An open let­ter to in­com­ing col­lege fresh­men from one of your par­ents

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - COLLEGE BOUND - By Daniel W. Drezner Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post Sin­cerely, An old — Drezner is a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplo­macy at Tufts Univer­sity.

Dear new col­lege stu­dents:

Greet­ings and salu­ta­tions! I am not an en­ter­ing col­lege stu­dent, but the proud par­ent of one. First off, con­grat­u­la­tions! Go­ing to col­lege is a big life tran­si­tion, and I am sure that you are ea­ger to be on your way to mak­ing new friends, learn­ing new things and liv­ing semi-in­de­pen­dently. Which is a po­lite way of say­ing that you can­not wait un­til the rest of your fam­ily is not up in your grill 24/7.

Af­ter a year plus of par­ents nag­ging prod­ding you about the im­por­tance of a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, I bet they are on your last nerve. Fur­ther­more, I bet some of you have no­ticed that they have been act­ing su­per-weird. This was cer­tainly my ex­pe­ri­ence a few decades ago. I did not re­ally rebel as a teenager, but my last sum­mer home I be­gan to feel claus­tro­pho­bic. By Au­gust, I was count­ing down the days un­til I would be on cam­pus. I re­mem­ber vow­ing to my­self that I would re­mem­ber that feel­ing and give my fu­ture kid more space.

More than 30 years later, I've been to­tally crowd­ing my own child. I now un­der­stand why my par­ents acted the way they did. If noth­ing else, I hope this in­for­ma­tion makes your last re­main­ing months at home a lit­tle eas­ier.

So here's the thing: You are not the only one go­ing through a life tran­si­tion here. Your par­ents, who fed you, clothed you and shel­tered you for quite some time, will no longer have to do any of these things. You would think this would be a huge honk­ing re­lief, but it is sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult to give up habits that have been de­vel­oped for more than a decade.

For one thing, al­though you are now legally adults, let's be hon­est, none of you are fully grown up. Sure, you can man­age your smart­phone way bet­ter than us olds. There are, how­ever, large swathes of off­line life that you have had zero re­spon­si­bil­ity for un­til now. Can you do laun­dry prop­erly? What about health in­surance, you got that cov­ered? Can you cook? I sus­pect many of you pos­sess most of these skills. But I am sure there are sev­eral facets of adult­ing that re­main be­yond your com­pre­hen­sion. You are an adult in most but not all ways. Par­ents, who have borne wit­ness to your great­est screwups as hu­man be­ings, are pet­ri­fied that you will stum­ble into one of these vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties once you leave for col­lege. We can't help it; we are hard-wired to worry that way.

If I am be­ing hon­est, how­ever, this is not the big­gest source of parental weird­ness. That comes from the fact that, af­ter more than 18 years of be­ing nur­tured, molded, un­der-par­ented and over­par­ented, you have mor­phed into a pretty in­ter­est­ing per­son. You can have adult con­ver­sa­tions about art or pol­i­tics or life in gen­eral. That's amaz­ing! Only yes­ter­day we were con­sol­ing you be­cause some­thing scary hap­pened in that Pixar movie. Now you're con­sol­ing us be­cause some­thing maudlin hap­pened in that Pixar movie.

Af­ter all that ef­fort, just when you're get­ting in­ter­est­ing ... you leave. It seems as though par­ents should get a longer pe­riod of time to en­joy this more fully formed ver­sion of you. But that is not how it works. So, yes, off you go. But if it seems as though par­ents are ask­ing an­noy­ing ques­tions and are oth­er­wise chat­ting you up, it is be­cause we are deal­ing with our own emo­tional swirl. And we are cher­ish­ing those last few mo­ments of en­gag­ing the al­most-adult ver­sion of you on a daily ba­sis.

My re­la­tion­ship with my par­ents im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter I got to col­lege. I hope the same is true for you.

And I cer­tainly hope the same is true for my own off­spring.


Grad­u­at­ing se­niors are not the only ones go­ing through a life tran­si­tion. Par­ents are, too.

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