An End and A Beginning

Welcome to the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Daniela Deane

We've been anticipating it, we've been dreading it. We've been talking about it for years. But now it's here. As of a few days ago, we are officially empty-nesters. Both our sons have left home for college.

Since I'm so new to this, I'll admit I'm no expert. I'm just trying to sort through the flood of intense feelings I've had since that day.

As we pulled out of Charleston, leaving our baby boy behind, I cried. It felt so strange leaving him there. He lives in South Carolina now? But we live here?

When we arrived back in Arlington several hours later to our still, empty house, again I cried. Will I get used to this quiet? I shut both their bedroom doors that night and haven't opened them since.

The problem with empty-nesterhood is, it really does feel like the end of something, and the first day of the rest of our lives. And anything that distinct prompts soul-searching and taking responsibility.

There's the inevitable looking back. Did I play with them enough? Did I teach them anything? Will they become decent, trustworthy, good men? Did I enjoy them enough while I had them? Or did I just make it through every day?

And then there's the bigger question: Should I have had more children?

That's all the past though. Spilled milk and all that. Can't change any of it now.

I know that now is the time to look ahead rather than back, like always I guess.

First, there's my job. I was as excited to go to work on Monday morning after dropping our son off in Charleston as I think I've ever been in my professional life. I felt so grateful that I had somewhere to go, something to do, and an all-consuming job that requires me to use my brain all day long. I knew I couldn't spend much time dwelling on my newfound ache once I got to my desk.

So many times over the years, like so many working mothers I know, I had wrestled with our constant dilemma: Should I work full-time? Should I stay home with my kids? Am I short-changing my children by working? But what about my career? Can I really have it all?

Now, though, all those thoughts feel so yesterday. There's no question that I should work full-time now. There's no question that, at this moment, I need my stressful, full-time job desperately. And I'm not just talking about paying for college.

And there are other great things to look forward to as well. My husband and I planned a lovely long vacation in Europe, just the two of us, for September, on purpose to help us get over this emotional hump.

So, I tell myself, stop looking back. Stop second-guessing what's done. Look ahead to this great trip, to working hard at your job without guilt, to reconnecting with your husband, to catching up with good friends you've neglected while you tried to balance it all, to old and new hobbies you'll finally have time to pursue.

I keep telling myself these things. Hopefully soon, I'll just be living them.

Daniela Deane is a writer and editor on The Washington Post's continuous news desk.


By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  August 29, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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I hope the author has a great time in Europe. Also, it isn't so bad. They have a good chance of moving back in after college :)

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 7:12 AM

Middlebury College's posts a reading list for parents in their guides for new students:

http://www.middlebury.edu/NR/rdonlyres/4288A7AD-9724-434B-8D41-E95A7FA52330/0/Parentsguide06.pdf

Lauer, Jeanette C., and Robert H. Lauer.
How to Survive and Thrive in an Empty
Nest: Reclaiming Your Life When Your
Children Have Grown. New Harbinger
Publications, Inc., California, 1999.

Johnson, Helen E., and Christine Schelhas-
Miller. Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just
Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide
to the College Years. St. Martin's Griffin,
New York, 2000.

Barkin, Carol. When Your Kid Goes to
College: A Parent's Survival Guide. Avon
Books, New York, 1998

Coburn, Karen Levin and Madge Lawrence
Treeger. Letting Go: A Parent's
Guide to Understanding the College Years.
HarperCollins, New York, 2003.

Howe, Neil, and William Strauss. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, 2000.

Kadison, Richard, and Theresa Foy
Degeronimo. College of the Overwhelmed:
The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What
to Do About It.

Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder and
Wilkie Wilson. Just Say Know: Talking
with Kids about Drugs and Alcohol. W.W.
Norton & Company, New York, 2002.

Looks like ther's plenty to read on vacation? Thank you Dean Hanson. Go Panthers!

Posted by: Fo3 | August 29, 2006 7:29 AM

tooo early for grammar check, sorry. there, Middlebury College posts - etc.

Posted by: Fo3 | August 29, 2006 7:35 AM

I think my parents were doing cartwheels and kicking their heels when all the kids were finally out of the house.

And Daniela, they will probably be back after they graduate, in which case you will be wondering "Geez, are they EVER gonna leave?"

Posted by: 2kidsandahusband | August 29, 2006 7:47 AM

What a nice piece! My parents were excited to when I left for college. So excited that they sold the house immediately (downsized) to prevent me from moving back in! Their new place only has a *guest room* as they would remind me often.

But take heart Ms. Deane, most college grads (65%) move back after graduation. In fact, I saw on CNN that 46% of the 65% of grads who moved back last year are still living at home today. (a tight job market, high housing costs, and stagnant wages are to blame)

Posted by: Alexandria Mom | August 29, 2006 8:07 AM

Daniela, I'm sorry to hear you are having so much sadness with the leaving of your youngest child. But if there is a silver lining to where he ended up, Charleston is a great place to live (and visit!). And as a somewhat recent college graduate, the other posters are right, most kids either move back in with their parents upon graduation or at least move back to their hometown.

I hope you feel better soon, and the trip to Europe helps! And next time you visit your son in Charleston, make sure to try the shrimp and grits at any one the great restaurants, you won't regret it!

Posted by: Charleston Dweller | August 29, 2006 8:07 AM

The trip to Europe is a great idea. My parents took off for months after my little brother left the house, and came back thoroughly enjoying life without kids-in-tow. They eat out more, go to movies more, and just truly seem to be having a really good time together. They've also gotten to know both of us as adults and become our friends as well as our parents (well, at least for me, they're still working on my brother). Empty nesters have a lot to look forward to.

Posted by: SEP | August 29, 2006 8:10 AM

Daniela, I miss you and your exclamation points on Real Estate Live. The market sure has changed since you left. Maybe if you go back it will pick up!

I know what you mean, and I feel like I understand. I feel sick whenever I think about it. I have to stop thinking about it because I know I indulge my children more when I do. I took my kids to the opening of the AGP in LA because I knew it would be a once in a lifetime thing with a short window of opportunity (and before anyone says VLI! VLI! we were going to be there anyway for a wedding--we just stayed a little later). Of course, isn't this true of all things? I KNOW it is how it is supposed to be (trust me, my brother was the inspiration for "Failure to Launch"--fortunately, he is now a mortgage paying, world traveling, responsible worker bee--it just took 35 years!) The question of did I have enough children has been on my mind for the last ten. I thought when I got married that I was a 2 kid type, and I married a 2 kid type, but then I discovered I was a 4 kid type. Too late! Gotta get a dog (this is not advice to you-no, No, NO do not get a dog--enjoy the freedom!)

Whenever we have a change, a transition, a period of growth, it is painful. Don't you hate that? If you haven't read 'a gift from the sea' by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, now might be a perfect time.

Posted by: parttimer | August 29, 2006 8:14 AM

Punditmom. I also have an only who just started 1st grade--how funny. I also took a peak at your blog and I agree with your take on Katherine Harris. She is majorly scary!!!!!!!!!! And an idiot--oops! Did I just say that ;)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 8:38 AM

What a beautifully written essay about her strong emotions. And good advice for someone like me, whose "only" starts first-grade next week. I struggle every day with balancing my time with her, my time with writing and trying to ignore the growing mounds of clutter in my house and the endless guilt about not being able to manage it all.

http://punditmom1.blogspot.com

Posted by: PunditMom | August 29, 2006 8:38 AM

A Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and a rabbi were discussing when life begins.

The priest said, "Life begins at the moment of conception."

The minister replied, No, life begins at the moment of birth."

The rabbi looked at them both and said, "No. No. No. Life begins when the kids move out and the dog dies."


With two little ones (oldest is 3 1/2), I'm nowhere near thinking about college (other than saving for it). I wonder how I'll be in 17 years when younger goes off to college.

Posted by: Father of 2 | August 29, 2006 8:39 AM

My oldest starts Kindergarten on Tuesday, and still Deane's post makes me feel a mild panic about him leaving home for good. And I'm the Dad -- the one who isn't supposed to be so emotional. That Lowes commercial where the parents drop the son off at college gets to me too...

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 29, 2006 8:44 AM

Hey Arlington Dad, how about that Home Depot commercial from about a year ago where this one boy is telling 2 others about how his dad is going to build him a tree house and how his dad can do anything. It then cuts to the dad at Home Depot telling the employee he doesn't know what he is doing. It goes back and forth between the groups (boys / father at HD) until the end when the father and the boy are having a campout in the tree house.

Gets me every time.

Posted by: Father of 2 | August 29, 2006 8:55 AM

Father of 2 -- not to mention the new Home Depot commercial where the Dad is fixing the sink and tells his son to get out of the way (this sounds familiar...) then he reconsiders and has the kid under the sink helping him (I want to be that patient).

Boy, we're sensitive hardware guys. What about that Budweiser commercial with the woman in a bikini?

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 29, 2006 9:16 AM

Arlington Dad, I don't know that Home Depot commercial. I'm surprised. I thought I watched too much TV. Guess not.

I prefer the Milwaukee's Best commercials on ESPN (during the WSOP) - you know, the big cans falling "Men should act like men. And beer should taste like beer."

The bikini commercials make me sad.

Posted by: Father of 2 | August 29, 2006 9:21 AM

To parttimer: Don't apologize about taking your kids to AGP. I totally plan on taking my DD when she turns 3 to AGP in NY. My DD is only 2 but is well engrossed in all AG: Bitty baby, bitty twins, Angelina, HSH, and AG collection. We are an all AG family.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 9:25 AM

Father of 2 -- watch me get back on topic here... Do you think we'll be so well-versed in tv commercials when we are empty nesters? That trip to Europe sounds pretty good.

If it makes you feel any better, I have a strict one-piece bathing suit rule for my daughter (she's 3, but you have to start early!)

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 29, 2006 9:28 AM

what is agp?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:32 AM

AGP means "agp". Its the blubbering sound you make when dropping your kids off at college. [smile]

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:44 AM

*I took my kids to the opening of the AGP in LA*

*AGP means "agp". Its the blubbering sound you make when dropping your kids off at college. [smile]*

Huh ?????


Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:47 AM

ArlingtonDad, I think we'll be well versed in different commercials when empty nesters. Now, I can tell you all about Disney Channel, Noggin, etc. When empty nesters, it will be "All Me TV". :)

Europe does sound nice - but not now. I'll wait until the international bruh-ha-ha Bush started simmers down. Should be about 10-15 years - perfect timing.

I prefer the one-piece my my daughter (3 1/2). Wife bought her a 2-piecer but I don't like it. Coverage changes when she jumps into the pool.

Posted by: Father of 2 | August 29, 2006 9:55 AM

I was rather shocked recently when my mother (in her 80s) told me how wrenching it was when I went off to college. I'd had no idea at the time. As one of 8 kids, the first to move out to go to college, I don't totally remember how I felt (besides being caught up in my own new challenges and excitements) but I would have thought she had plenty more kids around to keep her occupied.

By contrast when my daughter (and later my son) went off to college I felt a sense of exhilaration for them... I was worried and concerned that they have a good time and not feel lost there and all those mom things, and I did miss them, but felt solidly that this was a wonderful new stage of life for them, I was very proud of them and happy. And this when I was a single mom and didn't have either a partner or more kids at home.

I guess the fact that I so loved my time at college and felt it was one of the happiest and most engrossing times of my life had something to do with how I felt when my kids started college. Still I felt so sorry for my mom, guilty that I didn't know how she felt at the time, and a little guilty that I didn't feel the same way for my kids.

Posted by: Catherine | August 29, 2006 9:57 AM

AGP = American Girl Place

They just opened a new one in LA.(http://www.americangirl.com/)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 10:02 AM

*I took my kids to the opening of the AGP in LA*

*AGP means "agp". Its the blubbering sound you make when dropping your kids off at college. [smile]*

Huh ?????


- So much for comedy.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 10:04 AM

My only son recently moved into the dorm (George Mason) after spending most of his freshman year living with me. I both looked forward to and dreaded this moment for a long time. I must say, though that I feel a great since of accomplishment at having raised him to this point, all by myself at that. I remember very clearly dropping him off at his first day of Kindergarten. It goes by so fast.

Posted by: Alexandria Mom of 1 | August 29, 2006 10:17 AM

Sorry to hear your pain.
I feel you.
However, the Baby Boomer parents feel this way when their parents raised them to grow up, move out, move on, grow up, and visit often. I'm convinced the 'Baby' in Baby Boomer is how they raised/treat their 'kids' even when the 'kids' are 30. And why so many of their kids only grow up in age. Whatever what they do without hourly cell phone calls to mama and moving back in at 22 and staying until 40. No wonder Hollywood is making so many related movies...

Posted by: John Que | August 29, 2006 10:36 AM

Terrific essay today. Thanks!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 10:38 AM

Unfortunately, Daniela Deane's guest column is just so much more navel gazing...

By that I mean that by the end of column, her personal story remains exactly that - a personal story, with limited wider value.

Where is the broader significance that might help someone else going through similar experiences?

Where are the lessons learned, the insights gained, the suprises that turned out differently from what she originally expected?

Where is the context, either sociological or anthropological, about other families and children going through similar rites de passage?

(To avoid any doubt, the above are suggestions only - there is no one specific way to give a broader value to a personal story.)

It is unfortunate that Ms. Deane didn't include, and Ms. Steiner didn't insist, on expanding the column beyond the level of personal feelings and emotions and anecdote.

These are, by definition, personal, and the value of them is, similarly, limited.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 10:39 AM

To JohnQue: I thought it was because Baby boomers do everything in full force; including parenting. My parents are slightly older then the baby boomers. They were the beat neck generation. I left home at college and never returned. I think that was pretty common among my peers. We used to call the few people that moved back attic or basement dwellers. But even then the attic dewellers usually only stayed a year or so to get established. DH thinks DD should stay for a couple of years rent free to save up for a down payment for a house. In theory that is a good idea. But the job market is mobile now it is hard to imagine, she will just opt to come back to the DC area. But this failure to launch reallys seems odd. Is it really that common?

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 10:40 AM

Well John Que it was rather the opposite with me... I am a boomer but my parents were very sad to see me go (my mother said she "didn't know how she was going to take it", which really shocked me when I recently heard her say that) but I was not devastated by my kids moving out at all. I had been preparing myself and them for that event for years, gradually increasing their responsibility and independence, and felt very happy to launch them (although of course I missed them too). The movies don't show reality for everyone!

Posted by: Catherine | August 29, 2006 10:42 AM

Some Boomer parents are enmeshed in their children's lives. When I was a GTA at a Virginia University, I had a parent call me regarding her son's grade (!). I was stunned! Her son was in college and she was calling me to discuss a grade?! Bizarre!

