Parent Blog

Parenting a college student is a different stage and requires different parenting skills and perspectives. Sarah Butler and occasional guest bloggers will share some insights to help you on the journey. You're not alone!
 

SUMMER SNAPSHOTS

by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member

I must have taken a hundred pictures the week my daughter was born. She was not only our first child, she was the first and only granddaughter and niece on my side of the family. Her Auntie Bess dubbed her "The Most Photographed Child on the Planet." I admit, there are volumes of photos and digital diaries that document her growth and the memorable moments with family. Capturing time for snapshots was not a struggle--it was a priority.

WE DOCUMENTED THE MOMENTS BECAUSE THEY COUNTED. 

With grown children, instead of constant togetherness, our time together as a family comes only in short snatches. Instead of never ending opportunities begging for a snapshot, our shots at time together seem over in a snap. Now, it is not so much about documenting children's growth. The challenge becomes hanging onto our family identity as our quality time together with adult children comes more in snatch-shots. 

NOW, WE COUNT THE MOMENTS BECAUSE THEY AREN'T GUARANTEED.

Summer can be especially difficult for parents with young adults. We celebrate our children's growing independence. We're glad that they can earn money in responsible summer jobs, are comfortable taking on camp leadership away from home, or are driven enough to keep the academic momentum going in summer courses. We know the fact that they prioritize for time with their high school friends is confirmation of strong relationships. However, their autonomy often comes at the expense of our families.

Quite frankly, our view through the summer camera lens is different. To us, the picture looks like kids being home for the summer. Our adult children's frame has summer for sure, but there's not much home in the picture. It's easy to feel disappointed, or even cast aside, when family time is the obvious low priority on the list. If the summer reprieve offers our best chance in months at quality time, how can we encourage them to make family a priority, too?

WE CAN STILL PLAN FOR MOMENTS THAT COUNT.

Our family portraits that captured a moment in time when the kids were small was carefully orchestrated. We may have had an appointment with a photographer, coordinated our colors, picked a location to meet, or arranged a family reunion to pull everyone together. The date was agreed on ahead of time and circled on the calendar. Communication was deliberate and specific. Achieving a full family portrait took advanced planning.

Think of memory making with our adult children like the family portrait. If we want to capture a moment in time with everyone gathered, we need to communicate well and plan ahead. If our hope is for more moments, and we don't snatch them, they may not happen. Give yourself permission to set up the picture. A family conversation, face-to-face or device-to-device, about summer priorities is a good start. Include ALL the adults in the decision-making by asking questions about scheduling needs and preferences. Starting with more choices than you hope to end with can help you meet everyone's expectations. Include a range of commitments from an hour at a time together to a week away as your schedule allows. Here are some ideas that might help get the conversation started:

SET A FUN ROUTINE.  Great snapshots can happen in quick snatches. Early morning coffee dates before work, making waffles on Sundays before church, or having a glass of lemonade together each day after work, take little time to do--and little time to establish as a special, shared memory.

COME ALONGSIDE THEIR GOALS.  Time together is as much about meeting your children's needs as yours. Be the one to transport your young leader to and from a summer camp job. Offer to help your budding artist staff a booth at an art fair. Shop for resale furnishings with your son or daughter moving into an apartment in the fall. 

STAY ACTIVE TOGETHER. Plan a series of bike rides, urban lake walks, or state park hikes. Aim for as many as your crew can commit to. Share maps and have them pick favorite locations. Once a month June to August still captures some serious snapshots of family time. Build in a picnic as a reward.

FREE IS ESPECIALLY FUN. Summer is filled with movies in the park, outdoor music, and fireworks. Produce a calendar, promise to pack the lawn chairs, pick the favorites together, and send reminders for as many as can join in. Free works no matter the family size and fun gets it on your student's priority list.

ESTABLISH FAMILY NIGHT. Is everyone home for the summer but rarely home? Finding a common evening (weeknights are as good as any) for a weekly family night sets a routine for together time. Promising favorite meals is a draw, or have kids pick the menu and take turns cooking. Collect the recipes as a snapshot of your time together.

SET A VACATION THEY CAN PLAN ON. Still hoping for family vacations together? Plan the same cabin weekend every year or start an annual vacation around a theme that's hard to miss, like collecting national parks or visiting lighthouse destinations. You are building a tradition and they'll know what to schedule around before summer commitments kick in next year.

PLAN AN ACTUAL FAMILY PHOTO. Take an actual snapshot! Adult kids still keep growing and changing. Documenting the story of your family, whether that's just you and your adult child, or a group picture with the entire clan, can continue to build the scrapbooks and online albums that represent your family experience.

Years ago, we documented the family moments that counted. We can still plan for moments that count, whether that be snatching an hour a week, a few evenings, or a single weekend. Capture the candid shots. Plan ahead for the portraits. Enjoy making some memories with your young adult children. There's a lot of summer ahead of you! 

