College kids and parents: Apart, but still connected

Family Matters

October 24, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

A RECENT ARTICLE in the Philadelphia Inquirer made the point that today's cell-phoning, e-mailing and instant-messaging college students stay in touch with Mom and Dad on almost a daily basis.

Almost universally, college administrators said they thought all this was bad -- for the students trying to live independently and for the parents who should let them.

Since I e-mail, instant-message and cell-phone my college-aged children pretty much every day, I guess I disagree.

I admit that I initiate most of the contact with news from home or cheerful messages on gloomy days or during exam weeks or gentle reminders about grades and study time.

But much of it is business. Contact lens orders or bank deposits or documents that need to be signed.

And, truth be told, a lot of that contact starts on the campus and comes my way. Granted, it is usually about food -- what's on the menu during the next visit home or what to put in the next care package.

But there have been times when the kids have reached out across the new technology for a familiar voice and perhaps some comfort.

I have a friend who says that if I would just stop feeding my kids, they would stop coming around and bothering me, but I can't seem to help myself.

Maybe all this contact is bad for the kids, but is good for me. I am not done mothering yet, although my playing time has been significantly reduced.

I feel like Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A younger and stronger Duce Staley has replaced the aging back, but the team still calls Bettis' number on third-and-goal.

It is a fact of modern family life, and modern technology, that parents and children live in each other's pockets for much longer. They say adolescence now lasts until the age of 30, and I believe it.

But this is a two-way street. If we are supposed to back out of our kids' lives, then they'd better back out of ours.

Last week, my husband and son Joe were watching football and eating ribs when the boy said, "Well, I guess the old marriage is up for renewal now, huh?"

My startled husband just about choked on a rib but managed to say, "Joe, your mom and I are getting along really well." (Which may, or may not, be the case, depending on the day of the week or the time of day.)

Joe proceeded to say that a divorce would be OK with him. After all, he was launched and what happened between us didn't really affect him.

"Joe," my husband repeated. "Your mother and I are getting along really well."

Joe continued to make the case that we could, more or less, shoot it out, and it wouldn't matter to him.

And my husband kept repeating, "Joe, your mother and I are getting along really well."

Later, Joe came to me and said, "I don't know what is going on between you and Dad. But he just keeps saying over and over that you two are getting along really well. What's that supposed to mean?"

It was the same kind of conversation I had with my daughter, Jessie, on the way to Penn State. She declared that she didn't believe two people could stay in love forever, and if they just decided one day that it didn't work, they should be free to pick up and move on.

Maybe, she said, drama-free hook-ups were the answer.

I asked her what she would think if her father and I decided that, the nest being empty, we would just move on and engage in a series of drama-free hook-ups.

She was shocked.

"Why, I'd smack you upside your head and tell you to get over your stupid self," she said.

I wonder what the college administrators would have to say about all this.

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