Posted by: shocking | August 29, 2006 11:10 AM

To shocking: I can believe it. When I was GTA, I had both parents and coaches call me about students grades. The best thing was the university policy was not to discuss grades with anyone except the student with out the student's permission. I had more then one annoyed parent. The coaches usually got permission. They were actually really supportive of the players. Then again, they want them to be eligible to play.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 11:22 AM

There are also the famous stories of parents going on job interviews with their kids!

There is a married woman in my office whose mother still makes all of her doctors' appointments. I know because I often take the reminder phone calls from the mother!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 11:22 AM

To Skeptically:

I thought it was a great article. My kids are young and their leaving is the furthest thing from my mind right now (except when I see those commercials). I like the advice from parents who have "been there, done that." It's always a good idea to look ahead and learn from folks who are a few "phases" ahead of us.

What did the article have to do with balance? I thought the point about Deane having work/identity/distractions lined up for when her kids left was a really interesting point. My wife and I are juggling kids and careers, and there just may be some benefits to this that we aren't even thinking about now -- Deane points them out.

I thought it was a great article and food for thought.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 29, 2006 11:24 AM

Good gravy, Skepticality. Just because *you* can't see beyond the surface, it doesn't mean the story has no depth.

I happen to think Daniela's personal account is meaningful and touching. Just by relating her experience and how she's dealing with it, she's inspiring readers to share their own similar experiences.

She talks about how she's glad she has a career to go back to, and how she's planned a trip to look forward to. There are your "lessons" and "insights" -- and a solution too, come to think of it.

Inspiring commentary in this blog? That's your "broader significance" and "context." This blog is a living sociological/anthropological survey.

This isn't "Chicken Soup for the Lazy Reader." Daniela doesn't have to spell out the moral of this week's episode for her tale to have meaning.

Posted by: Speaking of | August 29, 2006 11:31 AM

There are also the famous stories of parents going on job interviews with their kids!

Wow, that is a way to NOT get the job.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 11:31 AM

Goods points in response to mine.
See the movie and point of 'Failure to Launch'. I graduated from college in the 1980's. Speaking of a poor labor market. My peers and I maintained apartments, thus had to feed ourselves and pay bills with our names on it (until we married or moved on solo). Today, the Baby Boomer effect on an abundance of overly nurtured kids = 'kids' that cannot maintain for themselves despite being 24 or 34. Thus, the movie(s) out today.

Posted by: John Que | August 29, 2006 11:32 AM

"Chicken Soup for the Lazy Reader"

Hilarious!

Posted by: Arlinigton Dad | August 29, 2006 11:48 AM

To John Que: Here is an interesting article:
http://www.transad.pop.upenn.edu/2006/05/failure-to-launch-or-launching-too.html and here is another one with a different perspective :
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-03-16-failure_x.htm

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 11:48 AM

What the heck is the "beat neck generation"?!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 11:51 AM

I was wondering about "beat neck generation," too.

Maybe she meant "beatnik?"

Posted by: Tracy | August 29, 2006 11:56 AM

Sorry, should have finished my thought.

So is that the generation BEFORE the Baby Boomers, immediately after WWII?

Posted by: Tracy | August 29, 2006 11:58 AM

The essay shows that there are transitions in life and in parenting. Ms. Deane is in a mourning phase right now because she isn't the mom/person she was before her last child left home. There's nothing wrong with looking back and examining her role as a parent and then planning to move forward. Transitions are difficult but can be very valuable and enriching. It's good to feel and experience your emotions rather than ignore them.

Maybe not everyone is aware of the emotion that surrounds such transitions. I would be sad if I could NOT feel the sadness as well as the chill of anticipation of what's to come next in Life.

I think she made a big point when she asked herself: "Did I enjoy them enough while I had them? Or did I just make it through every day?"

The time to ask yourself this is when your kids are young, not after they've left home.

Posted by: Shelly | August 29, 2006 11:59 AM

Yeah, I think she meant beatnik, but "beat neck" just cracked me up. Maybe she meant the people who weren't the beatniks but the ones who "comformed" and were beaten down by The Man.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 12:01 PM

Sorry I did mean beatnik.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 12:03 PM

I enjoyed Ms. Deane's essay as well. I'm already thinking about my daughter going to college, and she's only 10 years old! She says she wants to go to ASU because it's near home (15 miles), and I sincerely hope she does. My mother asked me to leave home when I was 17 (ditto with my three sisters; all out before we were 18). I eventually worked my way through college on my own, but I want to help my daughter until she is finished with college. She is already so self-sufficient (a byproduct of having a single mother), so I do not worry about her being spoiled and unable to fend on her own. But I do want her as well prepared as possible!

Posted by: single western mom | August 29, 2006 12:16 PM

I just sent my firstborn to college last week. I still have one at home.

Regarding parents and college grades - The school will not release any information, but the info is all available on child's password-protected account. I would never discuss the grades with ANY instructor (GTA, professor, whatever), but I do want to see the grades. I told my daughter that if I don't have the password, she doesn't get any money from us.

DH and I have worked very hard for DDs education. Her job is to study hard and get good grades. If she fools around and doesn't perform acceptably, then we will no longer pay for the schooling - she will have to pay for it herself. We feel that monitoring the grades will let us know if we should step in and see that she gets help or if she is fooling around and should pay for her own education.

This may seem like helicopter parenting to many, but we see it as protecting our investment. And we don't define performing acceptably as all A's. We just don't want to see our money go down the drain. We are just trying to be realistic. There are many, many college students who skip class, don't study, and perform poorly.

Posted by: collegemom | August 29, 2006 12:26 PM

Arlington Dad writes:
"I like the advice from parents who have 'been there, done that.' It's always a good idea to look ahead and learn from folks who are a few "phases" ahead of us."

I agree - it is always good to be aware of the experiences of others. That helps you fill in the gaps in your own experience, and gives you some idea of what to expect, and how to cope, with what's ahead.

But that's precisely my point - the value that you're taking away from Ms. Deane's column is, in fact, being filled in by you (and the other posters here). Not from the original column itself.

Why are these individual contributions limited in value? Because each of us individually can contribute, at best, a single data point. The diversity of these data points are limited by the diversity of the respondents.

Now look at the relative (lack of) diversity of commenters in this blog. Are we a diverse bunch, socio-economically, racially, education-wise? The answer is a self-evident no. (I have no hard data to prove this, but I would be surprised if anyone had data to disprove it either.)

Are we a representative sample of any population? The answer, again, is no - we are a self-selected sample, namely people in the DC metro area who are motivated to write comments on a particular blog during the daytime.

In short, the original column and the subsequent postings remain individual ruminations about one's personal feelings and emotions of a non-diverse, self-selected sample.

In my (reasonable) view, any such data set is not a reliable basis on which to make any sound conclusions based on the experiences of others.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 12:34 PM

Daniela,

My kids are younger, but I really enjoyed your article. I like your insight in arranging work continuity as well as some new beginnings/adventures to offset the loss of such a big lifechange. I like the way you planned the taking care of yourself, it reminds me of the planning parents do for an older sibling, to keep a new baby's arrival from totally rocking their world.

I hope you love Europe and the newfound time with your husband! And look forward to that first Thanksgiving or whenever your first family reunion will be. Your youngest will have grown so much and become even-more autonomous and assured and just impressive. He'll also bring new worlds to you, every time you touch base.

Much smaller scale, but my eldest (9yo) returned from her first weeklong sleepaway camp this summer and it was one of those moments. Suddenly this little kid, our little ward to care for, instituted a 'kaper chart' system so she and her sister could rotate dinnertime chores with us (set, clear, waitress, sweep). Suddenly so mature and responsible! And she had so many growth experiences and learned so many cool songs she was just exploding to share with all of us --- absence is a loss but reunion can be just such a wonderful aha moment, that these people you've nurtured are becoming such cool independent beings who enrich your lives more than you could have ever planned on your own.

Posted by: KB | August 29, 2006 12:37 PM

Skepticality:

Dude, what are you talking about?
Why are you on this blog?

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 29, 2006 12:38 PM

Skepticality, this isn't a social science journal, it's a place for people to share ideas and experiences. If you are so dissapointed in all of our individaul data points, maybe you should look elsewhere for something more interesting instead of spending your time beating up on the guest blogger and the commenters for being exactly what we put ourselves out there to be - individuals looking to share. Nobody ever said it was anything different.

Posted by: Megan | August 29, 2006 12:41 PM

Skepticality - this is a blog, it's not a newspaper article nor a scientific treatise - it's just a blog with random people commenting on random things pertaining to work/life balance. Take what people post as experiences to learn from or take it with a grain of salt - your pick.

Posted by: fabworkingmom | August 29, 2006 12:46 PM

"Speaking of" writes:

"Just because *you* can't see beyond the surface, it doesn't mean the story has no depth."

Um, you have it backwards. I've read many other articles in the popular press that avoided the trap of personal anecdotage. Those were the articles with true depth.

"Just by relating her experience and how she's dealing with it, she's inspiring readers to share their own similar experiences..."

Agreed. But see my posting above (responding to Arlington Dad) for the inherent limitations in a data set composed solely of serial personal anecdotes.

"This blog is a living sociological/anthropological survey."

Unfortunately, no. No professional sociologist or anthropologist or economist would view this blog and its comments as scientifically valid in any way.

My point is not that this guest column and its comments are devoid of all value, or that I'm too lazy to probe under the surface (!), or anything else.

My point is solely that today's guest column and its related comments are a series of personal anecdotes, which both defines and limits its value.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 12:49 PM

Regarding the grades and who gets to know them:

I pretty much paid for college myself. I had a full scholarship (merit-based, thank you) to cover tuition, and some need-based financial aid to partially cover room & board, and then I lived at home during the summers to work my butt off making enough money to pay for the difference, books, lab fees, etc. Aside from a room & board on breaks and the occasional gift of $50 of walking-around-money when Dad would drop me off, I paid for it all myself.

Sometime during junior year, I forgot to show my mother my grades- it just slipped my mind, but immediately after she demanded to see them, my father piped up. "You know, she paid for those grades herself. She doesn't HAVE to show them to anyone."

It was one of the proudest moments of my young adult life up to that point, and when possible, I think more college students should experience it.

PS: My grades were fine, I had a 3.6, and I showed Mom anyway, because I was proud of myself.

Posted by: Tiffany | August 29, 2006 12:49 PM

Skepticality, you are gettin' all academic on us. We don't want a PoMo lesson today.

Posted by: to Skepticality | August 29, 2006 12:50 PM

Wow, collegemom, I would take it easy on the pressure you are clearly putting on your daughter. True, college is expensive and you want your daughter to do well, but making her college tuition dependent on her grades is a tad severe. Here's a story to back up my point: When I was a freshman I had a hard time adjusting to college life, study schedules, etc. and it showed in my grades (No A's or B's to be had the whole first year) However, my parents who were paying for my education did not try and pressure me, bribe me, or make me feel bad for not doing well. Instead, they supported me throughout, told me that as long as I tried my hardest that was good enough for them. And you know, things worked out, I never had to worry about pressure from my parents in addition to pressure from my classes, and now I am in grad school. On the flip side, I had a friend who had the same deal with his parents that collegemom has, he got bad grades his first semester and couldn't pay tuition himself, so he left school. And never went back.

If collegemom is sure that her child can take the pressure of her tuition depending on her grades, great for her. But other parents of new college freshman, beware. There is a lot of pressure to do well, make friends, not be lonely, decide what you are going to do for the rest of your life, pick the right classes, the list goes on and on. Pressure from you is the last thing they want or need, but they will remember how supportive you were for them even when things get rough (and they probably will).

Posted by: Mychildhasfur | August 29, 2006 12:52 PM

blogs are by definition personal anecdotes - check out Technorati and show me a blog that isn't

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 12:54 PM

Wow, all I can say is Wow. You don't think it is unreasonable to want the secret password for your daughter's grades, but rather think that it is "realistic". When I was in college, that password unlocked lots of other, personal doors (email, student health records, online class material, etc). Sometimes the best way to learn something is through failure and it just seems odd to me that you are so concerned about her failing rather than being positive about success.

It really makes me feel a bit better than my mother could not pay for or contribute to my college education, because then I never got the "if we are paying for it" BS. Sorry, but it amazes me how many parents use their money as way to basically control their adult children (and yes, a college freshman should be treated like an adult or they will DEFINITELY be moving back in! :) ).

Sorry this sounds so harsh, but support your daughter both emotionally and financially, without controlling her, which is what you are doing (even if you do not want or intend to!)

Posted by: to college mom | August 29, 2006 12:57 PM

Folks, I am well aware that this is a blog. But it isn't (or shouldn't be, in my view) just any old random blog.

Why? Take a look at the masthead at the top of this web page - this is a blog sponsored and published by one of the most important newspapers in the nation.

I would hope that the editors of washingtonpost.com, as well as Ms. Steiner herself, would aspire to higher goals than merely being one more out of the dozens or hundreds or thousands of blogs out there.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 1:00 PM

As someone who's had an empty nest for the last several years, I want to share my experience that, as much as I love and miss my kids, the empty nest has been wonderful! I was a FT self-employed writer throughout their at-home years (still am), and that, along with parenting, was just about IT for me. Since our second child left for college 5 years ago, I've joined a chorus and start a book group - both deeply satisfying activities that I'd always wanted to do "someday" and never found the time/energy to do. Also, my relationship with my DH is MUCH better. There's a lightness to our relationship and we have a lot more fun together - it's like I have the energy and space now to remember why I originally loved him... feelings that got buried under the weight of day-to-day childcare responsibilities. Our kids are both graduated and working on the east coast, so I STILL miss them - but we remain emotionally very much connected and email/talk often - and it's fun to see them living their lives independently.

Not that any of this cancels out the inevitable grief and sadness of the transition periods - the years we have them close are so special and so deeply satisfying, despite all the pain and frustration of hands-on parenting. I'm not trying to discount your grief or hurry you through it in any way - just wanted to let you know that the joys of the empty nest may be a well-kept secret, but they're very genuine. Best wishes to you!

Posted by: OregonMom | August 29, 2006 1:01 PM

"... but support your daughter both emotionally and financially, without controlling her, which is what you are doing (even if you do not want or intend to!)"

I need to disagree with this one. That is my hard earned money and my children do not and will not receive large unconditional donations. We are already cultivating a culture of providing *grants* which is funding with terms and conditions attached. It is their first lesson about financial responsiblity and being held accountable. It's not about controlling them, it's about keeping my own boundries in check.

Posted by: Tracy | August 29, 2006 1:02 PM

It seems like lazy readership to expect the Washington Post to assign significance to its pieces for you, blog or not. Use your brain- media is a conversation now, not a one-way lecture.

