Welcome to the Parent to Parent Blog

Penn State Parents Council

Parent to Parent Blog
Welcoming. Sharing. Connecting.

The Parent to Parent Blog is run by members of the Penn State Parents Council that are dedicated to enhancing parent to parent communication. This blog is a partnership with the Penn State Parents Program.  We will strive to use the individual expertise of our parent and family volunteers to educate you about various topics, as well as the resources and services available from the university.

 

The Best Thing That I’ll Ever See Happened When I Wasn’t Looking

By Gina Holub

The summer after my son graduated high school, I threw him a combination graduation / 18th birthday party. Forty friends and family members descended on my house one Saturday afternoon to celebrate these milestones in his life. I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all, but these things are hard to gauge.

Two things about that day will forever stick in my mind. The first was I had WAY too much food. I had a full course of appetizers including wings, dips, salads, and finger foods. The crowd arrived hungry and swarmed the table, then piled into the backyard to play volleyball. While they were out there, I set out the main course, which was an enormous tray of cold cuts along with salads, rolls, and all the fixings.

No one touched any of it. Maybe three people actually made themselves a sandwich. I sent everyone home with Ziploc bags crammed full of lunch meat, and we still had enough left over to eat for a week. I don’t know what I was thinking.

The second thing I’ll always remember about that party is a video I made of my son’s life. I spent several weeks that summer converting VHS tapes to digital, then splicing them together to create a video record spanning from moments after he was born to when he graduated high school. I added pictures (many of which show him rocking his Penn State apparel – his father and I are both alumni), complete with captions, and then set it to music. I worked on it long into the night for close to a month. I burned copies for family to take, and even tried to persuade them to watch it with me that day. Yet, everyone got bored halfway through (in fairness, it is 90 minutes long). To this day, I think I’m the only person who watched it in its entirety. I don’t even think my son has watched it all the way through.

I don’t care. I love that video. I had a blast making it and taught myself a new set of skills in the process. When he went off to Penn State and I was really missing him, I’d pop that video in and cry my eyes out until I’d feel better. Now, I’m thankfully past the point where I cry when he returns to school. Yet, I still watch it once in a while. It makes me feel like he’s a little bit closer, maybe in the next room rather than two hundred miles away.

I watched it again the other day and realized something new. These events that I had watched unfold, like his baptism, the first time he sat up, and jumped on the bus for his first day of kindergarten… these were my milestones, too. Watching him achieve each step helped me to establish my own place in the world, the part related to being a parent.

He stayed in State College through the summer between his junior and senior years. Between going away with friends for spring break, and spending time with his father and his significant other over winter break, I didn’t see that much of him for almost two years. During that time, he lived in off-campus apartments and attended to all of the responsibilities that go along with that: paying bills, managing money, doing laundry, cooking, shopping for food, and cleaning up after himself. All of this was on top of juggling classes and a job at Waring Commons. During his time away, he took the building blocks he was given and worked diligently at putting them together into something that will be uniquely his. Though the final shape of that is far from complete, it’s clear to me he’s been working on it. Hard.

He finally came home again this summer. While he was away, when I wasn’t able to see the events shaping his life, he became a man. Of course, this is what should happen when a child goes away to college. Yet, it isn’t just about him. It’s about me, too.

I’m now the proud mother to a man. He is polite and caring. His sense of social conscience is far more developed than mine was at his age. He cooks like he might someday give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money. He’s inherited a green thumb from his grandmother and great-grandmother. He has no fear of hard, physical work. He’s always up for trying something new, teaching himself new skills. He’s also funny! We have wonderful discussions that veer from intensely serious to uproariously hilarious and back again in moments. We have arguments about ridiculous things that leave me breathless with laughter, eyes wet with tears. He’s got big dreams and I know he will do great things with his life.

