The Over-Communicator’s Daughter Goes to College

william college

When my daughter left for college, I was confident we would stay in close touch.  We had a good relationship, if you didn’t count the snide comments, silent eye-rolling and rather firm bedroom-door-shutting I had come to know as her senior year in high school persona.  But we had worked through the college process together and were still talking to each other, a major accomplishment.

As a would-be-college parent, I had discovered the classic book “Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years” by Karen L. Coburn and Madge Lawrence Kreeger.  In those pre-Kindle days, I kept in on my bedside table, reading a chapter each night.  The authors reassured me, that yes, it was  developmentally appropriate for teens to loosen the  parent/child bond as they go off to college. And, in turn, parents needed to “let go” so our kids could “do the work” (psychological-speak) of developing on their own. I got all that.

But couldn’t my daughter “let go” while still staying in touch?

After we dropped her off in late August, I quickly got into the habit of sending my daughter chatty emails or shorter ones with tidbits from the news. You know – “here’s an article about a new book by that author you like – hope you are doing well, love mom”. How offensive could that be? So maybe I overdid it a tad.

After all one of my radio clients in my communications lawyering days had praised me as someone who “over-communicated.” He liked that about me, keeping him well-informed. Perhaps outside the office over-communicating doesn’t translate as well? I admit, I am not Hemmingway. I do not specialize in terse, pithy language. But I swear, the emails I wrote to my daughter during the fall of her freshman year (in those pre-texting days) were as brief as I could make them. They were just rather frequent.

And she didn’t respond to any of them.

So when my husband and I would talk with her by phone – she on her scratchy-reception cell phone from her rural campus in upstate New York – and us on our landline in the DC suburbs –  on our regular Sunday night call, I would ask her about her lack of return communication.

“Mom, stop pestering me! I’m doing fine. You keep emailing me. It’s too much.”, she would say.

“O.K., I understand (but apparently I really didn’t), but can’t you please respond to just a few of my emails?”

Big sigh overheard from upstate New York.

“Mom, c’mon, please, you don’t get it.” She repeated. “I’m fine.”

After these unsatisfying phone calls, I would return to my now very well-thumbed through copy of “Letting Go”. Was it her? Was it me? She wanted me to email her like never – and I wanted her to respond like once.

Surely there could be a happy medium in this joint process of letting go?

I asked my friend, Karen, also a lawyer, used to working with clients, also on the chatty-side, how she had handled it when her son, a year older than my daughter, had first gone off to college. She said she started off the same way I did. Emails to say hello, emails to tell her son what she was doing, sending articles of interest. And her son had not responded either. (and ironically or maybe not so ironically, Karen’s son was going to be a communications major in college.). But Karen came up with what I thought was a terrific compromise.

She couldn’t stop herself from sending emails. So she wouldn’t.

Her son didn’t want to write back. So he wouldn’t.

Instead, whenever Karen sent her son an email, her son promised to respond with an email that contained a single period. Karen would write – “Josh, how are you doing? Your Dad and I are fine.  Sam seems to be enjoying  sophomore year in high school. We hope you are having fun and studying hard. Love, Mom.”

And Josh would respond:

.

That’s it. One single period in the middle of the reply email that would prove that Josh was alive and well on Planet College.  He just had to respond with one keystroke.

.

Surely I could convince my daughter to adopt this easy (for the kid) and comforting (for the parent) method of email reply?

But my daughter, an independent type from birth, would not budge.

“No, Mom, that is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. I am not going to do what Josh did! You just have to stop emailing me so much”. (a brief pause). Then she added, “If you promise to stop emailing me so much, maybe I will stay in touch more often.”

That was somewhere between blackmail and compromise. Not what I wanted. More of what she wanted. She was apparently doing much better at this letting go thing than I was. I had to learn to give up my over-communicator ways in order to let go. And my daughter didn’t have to read a book to figure that out.

After that rocky 1st semester fall, things got better. I emailed less. She emailed (slightly) more.

It’s not only children who grow up. Parents do too.

9 Comments

Filed under College, Communications, Letting Go, Parenting

9 responses to “The Over-Communicator’s Daughter Goes to College

  1. Linda Silver Bufano

    Really love these Nancy, some because they touch my life too w/you being family and all, but this one was very close to the heart! Thank you! 🙂

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  2. Alice Agatston

    Dear Nancy,

    I keep thinking that I have added enjoyment from your writing due to knowing the context. Context or not, I loved reading your “Over-Communicator” admission because it satisfyingly sounds just like you! I agree with your parental growing up conclusion and have told Ben and Sam, for several years, that “It takes a lot of patience to bring up parents.” One of the number of BIG THINGS witnessed/absorbed from my SF arts immersion community is that only the gut counts when it comes to expression connecting. Embellishment, polishing, pruning (big appeal to gardening because it is rewarded), romancing steel, color, polycarbonate are addictive because they can really produce Zen like inner calm and transport doer to a happy zone. I have witnessed this enjoyment in others’ work. I do not possess the gene that would allow full participation in romancing material; except in the case of melted chocolate mixed with ground coffee. I stick with romancing the image. The raw real, kid instinct to make/say while receptive to past, present experiences, and fortuitous accidental discoveries, is a gut communication that lives. You are amazing to have so quickly released your natural rock-im sock-im soul after success in the legal world!

    Love, Alice completing writing of necessary document to send, and after today will turn to complete Austin unpacking and plan for DC/MD trip. Will update you on progress.

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  3. I love this! I have a feeling I will be the over-communicator when my son heads off to college. Maybe I can talk him into texting me a . every once in a while!

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  4. Oh, I so relate. When my first went away (1000 miles), she barely called. She was in another country and texting wasn’t an option (pre unlocked sim cards). We eventually settled on daily haiku (initiated by her), and now, year’s later (and 2000 miles away) we text. Daughter #2 and I had a hard time talking, but texting works. She just moved to Amsterdam for a year (yesterday) and I watch her instagram page to see what will show up. Her dad watches her bank account (we share it, since we put money in it). Yesterday he said, “well, she took 66 euros out” so we know she’s alive. Heh.

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  5. Julie

    Your cousin Linda sent me this article as my son left for college yesterday. It is spot on. After years of asking, I have learned not to expect texts and when I do receive one, DON’T respond with questions. That will lead to more communications!! We have gotten it down to “aig”. All is good. We have discovered the app YO! All it does is YO! My son’s response was, this is perfect. This will let you know that I am alive and well. I can YO! you while I am walking across campus. Yes, at this point even a YO! will make me happy.

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  6. As a parent, I still have a lot of growing up to do! I gave Letting Go… to several of my friends whose children graduated with my daughter. I am rereading the chapter now about the upperclassman years!

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  7. Suzanne Fluhr

    I think “communicating” is another one of those genetic things. Our first son left for college and the next time we heard from him was at Thanksgiving. (I may be exaggerating, but only slightly). He’s also the kid I sent off to overnight camp with 8 self addressed envelopes. He returned with 7 — only because they were required to write home the first day to get into dinner. On the other hand, our second son called almost daily — just to chat. He would call me walking between classes or standing on line somewhere. He’s now 27 and he still does — even from Amsterdam. He’s a travel blogger and calls from all over the world—at least weekly. He has plenty of friends. He just likes to stay in touch. I find this kind of astounding.

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  8. Jan Wool

    Having a VERY hard time right now with a ‘non-communicator’ daughter. Always was and I knew this, but it’s killing me now that she’s away at college. Doesn’t respond to texts, and sighs heavily when asked for a one week call. It hurts. I know, it’s ‘my issue’ and your article helped me to know “I’m not alone”!

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