Posted by: Tiffany | August 29, 2006 1:02 PM

To collegemom

How long are you going to hold the fact that you are paying for your daughter's education over her head? Until she graduates or for the rest of her life?

Talk about strings being attached to a gift!!

I'd rather take out student loans...

Posted by: June | August 29, 2006 1:03 PM

The colleges I attended sent grades home to parents. My parents told me they would not pay for me to get C's. So after my first semester of straight C's, I was on my own. It was the best thing my parents ever did because I became solely responsible for my education. I had to get scholarships and show up for class. I graduated with honors. The best thing you can do for your child is to have them be responsible for his/her actions and suffer the reprocussions. That's what being an adult is all about. It isn't about earning good grades to keep mom and dad happy.

Posted by: to college mom | August 29, 2006 1:04 PM

Tracy, I totally agree with you. If you paid for your child's auto insurance and they were repeatedly getting speeding tickets, wouldn't you make them responsible for paying part of it? Don't feel bad for expecting your child to work hard & achieve - there are thousands of kids out there who would kill for a funded education!

Posted by: Agree with Tracy | August 29, 2006 1:08 PM

I agree with you that there should be "conditions" for lack of a better word, but I think there is a difference between if you fool around and fail out of school, we are not going to pay for it and demanding the password where the grades are kept. I have too many friends who had parents that *made* them do certain things (such as choosing a major, going to a certain university - not state v. private) that all started with "If we are paying for it..."

I think parents (not all parents!) sometimes go over the line between support and control is all. And just handing over a wad of cash is stepping over the line on the other side!

Posted by: to Tracy | August 29, 2006 1:08 PM

Tiffany writes:

"It seems like lazy readership to expect the Washington Post to assign significance to its pieces for you, blog or not."

Interesting. Why do you rush to label it "lazy readership" on my part, and exclude -- without even mentioning -- the possibilities that it might be "lazy authorship" or "lazy editing" on the part of the column author and/or editor?

(I'm not saying this blog represents lazy anything. I'm just surprised that you excluded two out of the three possibilities out of hand.)

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 1:09 PM

Skepticality, what's your story?

Posted by: I'll bite... | August 29, 2006 1:13 PM

I can definitely understand College Mom's desire to know her child's grades and to ensure that her child isn't spending her college years just screwing around - I remember an awful lot of kids in college who had no awareness of what an enormous gift it was to be at a great (and expensive!) school, and did nothing to further their education.

But what strikes me as odd is the feeling that she must have the secret password in order to know what her child is up to. My parents took basically the approach that mychildhasfur describes - they didn't put any pressure on about grades, but we talked on the phone very regularly and they knew from our conversations that I was going to class, working hard, what my work-study job was, what classes I liked, etc. I always told them my grades, and they were never a problem, but the focus was on what I was doing, not the grades I was earning.

And Skepticality, if you like this blog so much, you should check out Celebritology - talk about high falootin!

Posted by: Megan | August 29, 2006 1:13 PM

To collegmom, Tracey, and others who attach college tuition to high grades: does your child have a track record of taking money from you, spending irresponsibly, lying, disrespecting and disappointing you? If not, then why make their college money conditional? Sending them off to college is supposed to be a first step into adulthood and an introduction into life WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS. Staying out of their grades and trusting them to tell you what is going on in their lives will be a great way to show them how you are treating them like adults, and not like children that must be monitored.

On the other hand, if you can not trust your child to do what is right when you are not around then they probably shouldn't be going to college anyway.

Is all the money you spend on your child considered "an investment"?

Posted by: Mychildhasfur | August 29, 2006 1:22 PM

"I have too many friends who had parents that *made* them do certain things (such as choosing a major, going to a certain university - not state v. private) that all started with "If we are paying for it...""

There's a fine line between directing/nudging and controlling. Nudging to keep studying etc and forcing a major are a little different.

I remember my first semster freshman year. I was studying for exams for 5 hours. I went back to my room, turned on the stereo, and rested on my bed. I heard my mother's voice say "Get off that bed. We're not spending all this money so you could listen to music. Go back to that library and study." I did. That night when I told her that story, she laughed and said it worked. Pulled a 3.93 that semester. While it might seem high-pressured, it wasn't. I just knew this wasn't a free-ride and that I was responsbile for things.

Posted by: Father of 2 | August 29, 2006 1:27 PM

I'll bite... writes:

"Skepticality, what's your story?"

Um, I don't have one ... at least not one worth retelling here. It would be, after all, just another personal anecdote.

(No, I'm not afraid, or hiding, or out of touch with my feelings, or anything else like that. So please don't bother with any such comments.)

My interest is that sound conclusions be based on valid data: hard data where available, and soft data to the extent necessary.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 1:30 PM

I purposely didn't say what the conditions were to see what kind of response there would be. We are expecting passing grades not necessarily A's and B's. The condition is that we only pay for a class once. If you have to retake a course you pay for it. The password for email is separate than the one for grades and we don't have, or want, the email password. I don't even know about the medical records. I assume that they are kept separate as well.

My daughter did screw around in high school and underachieved and did not qualify for scholarships and actually failed 2 courses because she didn't do the required work. But, she is intelligent, worked hard in the classes she didn't blow off, and did well on the SAT's.

It is her particular history that leads us to want to monitor her a little. Would you invest tens of thousands of dollars in anything a little bit risky and NOT monitor it?

Her father and I have sacrificed a lot along the way in order for our children to get an education. We are not willing to watch it get thrown away.

Posted by: collegemom | August 29, 2006 1:34 PM

I am the youngest of three and I recall that my parents were especially sorry to see me go to college. Both of my siblings went to college locally (they both lived near colleges about 30 minutes from home and came back with some regularity on weekends). But, my father was transferred in my junior year of HS, and took a one-year position within the company in order to allow me to graduate from HS while living at home. My parents sold our house in the Spring and 8 days after my HS graduation, we were on the road from Pittsburgh to Orlando where they now live. Despite the hassles of moving, starting a new life, etc, my parents were very upset that they had to take their "baby" to college after just 2 months. But, the new life helped them transition. They were fortunate in that the new house was new beginning and there were fewer constant reminders of all of us. Although we had rooms in the new house, they didn't have the history that brings some of the memories and melancholy. We all still stayed in touch, but it helped transition. I'm not saying that you need to move, but I think that you need to find ways to begin that new chapter of your life (the vacation for just them, new hobbies/pasttimes that you never had time for, perhaps some home redecorating or rennovation that you never had time for, etc) that will make looking forward easier than looking back.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 1:36 PM

To MyChildHasFur (btw, love your moniker):

For the record I haven't outlined for y'all the terms of my *grants* but for this discussion I will say that if college is indeed their intro to life *without their parents* then it should be without my money, too. My kids are welcome to go cold-turkey with my full emotional support, however if my involvement (in the way for monetary funding) is desired there will always be clearly defined perameters for all of us.

For us it is not a question of integrity, it's about it being a joint-effort.

Posted by: Tracy | August 29, 2006 1:36 PM

At 30, and the youngest in my family, I saw my parent's reaction to my departure as bitter-sweet. My mom cried when she dropped me off, but by the time I went home for Christmas, there was a new addition to the front of our refrigerator:

My parents to-do list. Everything from travel to Australia, and spend New Years in NYC, to build our own vacation cabin, learn to play piano. That was 12 years ago, some things they did, and some they haven't gotten to yet, but they just take it day by day and edit, tweak and update the list whenever they feel like it.

They just enrolled in a photography class! They recommitted to thier lives, once our lives were in our control. They love us, support us and are there for us whenever we need them. Plus, they are still very young (59 and 63)! They are truly an inspiration for us kids.

Posted by: empty nestee | August 29, 2006 1:38 PM

Skepticality:

Why do you begin your comments with "Um"?

Posted by: pittypat | August 29, 2006 1:39 PM

Father of 2, that is a great story. And that's what kids should be doing if they are responsible and respect their parents hard work enough to put in a little of their own come study time.

When I was struggling my freshman year with classes and grades, my parents knew how stressed I was and how disappointed I was in myself. My dad always made a point of telling me to make sure I had some fun, go to a party, hang out with friends, and enjoy myself, if just for a little while to take a break from stressing/studying. I think my overall happiness was more important to them than the money they were spending, and that was a much more meaningful incentive to do well, rather then "I'll be watching"!

Posted by: Mychildhasfur | August 29, 2006 1:41 PM

College is a hard transition for a lot of kids. Some kids,who were the top of their high school class, may find themselves at the bottom or the middle of the class. Most kids who finish a 4 year college degree in a reasonable amount of time, figure out fairly early that skipping class, goofing around, and partying won't get them anywhere. College is a time to explore new ideas, new subjects, and basically new work/study habits. They find out what they can handle and what they can balance. Just like we all know how much we can "break" or "goof off" at work and get the job done. After all, aren't we all blogging during work time? So college is a training ground to figuring out what one can personally handle. I also don't understand why parent's object to C's in college (BTW, I had great grades in college). I C is passing and I would rather see a hard earned C then an easy A just to please my parents. I would not want to steer my child from taking difficult classes just to maintain some arbitrary grade point average. Also, even though we don't like to admit it, but it is true. Five years out of college grades hardly mean anything. Unless you are going on to academic work, professional graduate school, or something else. For the most part, grades do not mean a heck of a lot in the real world. College should be about growing up and testing out new waters. Unless my daughter was actually failing out of school or showed me some level of distrust, I would pay for school as much as I am financially able to. Gifts are what they are, "gifts." They should not come with strings attached. As far as a donation, I guess I don't see my own child as a donation. I don't pay for dance, gymnastics, or soccer lessons because I expect my kid to perform to a certain level. I pay for them to enrich my child and give them advantages that I never had.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 1:41 PM

Enjoy your freedom!!!!
Winter break and summer come before you know it.

As to grades - the password that gets you into grades also gets you to the page where you put money on your students' campus card - used for laundry, snacks, bookstore, etc..... So if you want to look and are funding that spending money you'll get the password.

However, my son is always proud to show me his grades, so it isn't an issue at our house.

I've recently started feeling proud because as a year 4 senior it looks like he'll graduate this spring -- in 4 years.

Posted by: RoseG | August 29, 2006 1:43 PM

College Mom, I'm a college mom too. My son gave me his password, because I need it to go on line to pay his tuition. He calls me all excited at the end of each semester to ask me if I've seen his grades. He's doing great. He has a different password for his email and no I don't have that one. My father, my son's grandfather is helping me pay for my son's tuition. My son frequently calls his grandfather to give him updates on his grades, not because he has to but because he's aware of the generous gift he's receiving and wants to share the results with his grandfather. My son will be the first in our family to receive a college degree. My father is over the moon with pride and I'm very proud of my son's willingness to share his grades and experiences with his grandpa.

Posted by: Alexandria Mom of 1 | August 29, 2006 1:44 PM

>>> Her father and I have sacrificed a lot along the way in order for our children to get an education. We are not willing to watch it get thrown away. >>>

I agree that you should not watch her throw it away. She is an adult and therefore should take responsibility for her own education. If she had issues in high school, why continue to provide an education she clearly doesn't want. You and your husband should save for retirement and enjoy life. You raised her and she is an adult now.

My husband and I are not saving for our children's college education (they are a long ways from college). They will have to earn good grades and get scholarships and financial aid, just like mom and dad. We will be livin' large during retirement instead.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 1:45 PM

Longtime reader...firstime poster. I find this blog fascinating and eye-opening as a 25 year old whose next 5 years probably hold marraige and *maybe* a first kid. I think alot about the things discussed here and wonder how I'll handle them when its my turn. However, I've never been compelled to comment until today.

My mom has been a SAHM my entire life (Dad worked, still does) and became an empty-nester 8 years ago when I (the oldest of 3)went off to college halfway across the country. My siblings followed within the next few years and my parents were totally "kid free". They absolutely took advantage with more frequent vacations, more together time for the two of them, etc., which I love seeing.

But, eventually I became more aware of the fact that while my Dad still goes to work everyday and derives a huge amount of success, recognition and admiration through his job, my Mom has become more aware than ever that her kids were "it" and she doesn't have any other mechanism to give her the kind of praise and ego-support that a job does.

She's found lots of ways to fill her days and do both fun (book clubs, etc.) and really meaningful (volunteering, etc.) activities that give her a nice sense of balance and belonging. But even so, it makes me so sad to think that my mom might feel "worthless" or somehow less important now that we're all out of the nest (obviously, that couldn't be less true, at least for me).

Watching this whole evolution of my Mom's role - particularly as I see my own transitions ahead - makes me feel two things VERY distinctly:

1. I love my mom even more for staying home with us...she sacrificed then (quit her job before kids) and as I saw later, she sacrificed down the road when we didn't "need" her anymore and she was left - literally - with an empty house. Wow.

2. Even when I think that I coulnd't do it (SAH), I think about how much I love her for doing it and how it shaped our family and my childhood, and that alone makes me want to do that for my kids someday.

Posted by: MidwestMamasGirl | August 29, 2006 1:50 PM

Skeptically, I think you and some of the other commenters simply have fundamentally different interpretations of what the blog "should" be. You seem to judge according to scientific standards, and so you criticize the blog as not providing "a reliable basis on which to make any sound conclusions based on the experiences of others," because neither the article nor the audience provides the type of unbiased, data-focused analysis you would like to see, which you seem to believe is a "higher goal" that the blog should aspire to.

I think a number of people, me included, see the value in the blog precisely BECAUSE it does not attempt to be scientific, objective, or broadly representative of the population. A truly objective, scholarly review on "coping with transitions from childhood to adulthood," for example, would be of minimal help to me, because there are so many cultures, so many income levels, so many different issues (work, college, gender issues, financial issues, cultural expectations, etc.). Such a study might give me a better holistic sense of the issues, but 95% of it would be irrelevant to my life.

On the other hand, Daniela and many of the contributing bloggers here ARE in very similar situations to my own. This makes the blog more useful to me, not less, because the issues raised are much more likely to be issues I will deal with myself. So, for example, you suggest that Daniela's article is weaker because she doesn't propose solutions; but to me, just hearing what her feelings are is helpful, because it provides insight into what I might experience (for example, the exhiliration to go back to work is something I hadn't thought of). So what you see as a criticism of the limits of the blog I see as a strength. (I also note that these entries are 300 words; I suspect the articles you found helpful are significantly longer.)

This blog is not pretending to represent a scientific approach (as compared to, say, that Forbes piece we discussed last week) -- nor, as you pointed out, would that be appropriate in this context. But I disagree with your conclusion that that makes it somehow unhelpful or less than it could be.

