February 20, 2008

"It's only change!"

That was my young daughter's response when I asked her why there were coins on the floor in her room. I told her that because I was picking them up to vacuum; I was going to keep them. She shrugged her shoulders and said it was fine.

Over the course of the next few weeks, whenever I vacuumed, I put the coins I found on her floor into a jar. When the jar was half full, I took it to her room, dumped it on her bed and told her to help me count it. It totaled nearly five dollars. By the look of disbelief on her face I knew my little experiment had been successful.

I never again found spare change on her floor. What have you done to teach your children about money?

February 6, 2008

Adjusting To The "Empty Nest"

"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings."

That quote by Hodding Carter served as my guide during my children's formative years. Parenting was hard yet rewarding work. Each developmental stage had its challenges and its joys. Today I find myself in the phase of parenting known as "the empty nest."

I knew that one day my children would fly away. I realized I would need to find ways to occupy my time when my children no longer needed a mommy. Through the years I made it a priority to have hobbies and interests apart from my children. I wasn't always able to indulge in them like I wanted to, due to lack of time and money. But I knew that one day, when the children were grown and on their own, I would be able to invest as much time and energy into my hobbies as I wanted to.During my daughter's senior year of high school, when she began the college application process, I felt compelled to pursue the graduate degree in counseling I had always dreamed of. That August, when my oldest child went away to college, I began graduate school. The time that used to be devoted to mothering my daughter was now filled with attending classes, reading and writing research papers.

The house was quieter and much cleaner "" my daughter had always left a trail of clothes, shoes and jewelry throughout the house "" but I still had one child under the roof. I convinced myself that the empty nest syndrome was a myth.

Last fall my second child left for college. The house was much quieter than I anticipated it would be. Even the family dog noticed things were different. She would sit by the front door for hours waiting for my son to come home. I was keeping myself busy with work and hobbies, yet moments of sadness would come over me and I would find myself sitting in their rooms, sobbing, remembering happier times.

I needed something to help me feel like I was still a part of their lives, yet I didn't want to be intrusive. A large portion of my workday is spent on my computer, researching and writing, so I suggested to my children that they occasionally instant-message me. I keep myself logged on to instant messenger through out the day, and it's always a pleasant surprise when a message pops up from one of my children. We may chat for only a few minutes, but it's been a great way for them to check in with me and a way for me to still feel connected to them.

As the weeks went by, I became more accustomed to the silence, and the feelings of sadness slowly began to dissipate. The dog moved from her perch by the front door to a chair near my work space. I noticed I wasn't going into their rooms as often. Instead of crying about the children they once were, I was smiling at the adults they had become. I could look in the mirror and tell myself that I had done a great job raising two independent young people.

My daughter is 22 and my son is 19. They’re spreading their wings to fly. It’s bittersweet for me. I adored them as babies. I struggled with them as teenagers. I’m proud of who they are. My role as a parent is changing but I am enjoying the adult relationships we are creating. My nest is not empty. The contents have simply changed.

February 5, 2008

Hovering parents need to step back at college time

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Competition is tougher than ever this year to get into the freshman class at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The admissions office received close to 10,000 applications for just 2,400 slots.

Every day, Director of Admissions Ingrid Hayes and her staff field calls from anxious parents wanting to know how their child stacks up.

"I know they want to give the extra nudge and we appreciate that," Hayes said, "but we really do want the students to take center stage in the process."

These over-involved moms and dads have come to be known as "helicopter parents." Hayes said they are a bigger part of the college admissions process than ever.

Clinical psychologist Mark Crawford explained the term comes from the concept of hovering. "They're always around their kids' life, kind of on the fringe, always making sure things go the way they need to go and not really allowing the kids to figure out solutions to problems on their own."

Crawford described well-meaning parents he's counseled who want the best for their child, but never want that child to fail.

"I see a lot of parents who hold their kid's hand across the high school graduation stage and think when they send them off to college all will be well," Crawford said. "They are not doing them a favor. They are actually doing them a disservice."

Crawford said children of "helicopter parents" may have trouble later when they're asked to take responsibility in the adult world. "They tend to blame others for bad outcomes that result from neglecting responsibilities or making poor choices," Crawford said. Video Watch how hovering parents can actually hurt their children's growth »

Some turn out to be "perpetually anxious adults who take very few risks outside of their comfort zones," he said.

Georgia Tech Dean of Students John Stein often has to deal with the immediate effects on campus. "It's a rare day that I don't have at least one telephone call from a family member who is concerned about something going on with their son or daughter."

Times have changed from his days as an undergraduate, he observed. "My mom never called the college I attended. It's a very different world now. We've had to adapt."

Stein believes part of the problem is that college students are tethered to their parents via cell phones, e-mail and instant messaging. "They have made for a 24/7 kind of connection," Stein said.

In fact, a report from the National Survey of Student Engagement reported 86 percent of first-year college students were in frequent contact with their mother via phone or computer. And 71 percent of freshmen communicated frequently with their fathers.

The same report concluded students with higher levels of parental involvement had significantly lower grades.

"I see students struggle with this every day," Stein said. "You know, this is a life experience. It's the first time many students have to navigate daily life on their own."

t's a message Stein delivers directly to parents when they drop off students in the fall. "I congratulate them and say their hard work and investment in their child has paid off, but I also remind them that it's time to step back and allow their son and daughter to go forth in the world."

Stein acknowledged stepping back isn't easy, but he believes it is the only way to equip a growing child with coping skills.


He said a high grade-point average isn't the only measure of success. He looks at "the student's ability to problem solve, to cope and to be resilient."

It's a sentiment echoed by Crawford: "One of the best things you can do for your child is let them leave home believing they have the ability to overcome adversity. If we interfere with their ability to do that we really handicap them."