So much of it happened while I wasn’t looking, and I feel lost at times as I have no context for it. There’s no video to watch. I don’t know much about the forces that changed him from the adolescent to the man he is now facing his last semester at Penn State. So I find myself constantly under-estimating him, thinking he can’t possibly be ready to tackle what the world is throwing at him. Then he turns around and handles it with seemingly no effort at all.

I keep telling myself not to be surprised by this quietly capable man now inhabiting the body of my son. I’m sure I’ll eventually get my head around it, but in the meantime, it’s bewildering. When we went to New Student Orientation, the speaker at the parents’ meeting said, “From here on, you’re not so much a parent anymore as a coach and mentor to your student.” At the time, I remember scoffing silently to myself, “That’s not how it’s going to be for me”. I’ve come to realize that’s exactly my role now. He doesn’t need me for 99% of the things he needed me for when he was a child. I have a new place in his life.

The video I made stopped on the day he graduated from high school. Yet, he kept going. Now I have to stop looking for the child in the video and try to catch up with the man who is now my son.

What I wish my parents talked to me about

By Anonymous

When I visit the University Park campus I’m often struck by how much has changed with the college experience since I attended college in the early 1980’s.  However, there are many of the same issues that I experienced as a young woman as I grappled with the responsibilities of adulthood, independence, peer pressure, and academic rigor.  There are things, many things I wish my parents had discussed with me before I left for college, but looking back there was a wide generation gap between me and my parent’s generation.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you the issues I wish my parents had talked to me about, specifically, about alcohol and sexual assault.  This is a critical and potentially lifesaving discussion that must become part of the regular narrative between parents and children.

I do not believe my parents could comprehend that alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct took place on a college campus, let alone impact one of their daughters.  I do not recall having discussions about the consequences of drinking too much, and most definitely there were ZERO discussions about anything related to sexuality.   My dating experience heading off to college was very limited.  I had many male friends, but none that I found interesting enough to date long term.  That changed when I left for college.  However, I quickly discovered that I was unprepared and immature to handle the new found freedom of college life.

I wish my parents had discussed with me the dangers of over-consuming alcohol.  As it was back when I went to school and even more so now, young adults drink alcohol in alarming amounts, and in some cases deadly amounts.  I know I felt the pressure to fit in and believed that the only way to have fun was to go to parties and drink.  What I didn’t realize at the time that drinking too much not only caused me to feel terrible the next day, but more important, my decision-making and choices were altered as well.  In choosing to over-consume, I let my guard down, I made choices that were not in my best interest, and to this day I have deep regrets.

Parents, as you prepare your child to leave, I cannot stress enough the importance of having serious conversations with them about responsible drinking and the consequences that can occur due to overconsumption.  Let’s face it, underage drinking is prevalent on every college campus across the country, it is not limited to Penn State and is most likely the common denominator in many poor and tragic choices made by college students.  While students will take online alcohol and drug awareness modules before they begin their freshmen year, as parents we must continue to have an ongoing dialogue with our children about alcohol and drug abuse and teach them by our example.  My parents never took the time to talk with me about the impact drinking too much could have on my life and my college experience.  Perhaps that one conversation would have helped me when I needed it the most.

I wish my parents would have taught me the difference between “consent” and not being able to give consent because I was impaired.  That conversation would have never taken place, because “good girls” would never put themselves in that type of “situation.”  I wish I had been better prepared, more experienced and comfortable around the young men who I flirted with at parties and bars.  Instead, I was naïve, trusting, and unsuspecting of their ulterior motives.  What seemed like a harmless walk home, because I was a little “tipsy” turned into a situation that I never expected to happen to me, I said “no!” and that plea fell on deaf ears.  I became one of “those girls” you have heard about, the girl who had too much to drink and led a guy on to think she wanted to have sex with him.  The only problem with that scenario is “girls like me” were not able to make that choice, it was forced upon them.  That experience forever changed me and, even after working through my feelings with counselors I still think about the “what if’s”.   Through my own journey, I found I wasn’t alone, and discovered that other young women just like me had the same thing happen to them.  Back then, these incidents were never reported or discussed; it was taboo to come forward.   I wish I had confided in someone.  I was too ashamed.  I blamed myself because after all, I drank a little too much and let my guard down.