Posted by: Laura | August 29, 2006 1:51 PM

"If she had issues in high school, why continue to provide an education she clearly doesn't want"

You don't know what the issues were and you don't know she doesn't want it. With their help she probably can still turn things around.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 1:53 PM

Skepticality--I also think you need to rethink why you read here. This blog has been (at least for the several weeks I've been reading it) written by a columnist that starts with a story/idea about some facet of balancing work and home, some basic conjectures and some conclusions and then becomes an open forum for discussion of the topic by the readership. One of the positives from this is that it is participatory. Unlike typical editorials, columns or articles, the audience has a chance to respond and rebut. I, for one, prefer the general "lighter" side of the blog rather than the heavily weighted ideals and analysis for which you seem to criticize this blog. To each his own.

I am also surprised that almost daily there is someone who chimes in with some sort of complaint about the topic. There are dozens of blogs on WashPost. Why participate when you don't like the topic? Just move on to the next one, skip this day's topic in that particular blog and move on. Clearly dozens of readers are enjoying the topic and sharing valuable experiences and lessons. Why not just leave the topic to them? When it comes to raising children, balancing work, family and life in general, there are relatively few scientific and analytical studies that apply to more than a select few. The point is that families are incredibly diverse and that everyone takes that little bit of this and little bit of that to make their personal situation work. Anecdotal experience from other families in similar situations frequently is more helpful than studies of families that don't parallel yours.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 1:56 PM

I do not believe in having the password and checking on my kid that way. I feel it is a bit of invasion of privacy somewhat like reading a kid's diary... and shows a complete lack of trust. I ask my son for his grades at the end of each semester and he tells me. I expect him to be an adult that way and not lie to me. Checking via password to me smacks of assuming your kid lies. And yes my son goofed around in high school, we had a lot of trouble with that. But I found out that if you try these sorts of mechanical things to check up on them rather than expecting forthright communication, it encourages the kid trying to "beat the system" more than it encourages the behavior you are trying to enforce. I'm not saying we did everything the best way, we had a lot of long talks and on again off again improvement. But gradually he matured and I feel that treating him as a person I respect and expect to behave honorably was the best way in the long run.

Posted by: Catherine | August 29, 2006 1:56 PM

Laura--seems to me that you and I are on the same wavelength. I typed my response, posted it and read yours and was amazed that you echoed my own sentiments.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 2:01 PM

To those parents out there who feel the need to so closely monitor your ADULT sons' and daughters' grades and to hold money over your offspring's heads as a method of enforcement: this could backfire in a number of ways...

I know a mother who feels the same way and cannot understand why colleges don't allow parents access to their ADULT children's grades. Money was a non-issue in this woman's case: her daughter had full scholarship.

The mother's desire to micromanage her daughter's life has resulted in the daughter completely cutting off contact with her family. The daughter did not invite the mother to her wedding last year, and she has not had any communication with her parents in more than a year. The young woman explained to her grandmother that she had grown weary from the incessant power struggle with her mother over decisions in her life, including her political views. It's a terribly sad situation that the daughter had to cut off contact with her family to gain a sense of independence.

Posted by: single western mom | August 29, 2006 2:02 PM

To DadWannaBe -- yep, I did exactly the same thing! Good laugh for the day (before my exciting 3+hr flight to TX this afternoon -- joy).

Posted by: Laura | August 29, 2006 2:03 PM

"My husband and I are not saving for our children's college education (they are a long ways from college). They will have to earn good grades and get scholarships and financial aid, just like mom and dad. We will be livin' large during retirement instead."

I don't want to offend anyone but I really don't understand this attitude. A parent does not OWE their child a college education and certainly some people can not afford it. But why make your kids work harder to fund their education just because you had to. After all if you received any financial aid or scholarships, you did receive funding. It just wasn't from your family directly. Americans talk about wanting to foster independence. It seems more like being in it just for themselves rather then fostering independence. I guess I just think that is a sad attitude to have.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 2:06 PM

>>>You don't know what the issues were and you don't know she doesn't want it. With their help she probably can still turn things around.>>>

True, sorry that wasn't very fair of me. But, I only say this because as a former GTA (and my husband is a professor at a Virginia University), I have seen so many students behave so poorly and waste their parents' hard earned money. For many college students, college is a non-stop kegger and orgy. It is like once the kids break out on their own, they go completely crazy. And I know, that parents reading this are saying, "Oh not my kid!"

I guess I am too jaded by my experience with college kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:09 PM

Lieu, I have to agree with you on that one. The way I figure it, the parents have from the day they learn they're expecting to start saving for college. The kid, even if they get a job at 16 isn't going to be able to save much. Financial aid is not as readily available these days either. If you really can't afford to pay for your kids' college fine, but don't kid yourself into thinking you're doing them some kind of a favor. My son is working for his spending money and building a savings account, but he doesn't have to worry about tuition or room and board and yes, since I chose to bring him into the world I figure I owe him the best start in life I can afford.

Posted by: Alexandria Mom of 1 | August 29, 2006 2:14 PM

In short, the original column and the subsequent postings remain individual ruminations about one's personal feelings and emotions of a non-diverse, self-selected sample.
In my (reasonable) view, any such data set is not a reliable basis on which to make any sound conclusions based on the experiences of others.

Aack. How about just reading this for the sake of enjoyment? If I wanted a sociological or anthropological thesis on empty nesters, I would not be looking for it here.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:14 PM

Note--this is not a comment on CollegeMom's situation, merely another perspective on the "let them fail" side.

I was very fortunate that my parents were willing to invest in my future even when my grades were poor. I had an easy time in high school and got excellent grades without having to work that hard and having a *LOT* of extracurricular activites. I got to college at The Johns Hopkins Univ and found that "urp" about 75-80% of the students in my freshman class were also top 2% of their high school classes. Even coming from a good high school (Pennsylvania public schools were excellent), I suddenly was competing against a significantly more advanced class of students. I actually had to work in my studying. I didn't do so well in my first two years and was on academic probation. Now, my parents looked at the long run. They made me come home, take classes nearby at a large public college near home, work to earn money for everything except room and board (I paid for those classes at the local college where I fortunately got resident rates), before they let me go back to JHU. I have to say that the combined embarrassment and experience made me a stronger person. I learned that everything has consequences, that success isn't just given to you and that if you don't succeed with what you are given, that you'll have to work harder to get back to where you were. I am also extremely grateful for the opportunities, gifts, and luck that I've had (many people don't get the second chance that I had). I went back, got my grades back up, graduated from JHU with a solid GPS after five years and am very successful now.

I thank my parents regularly for the life that they gave me and the chances that they gave me. I like to think that I give back to them by both my success and be returning many of "favors". I do a lot to take care of them these days and despite the fact that they are still better off than me, I don't begrudge a single cent that I spend on taking care of them when I can. My siblings and I are getting ready to take them on a anniversary cruise next year for their golden anniversary.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 2:15 PM

I self funded my college - scholarship for most of it, loans for the rest undergrad, all loans graduate school. My parents (young themselves) have neither the financial ability to help me, nor the ability to save for their own retirement. I didn't show them grades because I had to - but I did send them because I wanted to show them how much the support they gave me was appreciated. However, my grandparents - who gave me an allowance (minimal, but very appreciated) while I was in undergrad school - got my grades in exchange for continued funding of my living expenses, and fully expected them for grad school, even though I wasn't getting any money from them at that point. There's still a part of me (years later) that resents having to 'turn in my chit' as my grandfather termed it to get another semester's allowance. Oversight is one thing - micromanagement just leads to resentment.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | August 29, 2006 2:16 PM

*To those parents out there who feel the need to so closely monitor your ADULT sons' and daughters' grades and to hold money over your offspring's heads as a method of enforcement: this could backfire in a number of ways*

ADULTs pay their own way through life. More parents should let their children know that they will pay for their education, but not for their partying.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:16 PM

I grew up a rather pampered child. My children have a rather pampered life as well. I would not let my children starve to get through school, as I did. (I had a $5 a week food budget. I could never afford a meal plan.) But when they get older, I will tell them what you said. :-)

I do think they have to be serious about their education and own the process, not to view it as a right that mummy will pay for. There are a lot of people in college today who have no business being there. Not every child wants or should go to college. There is no shame in trades such as plumbing or mechanic. Many of my former students should have taken this path instead of wasting their money and my time. I think they would have been much happier.

Posted by: To Lieu | August 29, 2006 2:22 PM

I see something of generational gap in some of these posts. The younger folks see college students as adults while a lot of us older folks still see them as children. I sure thought I was an adult at 18, but my 19 year-old son seems like a baby to me. I will just say to the parents of young children; you will feel the same protective instincts toward your 18-year-old as you do now toward your 1-year-old. You have to force yourself to let go, but emotionally they'll always be a baby in your eyes.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:30 PM

Skepticality -- there is a more practical solution: submit your own entry to be a Tuesday guest blogger. This way, there is a chance to see what you would consider a more balanced, statistically sound post.

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | August 29, 2006 2:39 PM

Tracey(thanks for the kudos on the moniker)and collegemom: I fully respect your decision to fund your child's tuition the best way you see fit, obviously you know them far better than an anonymous poster. However, I am offering my experiences as a (fairly) recent freshman just to make you aware of how your child may feel once they leave home. Your children just need to know they have your full support no matter what, and even if they start to fall behind. If your support is manifested in a monetary way, you should find other ways to let them know you are with them.

Also, there is a HUGE benefit to graduating without any outstanding debts. With the cost of housing, gasoline, and other expenses increasing while the pay for entry-level jobs stays abysimally low, graduating student-loan free will give your child a huge advantage over peers who are stuck with monthly payments. This may allow them to take jobs they love rather than the high payers, and move out of the house rather than crashing with Mom and Dad. So many of my peers fell into that trap, and some are still there ten years later!

Posted by: Mychildhasfur | August 29, 2006 2:44 PM

>>> This may allow them to take jobs they love rather than the high payers >>>

If you *love* than you should *love* the low pay and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. A parent should not have to flip your martini major lifestyle, especially if you had the choice of majors. Low paying entry jobs are a result of picking a major without thinking about supporting yourself.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:46 PM

collegemom: I don't think it was you. It was another poster who said their parents would not pay for Cs, which is a passing grade.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 2:50 PM

Laura and DadWannaBe:

I accept your point: that anecdotes from people like you is more likely to be relevant, and interesting, to you.

But here's the problem in limiting the diversity in this way: You run the risk of merely reinforcing what you already hear/know/see/believe.

(Off topic, but in a related vein: For a political angle, see the numerous articles on why Fox News is so popular with conservatives in the United States.)

Psychologists have shown time and again that the human brain is very, very good at fooling itself into believing what it wants to believe, even if it means disregarding empirical evidence to the contrary.

No, I am not suggesting that you are Fox News conservatives, or that you're fooling yourselves, or anything else about you - I don't know you well enough to make such a judgement.

What I am saying is that there is an inherent risk in limiting your exposure to mainly people who are like you. As long as you are aware of this inherent risk, and can take steps to counteract it where appropriate, I have no quibble or argument with you.

And for the record, nothing I have written requires, or even suggests, that we make OnBalance a scholarly journal.

Posted by: Skepticality | August 29, 2006 2:52 PM

-Also, there is a HUGE benefit to graduating without any outstanding debts.-

I agree. Another incentive for the child to do well.

I still don't see why so many of you think it is wrong to say that we will only pay for a class once. Nowhere did I say we were requiring anything other than passing.

Posted by: collegemom | August 29, 2006 2:52 PM

Skepticality -- there is a more practical solution: submit your own entry to be a Tuesday guest blogger. This way, there is a chance to see what you would consider a more balanced, statistically sound post.

Well, considering how interesting Skeptically has shown him/herself to be, I am afraid that that blog would be a complete snore.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:53 PM

Another thought. When I graduated from college, my parents gave me their 8-year old car for a graduation gift and bought a new car for themselves. This was important for several reasons. The old car drove fine (although wasn't the best on gas mileage) and being an under-25 yo male, the insurance on the older car was much cheaper than the insurance would have been had they bought me a new car. I also lived in downtown Baltimore which would have made the insurance on a new car even higher. I stayed in my joint house (we had a 4BR house shared by four friends) and with my cheap (free) car, cheaper insurance and cheaper rent I saved a lot of my $26K salary. Two years later when my car was really ready to go, I had saved up enough that I could put a real down payment down on a car and when I was ready, I could afford to move out on my own to my own apartment. All on my terms and without some of the oppressive debt that some new students face.

At first I was envious of my friends with new cars, but I have to say that 2 years down the road, I was very happy that I had spent the first 2 years with no car payment, lower insurance and rent. I think it got me off to a much better post-college start than a nice car would have. Something to think about for those of you with sons graduating college. You may find this a good lesson for the when they graduate.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 2:54 PM

In my opinion, you cannot overate the empty nest. You can pursue interests you've put off for years, you can get reacquainted with your mate, you don't have to cook dinner every evening, you can pick up and go whenever you want without a major adjustment to schedules. In effect, you get your pre-children life back with the added bonus of additional wisdom. What's not to like?

I sent all my children off to college without knowing their passwords, or even requiring them to sign the release form that universities and colleges require in order for parents to see grades. I also pay for their tuitions (what's not covered by scholarships, obviously) but they are required to come up with their own spending and book money. I would never make their academic careers conditional upon performance. So far, it's worked.

Why? I have a strong faith in the intelligence and abilities of my children. They will figure things out and learn what they need to succeed. That, after all, is part of growing up and what most of childhood is: an adventure on becoming an adult. Do I think this works? Yes. One of my children managed to get on academic probation in his sophmore year. Of course, I didn't know because I didn't have access to his grades. He did a self analysis, told me and decided to take a semester off. It was the best decision he could have made; he's now back at another institution pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. It simply took him a while to figure out what he is meant to be.

Now, obviously, I've got the economic wherewithall to approach my children's college education this way. Many families do not. I think it is important for each family to discuss what the value of education is to it and make certain that everyone is working on the same program. Some families see a college education as a means to a good paying job; others see education as an intellectual exercise; others see it as a way to socio-economically better themselves. The important thing is that the college students should be as much a part of the family approach and decision to education as the parents. Otherwise, the students are not fully participating in their education.

Drifted into the philosophical vein here. Sorry. But, empty nest is good and towards which all parents (and children) should be aspiring. The house may seem overly quiet and unusually tidy at first, but this is good.

Posted by: pam | August 29, 2006 2:55 PM

Collegemom - I doubt posters have a problem with your one time class policy - makes sense to me. Of course if a child is not serious about college then the parents shouldn't waste their money on that child. The posts seem to generally refer to parents using their money as a stick through which to micromanage their children in college. I would definitely have been resentful if my parents said - you must do x if you want us to pay for college. Isn't it the responsibility of every parent to help their children succeed in life to the extent they are able? I don't agree with the current financial philosophy that says - focus on retirement not on your child's education. It's not like you know for sure that you will live long enough to enjoy retirement - your investment in your child's education will live long after you.