Calling Out the Rock

By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member

Spring is a big deal in Minnesota. The blessing of an early warm spell had me hoping that the April showers would be brief and the May flowers would come quickly. Some of my wishes came true. The clematis is already climbing its trellis and the iris sprouts multiplied as I dreamed they would. However, the unseasonable warmth was followed by a sizable stretch of cold weather and multiple rainy, grey days. The result? One great weekend for gardening followed by lots of mud.  On the weather forecast this week, I heard “What would spring in Minnesota be without winter?” That is not what I hoped for.

That actually illustrates the seasons of life with a young adult…sometimes we have blue skies for days and early progress toward a change in seasons. At other times, we are facing a foreboding forecast just when we were hoping for sunshine. I am well aware that we are at the point in the academic season that has parents ripe with expectation.  We are looking forward to reports of success, grades that result in earned credits, another year under the belt for our students…or even an on-time graduate! Summer and success go hand in hand, right? Getting surprised by a different result is tough to swallow. 

What happens if our student is not making the grade? We could discover they are struggling academically, got themselves in over their heads in credit debt, or made damaging choices in relationships. How will we deal with our own disappointment? How will we deal with the consequences? Although policies are in place for students’ protection, how will we handle an unwelcomed probation or suspension letter? How will we manage working off the debt? How do we love our student through the process of repairing the damage?

This Easter, I was reminded that Jesus knows we will not succeed on every front. He knows that despite our best intentions, we will make mistakes. He shows us that even the worst of failures can be redeemed. At the Last Supper, He prayed for Simon Peter—that his faith would not fail him. Jesus' knew Simon Peter better than he knew himself, forecasting his repeated denials. Despite Simon Peter’s bravado with a sword in the Garden, Jesus knew he would totally lose it in the courtyard. The disciple believed he was prepared to die for Jesus, but instead, to preserve himself, he deceived those who challenged his identity as a follower of Christ. Twelve hours before, Simon Peter was willing to die fighting—to be the last man standing in the storm. Instead, he retreated to safety, denying Christ three times.

I imagine the disciple in my mind’s eye, witnessing Jesus’ torture. I see him at the moment the cock crowed, announcing his complete moral and spiritual failure. He looks to his Savior, and their eyes meet. He sees love in the midst of the ultimate sacrifice, and wept bitterly. I hear him say to himself, “I deserve rejection. I am the one worthy of death. I can never be received back.” Facing failure, he gives up.  He retreats to his old life, as if he had now disqualified himself from doing anything of significance.

I have seen Simon Peter’s response in our students and have seen it in my own home. Amidst all the expectations of family and friends, academic, moral, or spiritual failure is devastating. I know students who quit school, quit trying in relationships, and even quit life through suicide when what they saw in themselves seemed beyond repair. My response as a parent becomes critical when my student stares failure in the face. The consequences can often be their own teacher. Lost time. Lost money. Lost relationships. Lost reputation. I rarely need to underscore that pain. Instead, I often find my job is to pray for a response like Jesus models for me.

In John 21, Simon Peter is in back in the boat, fishing, but facing more failure. He left his ministry and relationships behind but Jesus is still pursuing him. He hears Jesus calling him to cast the net on the other side of the boat, and he nets the biggest catch of his life. Jesus invites him to bring his bounty to breakfast to contribute to the meal already underway. Peter was concerned that he would never be useful again, and Jesus reflected back to him that he had an abundance to offer. He never disowned Peter. Instead, Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” three times (once for each denial) and provided a next step, “Then feed my sheep.” I find it interesting that from this point the name Simon disappears. Peter’s true identity is what remains. It is a fresh start. 

I pray to be able to help my adult children own their mistakes and make restitution when needed, but see that I am not going to give up on them. Yes, disappointment is real. Yes, we must face the consequences. However, I, of all of their influencers, can see the man or woman God intends them to be. I can look past the wound to the strength that is being built. I have the opportunity to reflect what they can do well in the midst of what they messed up. When the right time comes, I can direct the conversation to the next steps they can take, even if it does not line up with their (or my) original dream.

Jesus gave Simon a new name. He called out his strength as a spiritual rock, despite his shortcomings. When I can set my own expectations and disappointments aside, I have the opportunity to speak truth about the Lord’s desired outcome for failure, calling out my student’s true identity in Christ as an overcomer. The storms of life can lead to a season of growth for those we see best and love most.

NAILING THE RIGHT JOB

by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council Member

The pressure is on.  Summer is coming.  For students looking for a post-graduation professional position, a summer internship, or a summer job, this is the season of the haves and have-nots. Graduating or not, those with no opportunities in hand are fighting to hang onto their hope and perseverance. After all, there are still courses to finish! Those with a job in hand are still facing their fears. They are standing at the threshold of major life changes.

Expectations are high, anxiety is rising, and it is not just the students who feel it.  As parents, we have invested our best in our kids—and their education.  It’s natural to be eager for results. Instead, parents are often left wondering whether progress is even being made. Our students want the right job. We want that for them, too. If we could, we would take the stress down a notch for both of us. Asking our student “do you have a job yet?” just piles on more pressure. We want to offer support but don’t quite know how to approach. We need to nail the right job for us, too!

