. (Just sayin'.)


PS: I can see you rolling your eyes at me.
Right back atchya, Babe!

Last modified on Sunday, 27 November 2016 15:42

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