Posted by: fabworkingmom | August 29, 2006 2:55 PM

I still don't see why so many of you think it is wrong to say that we will only pay for a class once.

I think it depends on the class. If you are taking basketweaving 101 and fail, then I can understand your refusal to pay for it again. But if the class is really difficult, and the student has really done her best, and still fails, well, I would have no trouble paying for the class twice.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 2:57 PM

Egads, Skepticality, let it go already. Whinging about what non-diverse, short-sighted navel gazers we all are isn't going to garner you a lot of sympathy, would be my guess. And assuming that we are all here to "draw sound conclusions" is a big assumption - I don't come here expecting to find any sound conclusions about anything, and my guess is not a lot of other people do either. It's an interesting, sometimes edifying, sometimes infuriating diversion, and that's it. So sorry it doesn't live up to your oh so high standards, but anonymous internet forums rarely do, no matter what publication hosts it.

Posted by: Megan | August 29, 2006 2:59 PM

Skeptically, you make a very good point about how limiting yourself to others like you can be a negative. I couldn't agree more. My only comment is that I just don't expect that kind of diversity or breadth from a blog. So personally, I get my news from a variety of newspapers (WaPo, NYT, WSJ, Balt. Sun) and various magazines; I go to blogs to for more specific, less objective discussions on topics of interest, and I participate in those where I find the discussions useful and pertinent to my life. But that's just me.

Posted by: Laura | August 29, 2006 2:59 PM

to Collegmom, no, you never said you expected anything more than passing grades. Some posters misread your first post and have run with it. I've also told my son, that if he fails a class he'll have to pay out of his own pocket to take it again. I don't think that's unreasonable. He's a smart kid and if he makes even a minimal effort he should pass. That's all I ask. I'm not rich and the money I spend on his tuition is a sacrifice for me. I just want him to do his best with the opportunity he's been given. No problems so far.

Posted by: Alexandria mom of 1 | August 29, 2006 2:59 PM

Do you have any idea how hard it is to fail in college???? Colleges are (mostly) run like businesses - they don't want your child to fail out, because then they will stop getting tuition from you. You have to NEVER go to class, do assignments, etc. Geez, sounds like most of you "I owe my kid an education" parents were probably the same folks who wanted to institute "no win-lose" athletic games. Then everybody wins and little Timmy doesn't get his feelings hurt!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:00 PM

" I don't agree with the current financial philosophy that says - focus on retirement not on your child's education. It's not like you know for sure that you will live long enough to enjoy retirement - your investment in your child's education will live long after you."

I don't even have a problem with this if there has to be a choice made between retirement or college. I just don't like hearing that parents actively choose not to save or use all their money to live high on the hog in retirement (like the one poster said today). To me that is a just a wee bit selfish. Why do people have kids if they don't want to give them the best possible start in life?

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 3:02 PM

"If you *love* than you should *love* the low pay and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. A parent should not have to flip your martini major lifestyle, especially if you had the choice of majors. Low paying entry jobs are a result of picking a major without thinking about supporting yourself."

Well, not all of us chose to be investment bankers or corporate lawyers. Thank god some people out there want to do those things, the rest of us are off the hook.

Unfortunately, there are certain majors out there that are only profitable at the graduate level, which often is not mentioned to the undergraduates who choose that major. Biology majors, for instance, are not paid well at all in entry level jobs, and only get paid a respectable amount at the Master's level or higher. Think $22,000 a year, in a city like DC. Practically unlivable! If you had an internship or lab job in undergrad, you may fair a little better, may 25-30K. So I highly doubt all the Biology majors out there who picked this major because they love animals, the environment, or helping people did so with "Martini major" in mind, the work is too hard and doesn't leave a lot of time for partying. And biology grads certainly are not living rock star lifestyles afterwards. They are pursuing what they love, are willing to be poor for many years because of it (I'm speaking from experience) but couldn't have chosen this extremely important and underpaid field with the burden of student loans.

And besides, once the child graduates, I think they should be on their own, and NOT move back in with Mom and Dad (but that will be between me and my child, I don't care what others do). I just said it happens. Also, no one loves low pay, they love the job that is attached to the low pay. Two completely different things.

Posted by: Mychildhasfur | August 29, 2006 3:06 PM

When my younger brother went away to college, he was not ready to study. He spent two semesters partying and got horrible grades. My parents did not have his password nor demand to see his report card, but somehow, they knew he had spent a year goofing off. They had put away a certain amount of money for all our educations, and told him that his amount was X, he had just frittered away Y amount of it, and he should shape up and get a job, support himself for a while, and then either go back to school when he was ready or take the rest of the money (and do whatever he wanted to do with it) when he turned 30. He was not really into school so he got a job as a help desk guy. He was good at that, and after a while, his job offered to pay for his school, and after a few years, he did get his degree. He also had gotten several promotions in the interim and was making a very nice living. On his 30th B-day, my parents gave him a check for the remainder of the money that they would have spent on his college eduction, and he used it as a downpayment on a house.

Posted by: burbs | August 29, 2006 3:08 PM

>>> Do you have any idea how hard it is to fail in college???? Colleges are (mostly) run like businesses - they don't want your child to fail out, because then they will stop getting tuition from you. >>>

I failed many students with no problems from the department or dean. The students who came for help during office hours, I did not fail because they actually improved in the class. Again, taking responsibility for your college education pays off. Colleges are becoming a big business, but like business there is competition so if one student fails out, there are plenty of others who want that spot and will probably work harder.

Posted by: To 3:00 poster | August 29, 2006 3:12 PM

What a nice guest blog - I really appreciate the perspective!

Posted by: Shandra | August 29, 2006 3:12 PM

Okay, Laura, this is starting to get very "Twilight Zone". I was again thinking along the same lines when you posted. I won't repeat you (although I also add Yahoo! News to my list of sources), but it was funny.

Skeptically--although I agree with your point about the dangers of limited focus from anecdotal evidence based on similar lifestyles, I think the more important point is that what you are addressing can be found from other sources. Just go up and look at the reading list that Fo3 posted at the top of the blog. Those resources are out there in fairly large volume. What this blog serves to do is focus on the side that those references do not, the shared anecdotal experience that can add perspective to what is presented in more analytical studies. Since there is a plethora of sources for what you are advocating, this blog is a place to discuss rather than just absorb additional information to augment those studies that you are looking for.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 3:17 PM

ADULT: legal status upon reaching 18. That given, I do understand that some people behave like children all their lives...

And I understand that parents do not want to subsidize partying or pay for failed classes. But if you treat your offspring like children when they are adults and tie their shoes for them until they leave for college, of course there is a good chance they are going to behave wildly the first time they are away from parental supervision. They are still behaving like children because that's the way they have been treated.

I was an "adult" at 17; I had to work and put myself through college. I did not party in college; I did not fail classes. My mother didn't care what sort of grades I got, but I still graduated with a 3.4 GPA, while working two and three jobs and carrying as many as 21 credits in a semester (I rarely carried less than 15).

It's all a matter of perspective, really...I never saw college as an opportunity to extend childhood at my parents' expense. College was the opportunity to escape poverty.

Posted by: single western mom | August 29, 2006 3:19 PM

Great story on letting go. It was so hard for my mom to let her baby go- and it was exactly what I needed to finally grow up and not be the baby anymore!

I found it much harder when I came BACK for vacations. My mom expected me to fit back into my baby mold and I was ready to be treated much more as an adult. Over the years I've learned to be compassionate and train her to treat me as an adult (hey I'll always be her baby and we both accept it), but we had a few big fights afterwards.

I hope your re-transitioning goes much smoother without as many issues.

In response to the kids staying at home forever deal- parents paying for college, added into huge loans most people are indebted to directly out of college GREATLY extends the "growing into adulthood" phase. While there's always limits, it makes a lot of sense for most kids to move home right after school for at least a few months.

My mom constantly tells me it's ok to move back in and I tell you it's the LAST thing I'd ever resort to. I worked hard to prove to myself I can make it as an adult, and I don't want either of us to fall back into our old patterns (that and stubborn southern pride).

Posted by: Liz | August 29, 2006 3:21 PM

As usual, my kids are smarter and wiser than I...

Son #1 is a 15 yo rising junior in high school (two years to go...) and spent several weeks at a math program this summer. This was his first time away from home for an extended period, and he's not the fearless explorer type, so we crossed our fingers...

Most of our contact this summer consisted of cryptic two-word responses to our emails, and a couple of brief phone calls home.

When he returned, he and I had a chat about how the summer went (amazing, life-changing) and I told him how I missed our conversations. I admitted that we should have established some ground rules for contacting home before he left so as to prevent hurt feelings on our end.

Half-jokingly I asked, "Didn't you even MISS us?" My son: "No, Mom. I wasn't getting away from you guys, I was running TO something new."

He not only launched, but he flew right past me. Now it's time to pull my wings out from the closet and keep up.

Posted by: Derwood Mom | August 29, 2006 3:25 PM

It's pretty obvious that Skepticality feels edified by coming here to "intelligently" rag on this blog. Are you bored and lonely too?

You play yourself off like you're an unemployed social scientist or something, and that's why I find it so ridiculous that you would approach this forum with such inappropriate tools of measurement, such as, oh you know, empirical data sets, double-blind control groups and whatever else floats your boat. Hello? Does this look like a scientific study for you to critique?

Why don't you just pull out your microscope and look at the sky. It might give you similar results.

Posted by: Ain't Fooled by you | August 29, 2006 3:29 PM

"I failed many students with no problems from the department or dean. The students who came for help during office hours, I did not fail because they actually improved in the class."

Thank you for proving my point - you have to completely not try AT ALL, no showing up, no going to office hours, etc. for someone to fail you. If you're "trying" or "improving" at all - you don't fail.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:29 PM

"use all their money to live high on the hog in retirement"

You're kidding, right? If people can save enough to live "high on the hog" in retirement, then they probably will also be able to give their kids plenty of money for education.

A lot of people are going to retire in 10-30 years with not enough to live on. Why do you want to burden your kids with taking care of you when you're older? Sure, contribute to their college education, but what financial specialists remind us is that you CAN'T borrow to fund your retirement, you CAN borrow for college costs.

Posted by: MMK | August 29, 2006 3:33 PM

Studies have shown that brain development in areas of judgment are not complete until sometime in the 20's. Some 'young adults' really are not fully adult and still need guidance. Remember that intelligence and maturity don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

For those such as singlewesternmom who could handle things at 17, that's great. Others may take longer.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:35 PM

Some of the empty nester comments reminded me of this poem by Margaret Mead to her daughter. My mom gave it to me in my high-school graduation card. She emailed it to me again recently, and I think about it a lot as a parent, even though my son has only just started day care!


That I be not a restless ghost
Who haunts your footsteps as they pass
Beyond the point where you have left
Me standing in the newsprung grass,

You must be free to take a path
Whose end I feel no need to know,
No irking fever to be sure
You went where I would have you go.

Those who would fence the future in
Between two walls of well-laid stones
But lay a ghost walk for themselves
A dreary walk for dusty bones.

So you can go without regret
Away from this familiar land,
Leaving your kiss upon my hair
And all the future in your hands.

Also, sorry to be so harsh in my last response, Skepticality, I'm rather irritable today and shouldn't have been so rude.

Posted by: Megan | August 29, 2006 3:36 PM

"This may allow them to take jobs they love rather than the high payers, and move out of the house rather than crashing with Mom and Dad. So many of my peers fell into that trap, and some are still there ten years later!"

I agree with the previous poster who said that adults who work jobs they love should not expect their parents to subsidize those jobs. Sometimes, working a job one loves requires working another job (ever heard the phrase, "my day job"?) to pay the bills.

Also, many college grads who boomerang home do so simply because (1) they prefer the standard of living at Mom and Dad's house and (2) Mom and/or Dad don't say no. Even college grads who make very low wages can live away from home. The seemingly well-kept secret that seems like it should be obvious is to have ROOMMATES.

Posted by: MBA Mom | August 29, 2006 3:38 PM

Amen, MBA mom!

Posted by: Erin | August 29, 2006 3:38 PM

My son won't be moving back home after college. I moved into a studio apartment as soon as he left. He's saving the money he doesn't have to pay on tuition for a down payment on a condo when he graduates. Maybe I'll sell him mine, because as soon as he finishes school, I'm retiring, leaving the DC area and going backpacking around Europe.

Posted by: Alexandria Mom of 1 | August 29, 2006 3:39 PM

I had a lot of resentment for my parents when I was in college. My parents really pushed me to go to my father's alma mater. It was a very expensive school (then and now). My parents, when I went to college, pulled in about $150,000/year (this was 15 years ago). Needless to say, I qualified for no financial aid. Two weeks before I went to college, my mother came to me and said that she had to work her way through school and thought it would be a good experience for me. No funding for tuition, housing, clothes, transportation, books, nothing. Never mind that my mother was able to fund her education through working during the summer and 10 hours a week. At any rate, I went off to college, took out an outrageous amount in loans (I stayed for 1 year because I transferred to a cheaper, less prestigious state school to save dough). My parents bought a new Mercedes my first year of college, a boat my second year, and a house on a lake my fourth year. I get that it's their money -- but I was not the only kid I knew whose parents lived luxuriously while I ate ramen noodles and worked 35 hours a week at Wal-mart plus went to class. I vowed to save as much as I could for my kid. Now, if they were saving because of their retirement, I think I'd feel a lot less irritation and resentment, even after 15 years. But the Mercedes and boat are hardly investments in their retirement. It definitely colored my relationship with my parents and affects it until this day. My mother asked me a couple months ago why I was saving in a 529 for my kid and said "it's your money...you should enjoy it." I don't think she gets that I enjoy the idea of my kid going to college as close to debt-free as possible.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:45 PM

Regarding "failure to launch"

One of the problems, it seems is that we've raised the last two college grad generations to believe that they are inherently owed a decent job because they went to college. That's a standard that was set during the early boomers generation. Then, those who went to college mostly got into the higher paying white collar jobs. Now, we have a flood of college grads and there are not enough white collar jobs to cover them all. So we have college grads that feel that they are owed those good jobs. When they don't get one, they don't "make do" and take any job, they return home and live waiting for the job of their dreams to come find them.

