Thursday, August 22, 2019

The New Normal

Just like that, she's gone.

The last few months flew by. One minute we were in the middle of scholarship applications and picking out prom dresses. The next minute I was helping my daughter and her best friend set up their dorm room. 

Memories of graduation parties, sweet good-byes, frantic shopping, and the occasional anxiety attack are clustered together into one bittersweet milestone for my daughter, my husband, and me. 

The new normal begins. Quiet house, infrequent visits from her friends that I've known for years -- kids I've grown attached to and miss almost as much as my daughter. 

As much as I hate seeing her empty room, I know this is normal and this is good. We are privileged and lucky to send our daughter off to school, and she is living the dream. 

This is a good place to be. I'm just gonna have to get used to it.

More about the empty nest years

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Managing Senioritis

We have a major case of senioritis in my home. My oldest is a senior in college, my youngest is a senior in high school, and they are both so ready to move on.

So am I. After almost 18 years of parenting my children through the public school system and four years of public college, I am also ready to put it behind me. The past two decades have been great, and I think I was as involved as a parent could be. I'll miss some of it -- field trips were always a lot of fun, as were the band concerts, football, and volleyball games, science projects, and class parties. But my interest mirrors my kids' enthusiasm, so I am just going through the motions until graduation day.

I find I no longer read the eblasts from the high school that arrive in my inbox, and I'm allowing my youngest to write her own tardy notes, sign my name to field trip permission forms, or anything else she might need to turn in. Graduation is three months away but I've already checked out, and I know my children certainly have. My oldest spends time online looking at graduate programs, and my youngest is talking about decorating her dorm room and picking a college major.

How do you know if your child has senioritis? Symptoms vary from student to student, but typically they include:
  • Increased tardiness or cutting class
  • Incomplete assignments
  • A slip in grades
  • Almost constant socializing
  • Lack of motivation, laziness
  • Homework avoidance
  • Impatience with school teachers, administrators, coaches, parents
  • Fantasizing about summer, college, the beach
My affliction is slightly different than my children's. I no longer check my daughter's grades online and am way more concerned with finding scholarship opportunities than anything going on at the school. I'm also thinking about taking over my daughter's closet when she moves out -- maybe moving my winter clothes in there to make more space in my own overcrowded wardrobe.

I know any attempts to keep my kids motivated will likely fail, so I keep the nagging to a minimum reminding them that the finish line is within sight and wouldn't it be nice to finish strong? But I know this is all a done deal, and I suspect they can hear my own waning enthusiasm in the tone of my voice. As long as they keep their grades reasonably strong, and walk across the stage to accept their degree/diploma, I am satisfied.

A job well done, on all accounts. Let's see what happens next.

More on Empty Nesting

Sunday, February 24, 2019

I've Been Featured on Golden Bloggerz!

The reason I started this blog is that I wanted to reach out to other parents who were facing or moving through the empty nest years. I quickly realized that the blogging world is a collaborative and helpful community, and I am happy to be a part of it.

When I have questions or need a little encouragement, I find that sincere advice is just a tweet or email away. Recently, Golden Bloggerz published a blog about finding the motivation to keep writing and blogging and I am lucky enough to be one of the bloggers featured in the rundown.

If you've ever considered establishing a blog of your own, please do check out Golden Bloggerz and be sure to reach out to other bloggers on social media.

Where to Look for College Scholarships

I'm taking a short break from helping my daughter with her scholarship applications. I never imagined that the scholarship hunt would be even more involved and time-consuming than the college application process, but it is. This is my second time around, having helped my oldest look for financial assistance four years ago.

There's a lot of misinformation circulating out there about scholarships. High school students are constantly told that scholarship money is out there, but they aren't told that you have to spend enormous amounts of time looking for that money, and once you find a potential scholarship you might not be eligible to apply. I wrestle with this a lot. What's the best use of time? Working a part-time job or applying for scholarships? Depends on who you ask, I suppose.

While my children and I are not experts on the subject of finding and landing scholarships, we have learned a few nuggets about places to look for scholarships that might not be well advertised.

