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From the College of Natural Sciences
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Listen. Let Go. Love.

Listen. Let Go. Love.

David Laude, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, contemplates the task of parenting a college student.

Listen. Let Go. Love. from Texas Science on Vimeo. [Having trouble with Vimeo version? Watch it on YouTube.]

David Laude, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, contemplates the task of parenting a college student.


You have this kid who’s heading off to college. They’re 18 and therefore an adult, and you’re supposed to allow them to become an adult, become what they’re going to be. So you stand there, and you’r waiting, and you’re thinking—What can I say? So there’s my oldest son, going off to college about six years ago. and I’m thinking, well, I can’t tell him this. I can’t tell him this. I can’t tell him this, and then I realized. I looked at him and said, “Just don’t get yourself killed.” I realized in the end that that was about all I really had the ability to offer to him.

[Title slide: “Listen. Let Go. Love. A short mediation on the art of parenting a college student.”]

There was this time that I wanted to be a doctor. At least I thought I wanted to be a doctor, because everybody else around me wanted to be a doctor. So I figured I’d be one too. So we were walking off to this emergncy medical training forum where we’re going to learn all about becoming EMTs. And on the way I saw this flyer, and it was a flyer for becoming a carilloneur. I didn’t know what a carilloneur was, but as I read about it I thought it had something to do with learning to play the bells. So as all my friends walked off to learn to become emergency medical technicians, I climbed up into the bell tower and met Mr. Bonhoffer, who was a carilloneur for the unveristoy. And he said, “Sure, I’ll teach you how to be a carilloneur.” And so I stood there taking carillon lessons and ended up giving carillon recitals at churches in the south. That’s always kind of funny when I think about it because here I was, right there on the path to doing exactly what I needed to do to be a doctor, and I saw some silly sign hanging up there. The arbitrariness of that moment that led me to not spend time in an ambulance, but to spend time in a bell tower, I think pretty much captures the real challenge that you have as a parent in really believing that you have any ability to direct your child toward exactly the right path for what they want to do. I’m fairly certain that if my parents had known that I had made this choice there would have been a rather deep sadness come over them, but it turned out.

[Slide: “The brains in your kids are still sorting themselves out.”]

I think one of the things I didn’t appreciate about having an 18 year old, even after being 18-years-old myself, and really in many cases after sending my two oldest kids off to college, was that deveopmentally there’s this period of time, ages 18, 19, 20, 21, where the brains in your kids are still sorting themselves out, are still figuring out how to be an adult. We’ve already gotten them way ahead of themselves with respect to what they can do intellectually. They did calculus when they were a sophomore. Put any kind of test material in front of them, and they’ll cram it into their brain and they’ll get an A. But then they show up at college and suddenly they realize that they have to wash their clothes, and they don’t have the foggiest notion how to do this. I know with my own kids, I think I was so protective of them that they weren’t really sure which way to look to cross the street when they were in high school.

[Slide: “There is no answer to be given.”

The most common reason students come to my office is for me to tell them that everything is going to be okay, is for them to say to me, “I’ve just made a choice. Is it the right one?” And it always cracks me up when I hear that. I always say the same thing to them. I say, you know, let’s go ahead and pretend we live in a hundred parallel universes, and in each of these universes we make an arrow and on the arrow we write down various features of a life that we might have lived. So here’s the life in which I decide to become a dentist, and then I have three kids, and 15 grandkids. Oh, here’s the one where I decide not to become a dentist. I decide to drop out of school, as matter of fact, because I got pregnant. Here’s the one where I decided to switch over and become a Russian literature major. You’ve got a hundred of these things, and you fire them off in the air and they land 50 years into the future, and then you walk by, and you pick each of these arrows up and you look at it and you ask questions like this: Which one made me happiest? Which one made me most content? Which one made me most powerful? Most wealthy? Which one gave me the greatest sense of satisfaction? You realize that it’s almost impossible to be able to make those kinds of predictions based on the individual kinds of decisions you might make early on. So when kids come into my office, and ask me about this, and I tell them this analogy, of shooting an arrow 50 years into the future, I think they typically walk out thinking, “I have no idea what this guy just talked about, but i’m fairly certain he didn’t answer my question.” And the reason is, there is no answer that can be given. You cannot know whether the decisions that you make along the way are going to result in things turning out.