One of my friends went to law school, got his JD, passed the bar and became a law clerk. In his late 20's, when his clerkship ended, he was out of a job. Now at that period, (some 10-12 years ago), there was a glut of lawyers in the area and firms were just not hiring. He lived for about 8 months off savings. His parents augmented his rent for 6 months and then said he would have to come home or fend for himself. I tried to get him to go work for one of the law temp agencies or take a job just to pay rent. He wouldn't and he wouldn't go home. So, he eventually ended up moving into my house for 10 months (rent-free) until he finally found the job he wanted. I know...I allowed him to do this by letting him live with me but still, many of the last two generations of college grads actually feel that they are entitled to wait for the dream job.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 3:47 PM

"Two weeks before I went to college, my mother came to me and said that she had to work her way through school and thought it would be a good experience for me."
What loving parents, gave you a whole two weeks notice. I'd be p'd off too. I've known several college students who couldn't get financial aid because their parents make too much money, but the parents weren't helping with tuition. In some cases the parents are even claiming the kid as a dependent on their tax return when they're not even supporting them. How rotten to rip off your own kid that way. By the way, you have to actually be providing over 50% of the kids support to claim them even if they're in college and under 24.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:47 PM

Yes, you can fail college classes even when you try. It depends on the class. I failed classes in which I attended every class, did every assignment, studied for every test, and even went to talk with the professor, who blew me off. This happened a few times. There were also classes that I frequently skipped and still got A's.

Also take into consideration that some universities are harder than others.

Failing a class or two does not mean you flunk out of college, it just means you have to work harder to overcome those grades. I earned my degree and am successful in my field.

Posted by: collegeisnotcake | August 29, 2006 3:50 PM

"I've known several college students who couldn't get financial aid because their parents make too much money, but the parents weren't helping with tuition."

You can always get financial aid through bank loans - that is how many law and medical students pay their way through.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:52 PM

"I allowed him to do this by letting him live with me but still, many of the last two generations of college grads actually feel that they are entitled to wait for the dream job."

DadWannaBe, I've noticed this in my generation for sure. I find it amazing how many people my age think that not being able to find the job they want is the same as not being able to find a job at all. I've never had a problem finding a job - but I've had a lot of jobs that were crappy and just barely paid the bills till I found something better.

In that regard, I do think sometimes the best thing you can do for a child is make them work for themselves. I fully intend to pay as much as we can toward my son's college education, but I also fully expect him to work every summer and during college so he knows he can support himself one way or another.

Posted by: Megan | August 29, 2006 3:56 PM

This whole thing of "don't you want to give your children THE BEST start in life" bugs me, because what you think is the BEST start may not be what other parents think is right for their kids. Yes, graduating with zero debt is a real blessing, but for some young people, having to "earn" their degree may be an even bigger blessing.

This emphasis on giving your children the BEST can often go completely wrong. Let them live with less than the best at times and learn from the experience.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 3:56 PM

"It's all a matter of perspective, really...I never saw college as an opportunity to extend childhood at my parents' expense. College was the opportunity to escape poverty."

Amen to that! :)

Posted by: No kiddies | August 29, 2006 4:01 PM

3:45 poster, I'm sorry that you're parents are so selfish. They should have let you know early on that you would be expected to fund your own college education.

However, most parents are not like yours. Most help their kids financially when they can, at least to some extent, and don't buy expensive cars and boats and suddenly tell their kids they won't help with college costs.

The point of saving for retirement before saving for college tuition is that parents and/or students can borrow for education costs and find money through scholarships and the like, but you can't borrow to fund your retirement needs. I'm not talking about the need for trips to Europe or a Mercedes Benz, I mean the cost of medical care, medication, nursing home care, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:04 PM

"This emphasis on giving your children the BEST can often go completely wrong. Let them live with less than the best at times and learn from the experience."
Mmm, what is this the sink or swim philosphy of parenting? My child is "earning" his degree by going to class and doing his assignments.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:05 PM

"You're kidding, right? If people can save enough to live "high on the hog" in retirement, then they probably will also be able to give their kids plenty of money for education."
That is my point. They can afford to do both but some parents choose not to help their kids. Regardless of whether they have the money or not. Look at the poster who said her parents could afford a boat and a Mercedes. I would rather stick to a modest car and no boat and help my kid start life without debt. To the poster who has thinks the best thing for your child is to "earn" their degree, then that is your opinion. And you are entitled to it. My guess each blessing can only be warranted based on each individual child. So for some kids the bigger blessing may be zero debt while for other kids it may be the lesson of paying for their own degree.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 4:08 PM

Add to my 4:04 post. I guess what I mean is not to save for retirement, but to save for your old age so as not to be a huge burden to your kids as well as your grandkids.

The thought that "you might not live to be that old anyway" is silly. Your child might also not live to go to college. Many many people live to retirement age and find their quality of life goes down quickly without their full income. There's also no guarantee your income will remain at a high level once you're in your 50s and 60s.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:08 PM

Since when did kids start to feel their parents owed them an education? I'm not talking about how parents feel about financial support, but at what point, literally, did 18 year-olds start to believe their parents owed them an education? I don't think people born in the 50s, 60s & 70s felt this way...I certainly didn't.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:09 PM

Mmm, what is this the sink or swim philosphy of parenting?

What's wrong with that actually? If you feel your child can "swim", let her swim! You don't have to keep holding your hand under her.

I'm not saying throw your kids out in the cold, just don't make it so hard for them to ultimately live in the real (hard, cold, unfair) world.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:10 PM

"They can afford to do both but some parents choose not to help their kids."

Well, that's their choice, isn't it? Maybe not what you would do, but it's not up to you.

Posted by: C. in Reston | August 29, 2006 4:11 PM

"Since when did kids start to feel their parents owed them an education? I'm not talking about how parents feel about financial support, but at what point, literally, did 18 year-olds start to believe their parents owed them an education? I don't think people born in the 50s, 60s & 70s felt this way...I certainly didn't."

I would guess that parents' and childrens' attitudes about college education correspond to the changing demands of the job market - a high school diploma without more has plummeted in value over the decades, making a college degree more and more important to a child's eventual financial security.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:14 PM

Thank you 4:14, that actually makes a lot of sense to me.

Posted by: I was 4:09 | August 29, 2006 4:15 PM

When I was very young, my mother told me it really bugged her when parents acted like their kids owed them something. She said that the parents choose to have the kids and the parents owe the children the best they can do for them (Sidney Portier said it better in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner). My parents were poor and I understood that my mother's idea of the best she could do for us was relative to their income. I happen to agree with her, and have tried to follow that philosphy with my own child. He's not spoiled. He works hard at school and has a part time job. He appreciates the sacrifices we've made for him.

Posted by: DC Area Mom | August 29, 2006 4:16 PM

"a high school diploma without more has plummeted in value over the decades, making a college degree more and more important to a child's eventual financial security."

Not to mention that the cost of college has risen dramatically in the last twenty years, as has the cost of housing, while wages have remained relatively stagnant.

Face it, the cost of college in the 60s and 70s, even adjusted for inflation, was a hell of a lot cheaper than it is now.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:17 PM

"Since when did kids start to feel their parents owed them an education? I'm not talking about how parents feel about financial support, but at what point, literally, did 18 year-olds start to believe their parents owed them an education? I don't think people born in the 50s, 60s & 70s felt this way...I certainly didn't."

It is harder and harder to live a middle class existence without a college degree. I believe a parent's job is to prepare a child to go out in the world and support themselves in a reasonable fashion (middle class). In the 50s - 70s, a person could still reasonably own a modest house, one car, raise two kids on a nonprofessional job. You still can today. It is just harder. It is not about having to provide for your child. It should be about wanting them to have a reasonable shot at making it in todays world with todays educational requirements. But that is just my personal opinion. Of course you are all entitle to your own opinions.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 4:18 PM

"She said that the parents choose to have the kids and the parents owe the children the best they can do for them"

I totally agree. And yet, day after day I see posters on these boards talk say things like "just start having kids, don't worry about not having the money!" and other crap.

If parents cared so much about doing the best they can for their children, then they would make better choices. They all seem to think every choice THEY make is the best, then criticize other parents for making different choices. A lot of parents raise children by bumbling through, convincing themselves that they are doing "their best".

Posted by: SueEllen | August 29, 2006 4:19 PM

"In the 50s - 70s, a person could still reasonably own a modest house, one car, raise two kids on a nonprofessional job. You still can today. It is just harder."

And darn near impossible in this area!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:21 PM

"She said that the parents choose to have the kids"

Remember, the true "choice" to have kids or not only became a choice when the Pill became widely available.

Posted by: Mel | August 29, 2006 4:23 PM

I have two brothers in their 50s. My parents didn't pay for their college. One brother works as a security guard at a mall and the other works as a cook in a chain restaraunt. Some kids will sink and not swim without their parent's help. You can practice tough love if you want, I'll just stick to regular love.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:25 PM

If your brothers are in their 50s, then they could probably have found a way to afford college or at least some college classes on their own. Sounds like you blame your parents because your brothers aren't lawyers or something. Maybe they just didn't WANT to go to college.

All of my aunts and uncles (ages 50 to 65) who wanted to go to college went to college. Maybe not Harvard, but good schools. A couple of them now have Ph.D.s. My grandparents were not able to give them any tuition money or other cash. They gave them plenty of love.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 4:28 PM

"Some kids will sink and not swim without their parent's help." And some parents will help and help and help and the kids will still sink. That's called Life.

Posted by: DM | August 29, 2006 4:33 PM

Couple of random points (some perhaps already made):

1. Skeptically, many of us regulars are NOT in DC. Just check some of the names. And no, that doesn't necessarily mean we're more diverse, but as others have pointed out, so what? Just being able to post to a blog--being at an internet-connected computer with at least a couple of minutes for recreational reading during the day--limits in many socio-economic ways the kinds of people you'll find on any blog.

2. According to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) it is ILLEGAL for college instructors to discuss their students' grades with parents, coaches, etc., without the student's express written consent--my institution has a set of forms expressly for this. (When I was teaching English 101 at a DC-area university, I was quite relieved to hear this. Thankfully, no parent ever called me, though.)

3. Someone asked about post-WWII parents and how they reacted when they dropped kids off at school. My mom fits that pre-Boomer profile. I was the first to go. My mom took me to my dorm, about 2.5 hours from home, so not terribly far away. She seemed excited about the whole thing--she was never really an openly affectionate mom--and only after the last load of stuff was schlepped up to my 5th floor room and when she was pulling out of the parking area did she start to cry. I feel awful about my reaction; I rolled my eyes and said, "Mo-om," but gave her a hug before she pulled away. Maybe she had just realized that she had ditched the only other female in the household and was going back to a house now full of guys--my dad and two brothers. ;)

Posted by: niner | August 29, 2006 4:36 PM

I grew up in Pittsburgh in the late 60's to early 80's. Back then, many of my classmates could go into blue collar or vocational jobs and make a decent living, and move towards the American dream. As I watch the ever shrinking pool of American trade and manufacturing jobs, I don't think that it is a secure route to go. I would certainly support my child through whatever route they want to go, but letting them fend for themselves without a post-HS education these days is far riskier than it was when I was in HS. The number of non-college educated positions that can provide for a decent living wage with enough DI to aspire towards home ownership and family security is rapidly shrinking and many of them that do have little or no job security. I think that one of my jobs as a parent is to at least get them started on the right track to financial security. Not luxury, but stability. And from my perspective, college is now far more important towards those goals than when I was in HS.

The times they are a-changing.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 4:45 PM

College was an option for many people (mostly men, but some women, too, like both my over 80 grandmothers) once the G.I. Bill was offered to the soldiers returning from war. That was a huge boon in creating a more educated workforce.

As far as work/education etc., the plumbers and electricians who started out learning on the job do quite well. I hope not everyone goes to college, because many of us still need our dripping faucets (and more serious plumbing problems) fixed. The song 'little boxes' comes to mind...anyone know it?

I just don't know what families bring home anymore in terms of netpay.

Does anyone here know of a blog similar to the one described by skeptical? Because the definition of balance is different for everyone. Is it just me, or does it seem that since the explosion of what my religion teacher would say 'instant pudding society' (and this was before the internet or cell phones, so she was ahead of her time or really harsh), we expect things to happen whenever we want them? I confess that I do this more often than I should--get impatient with download, a line, the cashier, etc. I think the gritting of my teeth is raising my blood pressure.

I don't know about the whole 'wait until you can afford children' argument. If everyone did that we would all be too old, too tired and too infertile to have them. It's funny how you find the money when you have to. Sometimes it's called a second job, other times it is no eating out and shopping only for necessities. It can feel like deprivation when you see 'everyone else' living it up (sometimes on credit).

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 5:30 PM

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't trying to imply that only college educated people have a chance to live comfortably. In fact, my A/C was just repaired recently by a guy who makes a very high salary in the DC area. He owns one home and is getting ready to rent it out and buy another home to live in. Skilled tradesmen and vocational workers make very competitive salaries, but there's a lot of competition.

If my child wanted to go into a vocation instead of a profession, I would be happy to support him or her. However, if (s)he wasn't sure what (s)he wanted to do, I would guide him/her towards college. College is often a good place to get a handle on what you want to do in life. Vocations are best if you have a definite desire or interest in them.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 29, 2006 5:36 PM

"Why do people have kids if they don't want to give them the best possible start in life?"

Therein lies the crux of the matter. 'The best start possible' that the parents can give, not what the child expects or the neighbors are doing. We all bring our exeriences to the table as we tri not to spoil ourkids or neglect them or smotherthem. What iswroing ith ths keyoard! a wise man once said, whatever you do itis going to be wrong

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 5:46 PM

I can't imagine sending my daughter (age 1) off to college, but maybe in 17 years I will be ready.

Posted by: PA | August 29, 2006 6:06 PM

Sending your kid off on their own at 18 seems a bit arbitrary. Why 18 and not 22? I don't understand parents who expect children to support themselves through university. It doesn't seem right to me to have children and then essentially throw them out after high school, especially when college tuition is this country is so unbelievably high, and a child's financial aid package is based on their parent's income, whether or not their parents will support them.

Posted by: Emily | August 29, 2006 6:12 PM

...hey, can I get a job at the Post where I get paid to write about my life, too?

Posted by: cc | August 29, 2006 6:45 PM

My mom dropped me off at our state university, handed me $50 (this was 1979, so it's not like this was a lot of $$ even then), and said, "Well, you're on your own." That was it for financial support from my family.

Fortunately I had a scholarship which I convinced financial aid to allocate over two quarters instead of three. Otherwise, I would have had to go home the next day, as I didn't have enough money to pay all of my first quarter expenses.

Within a day, I had a job at the campus cafeteria. After much haggling, I got my parents to apply for financial aid (and I qualified for full Pell grants, which tells you we had no money).

I then went through the process of going independent -- this was back when one could do so before age 24. It was hell, but I did it.

