Maybe it’s a minor culture war.
A New York Times article recently discussed college students coming home for winter break and the clash of wills that can, and invariably does, ensue between parents and their recently returned child. Although the article ends on a positive note — in that both parent and child come to recognize that while both parties have changed, they love each other no less than before — it was still vaguely troubling for me to see that such an article was necessary.
But maybe that’s just because I’ve never been a parent.
I have no idea what it’s like to see a child grow up. My mother describes it as a combination of pride and wistfulness, but I’ve never been there myself. I imagine it must be hard to watch this person whom you’ve cared about and taken care of since day one learn to take care of himself. It must leave you somewhere between happy and sad, or in some odd combination of the two; I don’t know. In this regard, it makes sense that parents may wish for things at home to be exactly as they were before their child first went off to school, or to wish that their child hadn’t changed — although I imagine nobody currently attending college wishes to be just the same as they were in high school.
But this stagnation isn’t going to happen. More importantly, that’s okay.
The winter following a student’s first semester of college will never be a facsimile of the preceding summer. Being away from home and being free to make your own rules and choices changes you, and the first time most people experience this sort of autonomy is in their first semester of college. The student changes, and this should be expected. I think that what I found so troubling about the Times article is that many of the parents featured in the article did not seem to expect their children to change.
Once again, my knowledge of parenting is infinitesimal, but much of parenting seems to concern dealing with change. From the oblivious self-centeredness of childhood to the moody recalcitrance of middle school to the stable sense of self that, hopefully, comes with young adulthood, parents watch their children change all the time. Perhaps the effect college has on a student should be seen as just another change that parents must adjust to accept.
I trust that most parents can figure it out.
Email Zachary Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.