During my years in college, there were few resources to help students who were victims of sexual assault; there were no hotlines, psychological services, or even guidance on how to report a crime of this nature.  Instead, I pretended that I was just fine.  I was too ashamed of what my parents would think of me to ask for their support, to ask for counseling or report the incident.   I know my parents loved me and I know how devastated they would have been to learn about what happened to me.  I wish my parents would have provided me with a sense that I could share anything with them, no matter how awful and they would be there to support me and guide me in the right direction.

Parents, please share my story with your son or daughter as they prepare to begin their college experience and let them know that you will listen to them and support them unconditionally, no matter what the circumstance.  A candid discussion regarding personal responsibility, sexuality and consent should not be limited to students attending college for the first time, rather, a continuous dialogue throughout your son or daughters college experience.  Additionally, it is important to become familiar with and to share with your child the resources that are available to them on campus, specifically, the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response:  http://titleix.psu.edu/get-help/,  Counseling and Psychological Services: http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/counseling/self-help_sa.shtml, and the Center for Women Students: http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/womenscenter/

I wish I could turn back time and use the knowledge, wisdom and insight I have gained to alter my college experiences. I cannot change the past, but continue to move forward.   My hope is that this blog will serve as the impetus for a larger discussion between you and your children.  As parents and guardians, it is our responsibility to prepare our children for adulthood, all aspects of it, good and bad.  Conversations that are uncomfortable tend to be put off or never occur.  Take the time now to have these important conversations so that your child will be informed, prepared and they will not look back and wish you had.

Advice for Freshman Parents Making the LEAP

By Brian Kruse, Parent Ambassador

We dropped off my freshman son for his LEAP summer session on June 29, 2016.  Now ten months later, I picked him up after his first full year at Penn State.  It’s been an exciting adventure for him, and a real adjustment for me.   I knew going in I was going to miss him, but I didn’t realize how much.   It’s hard going from being a part of your student’s everyday life to only seeing him 5 times in almost a year.  Being over 400 miles away, you can’t just pop in for a quick hello.

At first over the summer, we were excited and nervous about all of his new experiences.  The occasional text and rare pictures were a treat as we breathed a sigh of relief that he loves Penn State and was making the adjustment to college life.   The more he got settled in though, the more the reality of the change in our lives was setting in.   No more high school meets to watch.   No one to play hooky with and go skiing on a snowy weekday.  No one to take out the trash, mow the lawn or shovel the driveway for me.  I even missed the occasional bickering with his Mom…the peace and quiet is deafening.

It can be hard to remember in all the initial excitement that this is THEIR time and THEIR experience and it isn’t shared with us the same way everything else has been up through high school.  So how do you make that adjustment?  How can you stay connected without cramping their experience?  Every parent/student relationship is different, so there’s really no right or wrong answers.  But just in case it might help some new Penn State parents, here are a few things that helped me adjust to my PSU freshman’s first year:

