Ties That Bind

Ties That Bind

It's midnight in London. A student on the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin program there can't find a taxi. She calls her mother back in the States to see if she can fix the problem.

By David Treadwell | Photos by Fred Field


When Parents Become Mentors

When Karen Levin Coburn P‰93 began writing about parents ,letting goŠ of their college students, letting go was easier to do.

Coburn, assistant vice chancellor for students and dean for the freshman transition at Washington University in St. Louis, is the co-author of Letting Go: A Parents‰ Guide to Understanding the College Years. The book, now in its fourth edition, was originally published in 1997. That‰s before cell phones became ubiquitous. Before e-mail was at our fingertips. Before children,and moms and dads,were an instant message away.

Today‰s technology has exacerbated a sometimes difficult challenge: allowing children to grow independent and successful while wishing to save them the tribulations that can be part of the process. Levin‰s advice is simple and commonsensical: ,It doesn‰t mean you cut off the connection,Š she said. ,It means you don‰t jump in and do everything for them just because you can.Š

Her book was distributed last year to all of the parents of the incoming Class of 2008 by David and Pamela Maltz P‰05, who found that it addressed issues they were facing as two of their children went off to college for the first time.

,We had to deal with the idea of letting the kids go and grow up,Š David Maltz said. ,This meant that we‰d have a different role,one of more a mentor/advisor than a parent.Š

It isn‰t an easy transition for either party, Coburn acknowledges. Parents who are capable and caring and have spent much of their adult lives nurturing and encouraging their children must realize that their fledgling kids now need to fly on their own. It‰s time, Coburn says, ,to support your child‰s growth rather than impede it.Š

That can be a leap of faith in your own parenting, she said. ,Your kids know the values you have instilled in them and they will be taking those values with them to college.Š

For more from Karen Levin Coburn go to www.lettinggobook.com.
Susan Malick speaks like the veteran that she is in playing the parent-of-a-college-student role. Son Nick Malick '05, her third and youngest child, just graduated from Colby. "We come from a small town in the San Francisco Bay area, so we wanted our three children to step out and broaden themselves. Our children don't want us to be underfoot.—

As advice to parents just entering this transitional stage, Malick would tell them what she and her husband have tried to do: "Remember that this situation is intensely personal, varying from family to family and student to student. Try to take the cues from your child.—

Nick Malick believes that the amount of contact with his parents over his four years at Colby has been just about right. "We usually get in touch about once a week, but it can be four or five times a week if I'm having a problem at school or they're having a problem at their end.—

The younger Malick, like his mother, has advice for parents: "Try to hold off calling too much, especially the first year. Give your child some space. Let them try out who they are. If they're really having trouble, they'll get in touch with you.— At the same time, Nick advises students to call parents sometimes just to connect, not just when they're in trouble.

Such connections can produce lifelong memories. Sue Leighton Smith, mother of Jennifer Leighton '05, recalls one such moment. "Our daughter called from the Coliseum in Rome to say that she was standing with her Colby friends, looking out over all that amazing history while the sun was setting. This was her first trip to Europe, and how exciting for those of us back in Connecticut to share that with her 'real time'.—

So would anyone begrudge parent or student that shared experience? Hardly. Sometimes parents need to be there; sometimes they need to let go. Knowing which path to take and when, parents and educators say, requires wisdom, intuition, experience and, perhaps, even plain old luck.
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