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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 28 · Number 1 · Fall 2010


Mission Impossible

As a new member of our parent team, you may find that your assignment is highly sensitive. Here’s your dossier.

Good morning, parents. Congratulations on the successful launch of your college student. After many difficult years of child raising, you must be feeling proud that your baby has grown up and left home. By the way, here’s your pink slip. You’ve worked yourself out of a job. Please clean out your desk. One of our agents will be by shortly to escort you from the building.

Unless, of course, you and your team are interested in accepting a new mission as the parents of college students. This assignment will involve many of the thankless tasks you’ve handled so beautifully in years past. We need you to support your college students, stay in touch with them, love, mentor and encourage them. Meanwhile, maintain a respectful distance at all times. Bug off. Step aside. Don’t get in their way. Act less like a CEO and more like an ATM. Don’t retreat, but don’t intrude. Stay alert. No slacking. Please stand by for further instructions.

Note that while away from home, your students may decide to change their majors, career goals, hair color or culinary affiliations. They may acquire new piercings, tattoos, boyfriends, girlfriends or toe rings. You, on the other hand, are expected to remain as dull and reliable as milquetoast. And don’t change their room.

Your students may or may not visit home during breaks. They will get back to you on that. When they come, they will bring friends. Hungry ones. If you don’t know how to make homemade waffles, learn.

Parents, you probably remember college as a carefree time. That’s because your generation graduated a long time ago from universities that have become so competitive they would no longer admit you. The academic ante has been upped. When students get their tongue barbells in a twist, they will call you to air their frustrations. You will need to assess, via a lousy cell phone connection, whether this is a serious crisis requiring professional intervention, or just a roommate who helped himself to your kid’s leftover burrito. The level of disquiet will not reliably indicate the severity of the crisis.

Please rehearse the following scenarios so you will be prepared to respond without panic, anxiety or irritation:

  • Your overdrawn daughter texts you from a toll bridge at midnight to request that you wire money to her bank account so she can pay to cross the bridge. Without the aid of PowerPoint, you are to prepare an explanation of how the American banking system works, one you can deliver dispassionately after being awakened from a deep sleep.
  • Your son calls one morning to report that he has awakened with an enormous bug bite on his ear, causing unsightly swelling, rendering him incapable of going out in public to attend classes. You are to prescribe an Eminem-style beanie while you worry in silence about anaphylactic shock. Check back with your student 24 hours later, when he will recall the crisis only after lengthy reminders, and reply, “Oh, that.”
  • Your son calls to complain that he has received a speeding ticket on his way home from traffic school. You are advised to keep a copy of the “riot act” by the phone for quick reference.
  • Your daughter, who chose to attend a college far from home, even though you advised against it, is miserable and lonely and begs to transfer to another school or return home. You listen. Put the dog on the phone for a while. Check back. If your student is merely cranky but still functioning, encourage her to give it time. Chew and swallow the “I told you so” resting in your throat.

For more general complaints, practice referring your student to the appropriate campus resource. Please note that students will likely respond by whining that the dean’s office, student health center, career center, off-campus housing office, financial aid office, counseling center or bookstore:

  • doesn’t exist
  • is probably closed
  • could never possibly solve a problem of such magnitude

When students eventually stumble across the appropriate campus resource and call home to crow about their uncanny ability to take just the right measures to solve their difficulty, you are to applaud their keen insight.

By the way, parents: no showboating. We do not advise you and your cohorts to approach this mission as though mentoring college students were some sort of Olympic event like curling, that weird sport they played in Calgary last winter. No freshmen sailing down the ice while parents with brooms furiously sweep the pathway ahead clear of obstacles. You’ve been warned.

Please be advised that your students will be making choices that will have an impact on the rest of their lives. As long as they shoulder the consequences of their actions, this is called “growing up.” We give you permission to share your wisdom and voice your concerns regarding these issues, while recognizing that, ultimately, the decision is theirs. This is called “growing gray.”

Remember, students control their destiny. We will not hold your team responsible if the launch falters, teeters or fails. Should your college student need to move back home to regroup, clarify goals or thwart your redecorating plans, the homemade waffles are optional.

Your mission, parents, should you choose to accept it, is to guide your college student from the immaturity of adolescence to the independence of adulthood. You have four years. Maybe five. We recently received reports of a young man who finished in seven. Results may vary. Good luck. These instructions will self-destruct in five seconds. Five-four-three-two…

Robin DeRieux can be reached at