Where to Search for Scholarship Opportunities

  • First Stop, Guidance: College-bound students have to cultivate a good relationship with their high school guidance department. Guidance will help students search for scholarships, and they usually post scholarship opportunities on the school website or in the guidance office. A good relationship with a guidance counselor can make all the difference. Be sure your teen makes an effort to work with their school's office, and let them know that your family is actively looking for scholarship opportunities. 
  • Local Civic Organizations: Local clubs and civic organizations, such as the Kiwanis, Lion's Club, or Ruritan Club typically offer annual scholarships to local teens. These scholarships are usually modest, but they can add up. Many civic organizations want to see that your teen has leadership experience or volunteer experience in your community.
  • Small Businesses: The small business community can be very generous to local students. These scholarships are usually advertised in local community newspapers or on the business's Facebook page. Business owners tend to favor students who attend their alma mater, or who plan on pursuing majors in their line of business. 
  • Community Foundations: Any student looking for scholarship opportunities must touch base with their local community foundation. These foundations may administer scholarship funds and typically keep a database of scholarships in your city or community. Check the community foundation's website for scholarship information, and then follow up with a phone call to get the inside scoop on anything you think might be a good fit.
  • Google: I kid you not, Google might be your greatest ally in finding scholarships. Google any combination of words that you think apply to your teen, such as "scholarships, Virginia, leadership" or "scholarships, Wyoming, film majors" etc. Have fun with Google and get creative with your searches, you may discover a scholarship that nobody else knows about.
  • Your Employer: Investigate if your employer offers scholarships to children of their employees. These opportunities can be easy picking if your student has decent grades and an active extracurricular resume. Another potential scholarship source is professional associations. Be sure to check any associations that you belong to.
  • Local Utility Companies, Banks, and Credit Unions: Banks, credit unions and utility companies often offer scholarships opportunities to the children of their customers. These aren't always well publicized so a check on the bank or utility website. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Why Most College Students Don't Graduate in 4 Years

The college experience has changed a lot in just a few decades. Everyone knows the cost of college has skyrocketed beyond belief. College students used to be able to afford their tuition for the year simply by working a part-time summer job. No more. College costs are bankrupting students, and in many cases, their parents, too.

But that's another blog. This blog is about how difficult it has become for students to graduate in four years. It's true, only 41 percent of college kids manage to finish their degree in the traditional four years. Why? There are a number of factors.

Students concerned about their growing student debt often take on too much paid work, which interferes with their academic roles. Studies also show that students who aren't sure of their major when they begin college, or who change majors, are also at risk for taking longer to graduate.

There's also evidence that students who struggle socially have difficulty applying themselves to their studies, which can interfere with that looming graduation date.

So, how can you help your college student finish on time? Below are a few tips that might help.
  • Take AP or Dual Enrollment Classes: High school AP classes or dual enrollment classes (where your students take college-level courses through a local community college while still in high school) is a great way for your kids to jump-start their general education requirements. You don't want your child taking on more than he or she can handle, but chipping away at general education requirements while still in high school will give your student a bit of a head start. 
  • Turn to Your Community College: Students in danger of getting behind on their coursework might find the local community college to be their best ally. It's worth investigating if your child can take a class or two at a community college during summer break, or even over the winter holiday. 
  • Work Less: Students today have to take on unbelievable student loans and it's no wonder they want to work to earn as much as possible. But work can interfere with course work, and it's no savings if your student has to take a class over again because of a failing grade. 
  • Get Socially Engaged: There is a lot of research and evidence that shows that students who are engaged socially during the college years are more likely to graduate on time. In other words, it's important to make a few friends and have a social network and support system. Having a social network helps keep students motivated and friends may even hold your child accountable to his or her studies.
  • Take a Full Course Load: Colleges will tell you that a 12 credit load is full time and it is, but it's not enough. Your student will have to carry a load of 15 or more per semester in order to finish on time. You certainly don't want your student to struggle by taking on too much at one time, but taking an easy course load will guarantee an extra semester or two.
  • Stay on Track: Jumping from major to major is not recommended if a student hopes to graduate on time. I have a real problem with this because most teenagers and young adults don't even know what options are available to them, how can they choose a major and a life path? And isn't college supposed to be a time to expose students to possibilities? Changing majors, to me, is a right of passage that shouldn't be so harshly punished. But again, that is another blog. You can help your student by researching majors in high school and by taking the time to look into possible career paths. Frequent discussions can help your student zero in on options, as can frequent meetings with school advisers, and career counselors. 
  • Look at graduation rates: Colleges and universities make their 4-year graduation rates public and you can easily find them on college websites or higher education websites. These numbers are a fairly good indicator of how well a school can guide students through their college careers in a timely manner. Be sure you know the 4-year graduation percentile for every school your child is seriously considering. Schools with low 4-year graduation percentiles can indicate apathy on the part of the administration. At the very least, a low graduation rate is a red flag and should be looked into further. 