What angered me then, and stayed with me for a long time, was that from day one, I was forced to focus on survival, not success. It affected my GPA, my ability to work on the campus paper (fairly essential for a journalism major), and eliminated me from seeking unpaid internships (which, in journalism, is about all there was in the early 80s).

My DH, who had a similar experience, and I decided long before we had kids, that we would not do the same thing to our children. We will help pay for college. That being said, we have made it clear to them that they will be earning their own spending money (to include books and phone) and taking out loans to help finance their college educations. It's called risk-sharing!

Posted by: Derwood Mom | August 29, 2006 6:47 PM

We saved for our kids to go College, but not enough for the full four years. They went to Community College first, then on to the University. Parents should always encourage that as an option, because a lot of 18 year old are not mature enough to go away to College. We made sure that our now young adult help pay for there education. We helped them out but they had to pay us bback for a certain percent of what we put in. Every young person needs to learn responsibility.

Posted by: westcoast | August 29, 2006 7:22 PM

http://www.finaid.org/otheraid/parentsrefuse.phtml

If you look at this link it tells you that government thinks it is a parents responsibility to contribute to their child's college education if they can afford to pay for a portion or all of it. The government does not let students under the age of 24 qualify for financial aid even if the parent's refuse to pay for college. Times are changing and the committment to parents need to change with them. Of course you legally have a choice not to pay for your child's education even if you can afford it. But that does not mean that it is morally right. Even the government sees that as a basic responsibility for financially able parents.

Posted by: Lieu | August 29, 2006 8:01 PM

"How long are you going to hold the fact that you are paying for your daughter's education over her head? Until she graduates or for the rest of her life?

Talk about strings being attached to a gift!!"

Many families feel that paying for a child's education is not a gift, but part of a joint effort where the parent provides the financing to the best of their ability and the student provides the best effort they can to benefit from the education - this means going to class, studying, doing assignments. The student must be as willing to do their part as the parents are.

Most scholarships have GPA requirements - no one thinks that the money should be handed over to students who aren't doing their best. Isn't a scholarship a gift with strings attached?

And there is a difference between a struggling student and a student who isn't trying their best.

Posted by: anothercollegemom | August 29, 2006 8:31 PM

I can retire comfortably in 5 years if I don't finance my children's education. I will need to work for 10 more years if I pay for the college.

I am more than happy to work an additional 5 years to pay for my children's education. I don't love my job - I work to live not live to work, but for various reasons related to a great pension plan, I will not work elsewhere. I think that if I am willing to spend 5 years of my life working in a so-so job, my children should be willing to work hard at school.

Posted by: anothercollegemom | August 29, 2006 8:37 PM

I am a prof not a parent, but I do have a couple comments from the other side.

- I see some kids who are petrified, study diligently, come for help, and clearly do not need any extra pressure from anyone. I see others that need reminders from profs, coaches, parents, friends, and whoever else that they need to plan their schedule to include adequate time for their studies. I have a hard time believing the majority of parents do not know which camp their kid falls into. collegemom sounds right on target for her kid.
- There are courses where it is possible to try and fail. Many do in large engineering introductory weed-outs. "I tried" is a much less plausible in a small first year seminar. Again, I think most parents can figure that out.
- I worry when I hear about parents pushing majors. However, CS enrollments are down 50% in the past few years despite leading into about half the jobs in the fast growing / high paying category, and only trailing electrical engineering in starting salary. Either parents aren't pushing major choices that hard, or parents aren't very good at doing their homework.

Posted by: prof | August 29, 2006 8:47 PM

Is the college tuition a 'gift' or a 'responsiblity', as the goverment says? Of course, the govt will say that it is our responsibility. It gets them out of paying a dime or making anything easier for J.Q. Taxpayer.

My thinking on the issue of becoming an adult at 18: the main reason teens are considered legal at this time is so they can be sent to war. Are most people even fully grown by then? Nearing the end, but not totally. Certainly not emotionally (a lifelong journey) or intellectually. Our current society seems to be divided into a couple of different camps: the 'fortunate'ones who were given the 'gift' of the college, and the ones who have to work their arses off to climb the ladder--newer immigrants, their children, children of single parents, etc.

Just for your perusal--I paid 150K for my first house 8 years ago. My neighbor's kid's college tuition and expenses (nothing outlandish) almost matched that.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:04 PM

a friend of mine at uni didn't pay a dime for college. The state paid the whole thing and gave her an allowance. The catch--she was a foster kid (and white, if it matters.). Weird

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:07 PM

Florida

Children who are in foster care, receiving independent living services, or who are adopted from the Department of Children and Families after December 31, 1997 are exempt from all undergraduate fees, including registration, matriculation, and laboratory fees associated with enrollment in college preparatory instruction and completion of the college level communication and computation skills testing program in the State Community College System, the State University System, and other adult general education programs.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2006 9:10 PM

I read the link about financial aid. My husband and I made $95000 pre-tax last year and our expected family contribution is $21000 per year. I don't understand what calculations are used to come up with these figures. We don't have a lot of savings. Six years ago we were only making $62000 (I know - still a lot compared to a lot of people) and were still paying daycare/afterschool & summer camp for our children.

We can definitely afford community college for our son, but $21000 per year without loans is out of the question. For the govt to put parents in a bad light for not wanting to pay that amount is just a shame.

Our son actually thought we were being unreasonable when we said that he had to take out loans because "If they said you can afford it you must be able to and you're just being cheap".

Posted by: to lieu | August 29, 2006 9:52 PM

"However, CS enrollments are down 50% in the past few years despite leading into about half the jobs in the fast growing / high paying category, and only trailing electrical engineering in starting salary. Either parents aren't pushing major choices that hard, or parents aren't very good at doing their homework."

My father worked in the Computer Industry in the private sector for 30 years. He advises just about every young person he knows to NOT major in CS. Salaries are high initially but then stagnate because languages become obsolete so quickly (within a few years) that workers can't accumulate expertise that translates to increased pay from and worth to their employer. In his words, 30 years of experience is really 10 start-from-scratch-each-time, 3-year-cycles of experience.

"Computer guys" who have been in the industry for 5-10 years and prefer the technology side to the management track are easily replaced by hot young new hires fresh from college at half the salary (or less... think India and China). Also, despite high-performance, CS majors who don't work directly with (and have facetime with) outside clients have no one to advocate for them when their employer wants to dump them for a newer, cheaper employee.

And that's the inside scoop on CS.

Posted by: MBA Mom | August 29, 2006 10:23 PM

Unless you work for the govt. Then you get lots of training and can stay cutting edge while still getting salary increases, promotions, bonuses (yes, some feds do) and the great benefits. I don't know if 110K a year is reasonable for a cs person. Anyone know?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2006 6:53 AM

"My father worked in the Computer Industry in the private sector for 30 years. He advises just about every young person he knows to NOT major in CS. Salaries are high initially but then stagnate because languages become obsolete so quickly (within a few years) that workers can't accumulate expertise that translates to increased pay from and worth to their employer. In his words, 30 years of experience is really 10 start-from-scratch-each-time, 3-year-cycles of experience.

"Computer guys" who have been in the industry for 5-10 years and prefer the technology side to the management track are easily replaced by hot young new hires fresh from college at half the salary (or less... think India and China). Also, despite high-performance, CS majors who don't work directly with (and have facetime with) outside clients have no one to advocate for them when their employer wants to dump them for a newer, cheaper employee.

And that's the inside scoop on CS.

Posted by: MBA Mom | August 29, 2006 10:23 PM "

While what you write isn't always untrue, as a former CS major (B.S., M.S.) I'd have to say it isn't my experience or applicable to those I work with (well-known financial institution). All that experience adds up, and languages do NOT change every 10 years anymore. Quite often your job and interests lead you to new applications naturally. Systems are not re-written every time a new one comes along, and there's a lot of support needed for "older" languages.

Could they dump us all tomorrow? Sure. They could do it to you too. However, as on the business side, they need our expertise in the systems we've designed and built--outside client satisfaction depends on everything running.

Posted by: Fract'l | August 30, 2006 7:46 AM

To 9:52: I am not saying that the figures the government gives on those websites are "realistic." My point is that parents who can should contribute as long as their child is making reasonable efforts to apply themselves. My guess is those calculations on the website are just ball park figures. If you actually apply for financial aid, they take into account a lot of things like mortgage payments, number of children, parental assets, assests in the child's name (such as 529 plans, bonds, savings accts). So I would not fret just yet about those figures. I do think the FAF does look at the collection of financial health over time by looking at assets. So even if you did not make 95K for the last 10 years, your savings should reflect (on some level) your previous salaries. Here is the catch 22, parents who do save are expected to contribute a certain percentage of their total assets (minus their home or business). So if you have a savings account with 100K in it, then you will be expected to contribute some of that savings. Parents that choose not to save (and here I am being specific to choice. Not people who can not afford to save). Do not get that factored in and in essence qualify for more aid. It is really sucky that parents who do save get "penalized" for doing so. I guess on the flip side, if you do save, you are guaranteed to have some money for your kid. A huge portion of FAF is in the form of loans. Not grants. So in essence, the government is backing a modestly priced loan for students. Not giving them any money. Parents who save do still win out in the long run. The problem with college costs is the cost of an education is rising faster then salaries. Sort of like the price of housing in DC. So yes parents should be saving from day one but highly unlikely for most people. We started college savings when my kid was in the womb and started her 529 when she was born. I could not start the 529 till I got her a SSN. But I consider ourselves financially comfortable (not wealthy). We are very fortunate to be able to save for both college tuition and retirement. But we do scale back our lifestyles to do so. We have friends with similar incomes and expenses spending wildly. They go on two luxury vacations a year, drive nice cars, constantly eat out etc... Guess what? They save minimally for retirement and nothing for their kids college. Now these examples are people who can AFFORD to do both. I am not all saying that it is easy or even conceivable for the middle class or lower middle class family to pay the entire cost of college. I think if you had 2 kids, mortage, SAHP or WOHP and were making median income in any area of the country, it would be really tough to save for both retirement and college at the same time. But couldn't set retirement as a priority and college as a second priority. I am not a financial expert and I do not suggest anyone being the richest guy in the grave yard. You do have to a live a little. But the kids that are the most devoted to their parents are the kids that feel their parents did the best for them. Whether it was send $100 to college or $150K for college. It was their intent that seems to be the most appreciated. I guess what a lot of parents do not want to do is be honest with their kid. And say this is what we have for college. We are more then willing to give it to you but we just can't afford the whole thing. But I am willing to support you in finding loans, scholarships, and work opportunities. I think people misinterpreted when I was sad to see some people would rather live high in retirement (posters exact words) rather then save for their child's future. I have no issues with parents who can not afford to send their child to college or can only pay a portion. I also have no problems with parents who expect a certain amount of money from the child (whether from loans or work). DH and I are super fortunate that we can save for both and pay the full board of college. My DD is still expected to do her best and to work over summer break for her own spending money and maybe books. Yes, I can afford to pay for books and spending money. But like most people I feel she needs to feel some level of ownership in the college process. Again everyone has the choice to make. It is their choice. But I do urge parents who CHOOSE not to contribute to at least fill out FAF forms for the child. This will enable the child to qualify for any financial aid possible. The government basically punishes students whose parents choose not to be part of the process. No one OWES their child an education. But I do think you owe it to your child to be part of the process (fill out the FAF forms). That is offering at least physical and emotional support to their child. OK, this was advice my financial planner (CFP) gave me when I asked about saving for retirement. He said most middle class families should reasonably expect to save 1/3 of the total cost of college for each child. A child can reasonable contribute a 1/3 of the TOTAL cost by working in summers, work study or part time job, loans and scholarships. The last 1/3 either comes from financial aid directly from the school ( usually private schools or some special program at state schools ) or the parents should expect to pay out 1/3 while the child is actually attending the school. So in order for parent's to reasonably save a 1/3 in 18 years, you should start saving from day one. If you have very young children, you can go out to websites and look at college cost projections. Don't freak out because these projects usually assume that the cost of college will more then double in 18 years or increase by 5% annually. Once you got the total cost then divide that by 3. Then go and look online at compound interest calculators. That will tell you approximately how much you need to save per month to get to your 1/3 total cost calculation. Basically DH plan to save by age 18, 2/3 of the cost of college (assuming modest interest earned). We assumed 4% which is a conservative estimate. We plan to pay 1/3 out when she is actually attending. You don't really need to have 100% saved by 18. You can contribue while the child is in school. If you are paying for day care, a good place to start is to save the day care payments in a college acct till age 18 after they are done with day care. Most children stop day care by age 12-13 years of age. Also that money can still be used or appropriated to college while your kids are in college. You are already use to paying for it. With the high cost of day care, if my daughter needed to go to college now. I would not have to pay much more then what I am paying for day care. I hope this helps. Best of luck to you and your family. I am sure if you sit down and show your son the numbers he will understand .I do not know too many adults still miffed about the $ amount their parents contributed as much as the effort shown on their parents part. We all just do the best we can. Or at least most of us do the best we can.

Posted by: Lieu | August 30, 2006 8:11 AM

Wow, Lieu had some time to kill this morning!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2006 8:38 AM

Nothing prevents a cs student from enjoying their "good" initial job and then heading off for an MBA with their peers from other majors . While they have a few "skills" that can pay off quickly that doesn't mean their college experience is less valuable in other ways. If you are arguing in favor of another enigineering discipline, nursing, accounting, or premed I can follow your logic, but for most (I think psych and general business are two of the biggest majors) I dont' really see it. I think asking students to pick majors for the money is a recipe for unhappiness and failure... but I also hope students are being pushed away for the wrong reasons either.

Posted by: to mba mom | August 30, 2006 8:43 AM

Yes, the benefits of coming in at 7am.

Posted by: Lieu | August 30, 2006 8:52 AM

Do you really think that "the kids that are the most devoted to their parents are the kids that feel their parents did the best for them"? Is that what you see around you? I need to get different relatives. From my observations, it is the emotionally abusive parents that seem to have devoted kids! Is devoted kids a goal we should have? Anyway, our goal is for our children to become caring, involved, responsible and balanced adults (among other things --like financially independent from us!), much like any other parent. Sound like good goals for me, too!

From what I have gleaned out of the financial articles and books I have read, saving for retirement is the priority. There are so many ways to reach your educational goals. I hope parents and students thoroughly investigate them. The traditional pathway to the workforce (h.s. then college) is not the only way, and not even the best way for many kids. I hope we are preparing our kids to think for themselves and get a glimpse of reality before they have to start making choices of that nature. Living in the burbs, however, makes me wonder about the reality part of that.