  • Buy the Penn State Swag and show it off with pride! From T-shirts, to hoodies, to car magnets, I embrace it all.  Penn Staters are everywhere and they love to talk Penn State.  The swag sparks connections, conversations and of course the occasional random “We Are” shouts.   I even once got a special 10% “Penn State” only discount in a Mexican restaurant where the manager was an alum!  I’ve been from Maine to New York City to Key West this past year and wherever I go, there’s someone reminding me of my connection to Penn State and my son.
  • Watch every football game. Get the Big Ten Network and don’t miss a game!  I like football, but before this year I hadn’t watched college football.   Whether you like football or not, your student chose Penn State in no small part because of its spirit and sense of community.  A Penn State football game embodies the best of both.  Get up on Saturday morning, put on your best blue and whites, and count the hours to kick-off.   No one to watch with you?  There are plenty of great Penn State groups on social media that you can chat with during the game.   Now if you really miss your student as much as I did, you can play the DVR version of “Where’s Waldo”.  That’s where you tape the game and then after, slow scan through the camera pans of the student section to see if you can spot YOUR student.  Sounds crazy right?  I found him three times this last season!
  • Speaking of social media, take some time to explore all of different social media sites offered by Penn State and groups affiliated with Penn State. Reading daily posts related to the school and specific colleges or interests that I know my student is connected with, helps me feel more connected.  Occasionally, I’ll come across something that I think my son might be interested in and I’ll forward it and get the coveted text; “Thanks for sending that.”
  • Get involved!  There are plenty of opportunities for parents to be involved with Penn State.  I recently joined the Penn State Parents Program as a Parent Ambassador.   It’s great going to local admissions events to meet and share with prospective students and families.   Another great option would be to check with the Alumni Office about local alumni chapters in your area.  Even if you’re not an alumnus, many groups are happy to include parents of future alumni in their fundraising, community service and social events.

So, fear not, new freshman parents!  You too can share in the fun and excitement of the next four years because…WE ARE…Penn State Parents!

A Return to Childhood’s Gate

By Peggy Montella, Parent Ambassador (’86 Journalism, ’90 M.B.A. Marketing)

“When we stood at childhood’s gate, shapeless in the hands of fate, thou didst mold us dear old State” are lyrics that all Penn Staters sing, regardless of victory or defeat, after every athletic contest. As a second-generation alumni and current parent, I have taken those words to heart. Looking back, the six years I spent at Penn State did mold me. I was a shy 17-year-old from a small Pennsylvania town who picked Penn State because my father went there and I grew up watching Penn State football. I left after grad school as a 25-year-old with a great job offer in Maryland and an even greater boyfriend, who has been my husband for 24 years. I truly grew to adulthood in Happy Valley and consider it my erstwhile hometown.

As an alumna sending my oldest child to Penn State, it has been an interesting switch of roles. At the Spend a Summer Day visit, it was me regaling (boring?!) my prospective Penn Stater about stickies at the Diner (still delicious), ice cream at the Creamery (duh), and fun nights at the G-Man (now Primanti Bros). I told him how the 80s student section threw marshmallows at football games and how, regrettably, we most definitely did not know the words of the Alma Mater. Now, it is his turn to introduce me to new restaurants when we visit, show me the new buildings on campus, and not only does he know the Alma Mater, but he plays it proudly as a member of the Penn State Blue Band. It is “his” Penn State now.

This twist in roles made me wonder what my father thought when he dropped me off on campus as a freshman. He went to PSU on the GI Bill after serving in the US Navy during WWII. During his time at Penn State, he worked as a waiter in the ladies dorm of McElwain Hall…my sophomore home. It must have been strange moving his daughter into the dorm where he once served dinner. I recognize the feeling because I moved my freshman son into McKee Hall, which I called home when it was the graduate student dorm in the late 80s. It was a surreal experience because so much of the building was the same. Even as I helped my son unpack, I had to resist the urge to find “my” room!

Now that I have been a Penn State parent for a few years, I can say that I am equally appreciative of my history there and enjoying all the places like Otto’s and Primanti Bros. I am blown away by THON, which was a much smaller event in my day. There are many new, taller buildings going up downtown, but as long as we have landmarks like the Dorito church, the Tavern, and the Corner Room, it will always feel like State College (and home) to me.

I am grateful that my father lived long enough to see his grandson go to Penn State. It gave me comfort returning my son to campus after my father’s funeral to know that three generations of my family have now walked these paths, eaten in these dorms, and sat in some of the same old classrooms and restaurants. It is hard sending your children off to college, especially the first.  Knowing my oldest child would be at a place I knew and loved made it easier. Many things have changed from my father’s day to mine to my son’s but the spirit of Penn State remains the same. We Are and will always be…Penn State!