More About Making the Most of the College Experience

Friday, February 15, 2019

Four Things Empty Nesters Must Do

Your days of go-go-go are over, and your hard work has hopefully paid off. Your children are grown and gone and now it's time to turn your attention to your new life.

Oh, there will be tears (if you're anything like me). But you always knew that one day your kids would be out of the house and you would be left to figure out the rest of your life.

This may be easy for some, but harder for others. Many parents look forward to the empty nest years and see them as a time to lean in on careers, travel, or even redecorate the playroom. Others may marinade in a solution of restlessness, and may even think the only mark they've left on the world just moved out to begin their own life.

It doesn't matter where you fall on the empty nest emotional spectrum, if you want to make the most of the rest of your life you'll need to be proactive. How so? The answer is it depends. There isn't just one right path or one way to find fulfillment and happiness. To be honest, I think every empty nester needs to do these four things to begin and take control over life's next phase.

1. Grieve (or not). You may know parents who celebrate when the last child moves out, or who immediately embrace and thrive in an empty nest household. That's great for them, but if you don't feel as jubilant it's OK to grieve a little. Raising children can be a lot of fun, and having young children in your life can give you a sense of purpose that nothing else could ever come close to bringing. It's OK to grieve a little, and if you do, don't beat yourself up about it. You're entitled to be a little down, for a little while anyway. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to work through your feelings. Once you have it's time to move forward.

2. Gather Your Support System. A support system is critical to getting through change and difficult times. Be sure you find your support system, be it friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or pets. Surround yourself with people who will listen, encourage, and hold you accountable.

3. Embrace Ideas. You probably spent years nurturing your child's interests and passions, but now it's time for you to find interests of your own. Don't feel like you have to commit to any one thing, you can take a little time trying things out to see what you really want to do. You may decide to take up a hobby, take a class, or even start a business.

4. Write a Plan. The empty nest years are as important as any other phase of your life and to make the most of them you'll need a plan. Plan your hopes, goals, and expectations for 1, 3 and 5 years. What do you want to be doing? Where will your career be? What are your travel goals, your home life goals, your health goals? Be specific about where you want to be, and then chart your step-by-step path to achieving those goals.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Getting Ready for the Boomerang

My empty nest won't last long, apparently. My oldest child is planning to move home (at least for a while) after she graduates from college this May. One child will leave, another will return. It's like I have a revolving front door.

I'm thrilled my oldest wants to come home, but I know there will be changes and my family will have to set down new rules for everyone. I have to get used to living with an adult child, and my daughter will have to get used to being that adult.

If you think your children would never attempt to boomerang, you might want to think again. The number of young adults living with their parents is the highest it's been in 75 years. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 33 percent of 25 to 29 year-olds lived with their parents or grandparents in 2016 -- almost three times as many as in 1970.

Young adults often have no choice but to move home to help them get their footing. The rising cost of college and low starter job wages can take the blame.

My daughter has school loans to repay, and may even end up going back to school for a second degree so moving home only makes sense. While I will enjoy having her home for a while and it will be fun to have someone around to bing watch Parks and Recreation, I also know I have to set some ground rules for both of us.

Here's what I've decided so far:

  • One of the main reasons my daughter is moving home is to tackle her student loans. She will have to make this a priority above all else, including spending money on trips, clothes, and decor.
  • I will help but not hover. My child is an adult now and that means my role as a parent has changed. I can recommend, but not demand. I can suggest, but that's where my influence really ends. I can't make any major decisions for my child, but I can help her find a path to making the best decision she can. 
  • Roommates have to have ground rules, and that means a frank discussion about chores and other household responsibilities. I won't be making dinner every night like I used to when the kids were growing up. I will need help with housekeeping, so we'll divide daily and weekly chores so that everyone makes a contribution. 
  • Independence will be super important to her, after all, she's lived on her own for four years and moving home will be difficult for her. I will have to respect her right to privacy and alone time and make sure she has a space to call her own. 
  • The ultimate goal is for my daughter to eventually move out and into her own space. I'll help her any way I can, but she'll have to take the lead on establishing a plan, saving for an apartment, and learning to live within a budget. 
  • Expectations will have to be clear for both of us, but circumstances change and that means we will have to stay in communication about goals, expectations, budgets, chores, and other responsibilities. I expect many conversations taking place around the kitchen table.

The New Normal

Just like that, she's gone. The last few months flew by. One minute we were in the middle of scholarship applications and picking o...