Parttimer

Posted by: to Lieu | August 30, 2006 10:02 AM

Jumping into the discussion really late, I strongly disagree with the notion of CS/languages as 3 year cycles of start-from-scratch. Our best programmers are people who, either through training or natural ability, are able to internalize programming concepts (structure, inheritance, SOA, whatever) and apply the relevant principles to a given language/syntax or toolset. People who can do that can change with the times and have little trouble increasing their earning potential over time.

Think of it as synonymous with someone who knows Dance. When a new 'move' or twists on an old move come out, it isn't too hard for them to pick up the steps if their fundamentals were sound. If they had no fundamentals, woe to them.

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 30, 2006 10:09 AM

To parttimer: maybe we should clarify a healthy attitude toward parental participation. Eeks that sounds like something an educator would say. My post was in response to the parent who said that my son did not understand why we don't have 21K/year to contribute to his education. I don't mean devotion in a sick way. Maybe a better way to phrase it is acceptance of what their parent's role was in their educational process.

Posted by: Lieu | August 30, 2006 12:50 PM

I also disagree with the notion that CS is a bunch of relatively short-time relearning cycles.

Having been in the industry for 20 years doing the same type of work (Unix system administration) for 17 of those years, I think you need to be prepared for the work environment. If you go in on the bleeding edge of the industry, then be prepared for the endless short cycles. If you get in on some more standards, you'll find a lot more security. Basically, look into what large institutions like banks, government, schools are using. Despite the fast changing environment, those institutions do not have the huge sums of money to overhaul their systems every few years. Although they change their desktops and the COTS software that they use to support the staff, the basic applications that they use for large scale procurements, financial, or institutional work do not change. There are still institutions using large IBM mainframes using old 1960's operating systems. There are DEC boxes still using the 1970's VAX system. There are banks using Cobol, engineering support in Fortran77, programs and applications in C, etc.

Life isn't always like the .com little companies that flit about the bleeding edge like high school kids trends.

As for salaries, CS salaries in the DC area tend to average more in the $50-80K on average. For all of the high end salaries, you have a bunch of small companies, non-profits, one-or-two person shops that pay in the $40-50K range. I know lots of people working in the lower end. Many of them could go out to make much more money, but they don't for various reasons (they like supporting non-profits, they like working close to home, they like the flex hours the lower paying job gives, they like working less than 60 hours per week, etc). Also the average is based on the fact that there are a lot of people that jump into CS related fields from other jobs and jump out again. There are many long term CS'ers out there, but there are many attention deficit career types that jump in thinking its easy money, get bored and jump out. And those tend to affect the salary standards.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 30, 2006 2:02 PM

Some of you sink-or-swim enthusiasts need to rethink your philosophy, which is actually nastiness/selfishness masquerading as "tough love." It's not a sentiment that will pay huge dividends in your old age. Some day, your well-being may depend on the kindness of a person much younger than you.

Posted by: Texas mom | August 30, 2006 3:56 PM

For those empty-nesters that may want to have another child in their life, there are so many American children and teens right in our own communities who need good foster parents and/or adoptive parents.

If you've raised two well adjusted boys, you would make a great foster-mom.

Posted by: The Dane | August 30, 2006 5:31 PM

Don't forget that there are ROTC scholarships that are essentially non-competitive. Also, a person can join the military and get 100% tuition assistance. There are many ways to skin the cat of getting a college degree. My parents were definitely of the "you need to pay your own way" and what ended up happening was a few student loans, an enlistment in the service to get the BA, and then later commissioning to have a regular career in the Air Force. Didn't cost my parents much and while I didn't have the traditional college experience (party all night, wake up at noon), I still graduated in five years. I have two kids under three and I fully expect them to foot the majority of the bill for college, either through scholarships, loans, part-time jobs or what have you. The entitlement mentality stinks.

Posted by: Kevin in AK | August 30, 2006 7:15 PM

To Lieu (if you are still checking - I can't do this at work)

**To 9:52: I am not saying that the figures the government gives on those websites are "realistic."**

Our son started his freshman year this week. The figures I gave are our ACTUAL figures after filling out FAFSA - not website projections or estimates. Our EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is over 20% of our income.

Your response contained some wonderful savings advice for those whose children are small, but it's a little late for us. This year's freshman class was born in 1988. When our son was born we were renting. Housing prices were much lower, but interests rates were between 10-13% for most of 1980 - 199?. And there wasn't much creative financing unless you were a veteran. Basically, you had to save 20% down payment and closing costs. So our efforts during that time, after daycare expenses, went toward saving for a house.

We also have a second child. You get a break on college financial aid if you have two children in college at the same time, but ours are 4 years apart. Basically we will be expected to pay more than someone with children 2 years apart.

It is true that daycare costs decrease and eventually go away as the children get older. But, older children are much more expensive in other ways. They eat more, the clothes cost more, they spend more (we don't overly indulge, but we don't want to say no to everything - we want to live, not just exist to save money for college.) When our oldest was too old for daycare, we found volunteer activities for the summertime rather than leave him alone unsupervised as a young teenager. In our case, the volunteer activities did not involve as much time as camp, so I had to cut my hours and some pay. Well worth it when the alternative was a complete lack of supervision, but it puts a dent in the savings plan.

Also, about the time daycare expense reduced, it was time for a car. We buy used and keep them until it doesn't pay to keep them running, but not too many cars will last the entire 18 years before child goes to college :).

I don't know how long 529 plans have been around, but I don't really remember hearing about them until about 1997-1998. They didn't offer the same advantages then as they do now, and we were still paying fairly big $$$ for daycare, so what we saved was unspecified general savings.

As unbelievable as it may seem, my family didn't know anything about personal computers or the internet until we bought our first in 1999 My husband is blue collar type. Even though I worked "with computers", it was insurance claims processing using computer terminals that were networked into mainframe, but were not actually interactive PC's. The internet is an amazing tool for researching many things, including college financing. When my children were born, information wasn't so easily accessible and it was much harder to learn about things such as investing.

Also, my husband and I both came from families of high-school drop-outs, and we went to work out of high school. We did have some classes in community college later, but neither of us had any experience with the entire process (applying, financing, etc) of college. And our parents certainly couldn't help us there :).

I like your idea of 1/3 parents, 1/3 student, and 1/3 school aid. Each college provides a total cost of attendance which covers room, board, tuition, fees, books, transportation expense, personal expenses. The school my son is attending is part of the state university system and their total COA is approx $18000 per year. My son did work in the summertime, but $6000 is a lot of money to make in 10 weeks working at a mall. He didn't qualify for any academic scholarships. He worked hard in school and played sports, so he didn't work during the school year (the exercise and schoolwork were too important to give up and we wanted to see him sometime, so no working).

$6000 * 8 years ($48000) is a lot to save up when you don't really get started until the child is 14 or 15.

My child did get offered a grant for $9000 at another school as well as loans, but that school's COA was approx $32000 - even with the grant, it was more expensive than the state school.

Another person commented on generational differences (our 18-year-olds are babies to us, but the younger posters see them as adults). The point of this long-winded story is not that I am complaining, but that people can't afford to pay for college for numerous reasons, some their fault and some not. Times are continually changing and what is true now wasn't necessarily true when our college students were babies. And what is true now for your children will probably not be true in another 15 years.

I just was shocked at the website's tone that (from my perspective at least) is telling children that their parents are awful for not financing college, no matter what the reason is.

After providing all the information regarding our incomes, savings, ages (DH is 57 - within 5 years of possible retirement), other child, to still say that our EFC is as high as it is baffles me.

We will pay what we can, take loans for the rest, hope the kids qualify for scholarships in the future. We have saved for retirement and will be able to retire. We may have to sell the house and use the equity to clear the college loans, but we will have enough retirement income to live comfortably in a cheaper part of the country.

Lieu, thanks again for offering suggestions to parents of young children. Most of us really do the best we can.

Posted by: 9:52 poster | August 30, 2006 8:43 PM

---Our best programmers are people who, either through training or natural ability, are able to internalize programming concepts (structure, inheritance, SOA, whatever) and apply the relevant principles to a given language/syntax or toolset. People who can do that can change with the times and have little trouble increasing their earning potential over time.---

But the programming concepts mentioned above only take 5 or so years to master. Programming is not a skill that requires a lifetime or even a decade to fine tune. So in the private sector, older programmers (ages 35+) do not have a competitive advantage that makes them more valuable to their company. They can easily be replaced by younger and/or foreign programmers who cost significantly less in salary and benefits.

---Think of it as synonymous with someone who knows Dance. When a new 'move' or twists on an old move come out, it isn't too hard for them to pick up the steps if their fundamentals were sound. If they had no fundamentals, woe to them---

Thanks for proving my point! How many professional dancers over 35 do you see out there?

---Although they change their desktops and the COTS software that they use to support the staff, the basic applications that they use for large scale procurements, financial, or institutional work do not change. There are still institutions using large IBM mainframes using old 1960's operating systems. There are DEC boxes still using the 1970's VAX system. There are banks using Cobol, engineering support in Fortran77, programs and applications in C, etc.

Life isn't always like the .com little companies that flit about the bleeding edge like high school kids trends.---

This sounds like more government perspective, which I hadn't considered but especially makes sense in DC. While CS jobs using 30-40 year-old technology sound cushy and nice, they also sound rare outside of government work.

Few companies that are accountable to shareholders and have to justify their price/earnings ratios (1) program in FORTRAN or COBOL or (2) reward programmers who are not up to date. Private sector companies have to deliver results so being current with the market is essential for success.

I don't associate cutting edge technology with dot.coms. I think of dot.coms as little money-sucking companies that are full of ideas and theories but don't actually deliver significant results. I'd dare say that most CS jobs are high-change, not low-change like government jobs. Private sector high-tech firms (think Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, etc.) emphasize speed, change, and innovation and require employees to be on the cutting edge.

Posted by: MBA Mom | August 30, 2006 10:24 PM

To 9:52: It sounds like you are deeply committed to your children. I am sure they will understand that you did the very best that you could for them. Yes, I thought the tone was a little demeaning on the website. They start off saying we don't mean to blame parents but then they go right in on them. I thought it was funny too because the letter posted was from the very lowest of parents. You know the girl that described her parents made her pay rent in HS and kick her out the day after HS ended. I mean that does go on and that is a real shame but I truly think those cases are the minority. And certainly the government really is just punishing children who have idiot parents. Best of luck to your family. It sounds like your doing great.

Posted by: Lieu | August 31, 2006 7:47 AM

There are two components to most computer jobs - technical work AND application domain knowledge. Newly minted MBAs are fresher on certain skill sets than the old fogeys. You are correct that someone sitting in office programming to spec without taking any part in the larger business is easy to outsource - but so would an MBA who sat in the office making spreadsheets according to a strict set of parameters. Just as MBAs don't do the latter us technical folk don't do the former.

I am going to walk away from the computer before I type anything about (some) MBAs I regret...

Posted by: To mba mom | August 31, 2006 9:37 AM

To Texas Mom, its not 'tough love', its called 'growing up'. Parenting was designed to teach kids how to grow up, love, and survive (when the parent(s) are no longer alive to bail them out. Especially since the 'kids' are likely to have their own kids to look up to them. How can they do so when living in mamas house at 25, 30, 0r beyond? Face it (and its not pretty to hear), many lately have raised spoiled brats they would have trouble signing a rental lease when mama is gone...

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2006 10:01 AM

If you type Cobol into monster.com you get more than 1000 hits - not just government work! While COBOL may not be used for NEW large systems, old systems need to be maintained for *many* years.

There is a popular/media mentality about CS that is eerily similar to the apocalypse will happen when the clock strikes midnight on new years 1999... wrong but pretty hard to get people to deal in commonsense.

Deloitte & Touche has a recent study on outsourcing, if you are genuinely interested.
http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/cda/doc/content/us_outsourcing_callingachange.pdf#search=%22deloitte%20touche%20outsourcing%20study%22
hint: outsourcing is proving more expensive than the MBAs projected, since they did not properly understand the roles played by the in-house technical folks.

Posted by: To mba Mom | August 31, 2006 11:31 AM

---Think of it as synonymous with someone who knows Dance. When a new 'move' or twists on an old move come out, it isn't too hard for them to pick up the steps if their fundamentals were sound. If they had no fundamentals, woe to them---
----Thanks for proving my point! How many professional dancers over 35 do you see out there?

He didn't prove your point, but refuted it. Please read his reply again, and think. You don't understand the way technology works, no matter who your father is.

---Although they change their desktops and the COTS software that they use to support the staff, the basic applications that they use for large scale procurements, financial, or institutional work do not change. There are still institutions using large IBM mainframes using old 1960's operating systems. There are DEC boxes still using the 1970's VAX system. There are banks using Cobol, engineering support in Fortran77, programs and applications in C, etc.
Life isn't always like the .com little companies that flit about the bleeding edge like high school kids trends.---

---This sounds like more government perspective, which I hadn't considered but especially makes sense in DC. While CS jobs using 30-40 year-old technology sound cushy and nice, they also sound rare outside of government work.

CS jobs aren't cushy, even with 30-40 year old technology. My boss supports a system written at the dawn of time. (I support one written in crayon, but that's a different story). Try doing that without a modern toolset or tech support because the application vendor is out of business or sync! And such systems aren't rare outside of government. Not every high tech company is Oracle. Where I work consistently wins national awards for computing excellence.

---Few companies that are accountable to shareholders and have to justify their price/earnings ratios (1) program in FORTRAN or COBOL or (2) reward programmers who are not up to date. Private sector companies have to deliver results so being current with the market is essential for success.

Profits also count--you can't ditch everything at once and just buy new. I'm in the middle of integrating a new software installation for a major bank. Major bank, $7 mil software cost/install. Nothing is turnkey, we depend on our experience and tech knowledge--including the programmers you think are so out of date.

I do client/server, but this new system still needs to communicate and ship data between a 20 year old system and new, bleeding edge, and a few systems in between. Do we have a lot of COBOL/FORTRAN people? No. But we desperately need the ones we have, and as a previous poster pointed out (whew!) they've developed other skill sets. My boss can't do what I do--I've only been in the business 15 years, he's done 35. But I can talk to him about anything, and he's always got something cogent to add. Because . . . it's the way you think that's important. That's why "professional dancers" at 35 are irrelevant.

Posted by: To MBAMom2 | August 31, 2006 9:58 PM

Short search on www.computerworld.com for "COBOL programmer." I wonder if they have to be able to dance?

http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=68765

March 04, 2002 (Computerworld) -- Bill Payson is sick and tired of debating whether Cobol is obsolete. "The fact is, there's so much Cobol out there that companies are going to have to deal with it," said Payson, president of The Senior Staff, a Campbell, Calif.-based online job information data bank for IT workers who are 35 or older.

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