Whether your student is looking for part-time or permanent employment, navigating this stretch of deep water is challenging. My two kids have collected 13 jobs between them over the last ten years.  Having celebrated some job offer victories for my own young adults—and having learned from my fair share of parenting mistakes in the process—may I suggest some roles for parents who are on the job search sidelines? 

Ask the Right Questions. Our intention as parents is to be supportive of our kids, but the stress on both sides is a barrier to good communication. You can help shape goals by asking about the plan instead of the progress. “Tell me about your plan for the job search” invites a good brainstorm about goal setting. On the flip side, “I think you are already late to the game,” feels like you are passing judgment.

Practice Patience. If you’re still waiting for job news from your son or daughter, I want to encourage you that this is normal, especially for seniors. University of Northwestern Center for Calling and Career Director April Stensgard confirms that across the country, in today’s job market, it takes several months for new graduates to find their “first destination” professional position. It may be important to note that average implies that some will still be looking for their “I landed” job a year from now. Expect it to take time and remember that UNW campus career services are available to alumni, too.

Affirm the In-Between.  It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you are busy. It is also easier to get a job when you have a job. If a new graduate is still looking but has an opportunity to stay employed at their barista or sales associate summer job, encourage them to take it! The March 14, 2017 article Making it Between College and Your First Job, (www.thebalance.com) suggests that a part-time schedule to cover cash flow but allow for diligence on the continued hunt is ideal. After all, a serious job search is a job, too!

Realize That the Financial Literacy Learning Curve is Steep. For continuing students, semester’s end is a great time to set goals for summer earnings based on anticipated needs (Tuition dollars? Car insurance? Personal expenses?) in the next academic year. For new grads, this is an opportunity to start building wise financial plans, establish a plan to pay off student loans, and make commitments to support (in time, talents or treasure) the ministries of their choice. While it’s not wise to contract for an apartment, buy a car, or invest in a more complete work wardrobe until a paycheck is in hand, your experience can be key in helping your son or daughter plan ahead for these expenses.

According to US News & World Report, 70% of the Class of 2016 graduated with student loan debt, to the tune of $37,172 on average across the country. Graduates face the pressure to hit the ground running to master how loans and taxes work, the complicated world of health insurance, why disability insurance is as important as life insurance, establish a budget, avoid the trap of credit cards, and discover when it is wiser to start contributing to their employer retirement plan than invest in a vacation. Since few students have taken a class in Personal Financial Planning, parents are likely their first and most trusted financial advisors. Take advantage of the coaching opportunity.

Remember That Skills Build Resumes, Not Tasks:  Most majors don’t translate into job titles. My daughter, who studied studio art and environmental science, now works in marketing. Besides a college degree, what got her noticed was transferable skills she exercised in part-time jobs such as demonstrating initiative, earning increasing levels of responsibility, and gaining an understanding of customer behavior.  My son, who has custodial jobs on his resume, doesn’t highlight toilets or trash in a sales pitch to employers.  Instead, he focuses on his ability to balance independence and teamwork, his time management skills, and a willingness to work outside of standard hours to get the job done.  Encourage your student to look at the take-aways, no matter the title. 

Redirect Towards the Long View. First jobs are rarely last jobs. I recently had the privilege of coming alongside a diligent UNW graduate, 9 months out from commencement, who finally landed not one, but two appealing job offers.  As exciting as that was, choosing between invitations was a monstrous decision for a new, unseasoned professional.  The dream job description was tugging hard, despite the fact that the role came with many unknowns. On the other hand, her dream employer offered a job outside her comfort zone that would result in some new skills in her repertoire, along with better networking opportunities.  When coached to evaluate her offers with the long view in mind, she wisely accepted the dream employer over the dream job description as her first professional building block.

Ask for a Job in Helping Them Look for a Job. Honestly, having something to do helps parents avoid nagging. While it is still your student’s job to nail the job, if you are able, you might offer to be “employed” as their administrative assistant for the search. If it helps them to focus on tasks only they can do, suggest that while they set up their LinkedIn account, you could search www.indeed.com and other websites with jobs specific to criteria they provide. Offer help researching targeted employers and proofreading documents while they tackle networking appointments and interview preparation. Learning the art of delegating could start at home if they are willing!

My daughter first earned a part-time job at our local hardware store. She spent the summer in their garden center, growing both plants and confidence. Earning a paycheck built her college savings and allowed her to cover her personal expenses. The stakes were much higher upon college graduation, and so was the stress. Bigger bills required a bigger job, which in turn required a more polished approach and greater patience. Even with good career coaching, a dynamite internship, and consistent student employment, she ended up settling for two part-time jobs that helped her grow in the right direction. The personal cost was a six-day workweek and staying on family insurance a bit longer. After two more transitions, she recently landed a job that feels “just right.”

While there was relief in arriving, I felt the stress, too. I felt like I joined her in the “have nots” camp until that best-fit job became a reality. I didn’t go on the interviews or sign the contract, but serving as her “Director of Encouragement” allowed me to support my daughter in the disappointments and share in the victories. Whatever your role through your student’s job search, as your young adult faces major life decisions and financial planning, you will continue to have opportunities to come alongside. Just think, as a parent, you have already nailed a key position in your student’s life that has ultimate job security!