[Slide: “At some point you have to let go.”]

For so many of our students, there’s an expectation level coming from their parents that they will achieve some success in a career. There’s no more obvious example of this than the notion that they’re going to get into a health professions school—a medical school, a dental school, a pharmacy school, a vet school. After all, this is the way that we as parents feel like we’ve won. There’s nothing better than being at a party, and somebody says, “Well, tell me about your kid,” and you say, “Oh, he’s at Baylor College of Medicine.”

That’s all you have to say and they’re like, “Ah, you’re the best.” We all understand the value of being able to drop the name of the professional school your child got into. What we don’t appreciate is that it is entirely possible that that kid doesn’t want to do this. I would bet that fully half the kids in the College of Natural Sciences right now don’t want to be here. They’re here not because they like math and science, not because they have any aspiration for careers that are built upon math science, but because their parents want them to be. There’s nothing wrong on a certain level with having aspirations for your child, but there has to be the appreciation that at some point you have to let go and let them do what they’re going to do.

And really, if you think about it, think back to when you were 18. Think back and ask yourselves—what kind of input did I want or need from my parents at that time? The truth was that what you needed more than anything was the opportunity to make a bucketload of mistakes, and all the guidance in the world that your parents could provide in the way of advice had to go in one ear and out the other. Because that advice, along with the advice that they get from everybody else, is only going to contribute to the fact that ultimately your kids have to have their own experiences. They have to do it uniquely for themselves.

So when you’re watching your child struggle after their first exam, or watching your child struggle socially, as they adjust to being in college, just appreciate that that’s a good thing. It’s getting through that, and coming out on the other side, that’s what most improtant. Knowing that you’re there, knowing that they have somebody they can count on to talk to, to listen to them—that’s about all you can hope for.

[Slide: “I was one of the lamest human beings who ever existed.”

The truth is, each of us comes to a place where we feel like we can engage the world around us at different times. Right now, I think I’m known for being a really good lecturer, for being able to stand in front of 500 students and give a rousing discussion on chemistry. But as an 18-year-old frehsman I was one of the lamest human beings who ever existed. I couldn’t talk to another human being, much less talk to 500 people.

So when you sit there, and you watch your child evolve in terms of how they grow up emotionally, how they grow up intellectually, you have to appreciate that it comes to different people at different times. It isn’t always so nicely and neatly packaged into a four year college career. In my particular case, my blossoming took place around the age of 25 or so. It certainly didn’t take place as an 18- or 19-year-old. So if you have a kid who doesn’t seem to be getting it, who seems to struggle in this kind of way, who isn’t realizing all the things you’d like for them, do appreciate that it is a long life. Maybe that year or two spent after college just lying on the couch, or just working a menial job somwhere, before going off and figuring out what to do next is a necessay part of what they need to do.

[Slide: “Our job as parents is to just be patient and to love and to wait.”

You never know when it’s going to happen. Uou never know when that phone call will occur from that child of yours on the other side of finally growing up. I remember something that was pretty funny. I got a phone call from my oldest last January. He was about 25 or so, and he calls and he says, “Dad, you know what today is?” And I said, “What?” “Today is the one year anniversary of me asking you for money. I have gone a year without asking you for money.”

Now to me it was actually kind of good, because I realized he hadn’t asked for a while, but the more important thing for me to appreciate about it was that he had finally grown up. And he was proud of it. He knew it inside. He knew that every time he called and asked for money, it was another example of the fact that he hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I think all of our kids are like that. They all know inside the things they never say out loud. They all know inside thatwhat they aspire to is to one day be able to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I’ve made it. I’m actually an adult now.” Now, when it is they get there is so very much dependent upon who they are as a person, and the kinds of experiences they have to have, and it’s our job as parents to just be patient and to sit back and to love and to wait.

Insight: October 2010
Going All In

Comments 1

Guest - Julie Cowan on Thursday, 12 January 2012 10:38

Your posts for high school students entering college and the parents who get them there are wonderful! I provide parent education for Anderson High School in Austin, TX, and I am so glad that I found these videos to share with our community. Just an aside, my husband is on the Advisory Board for the College of Natural Sciences. I hope to meet you sometime at one of the social events the department hosts at its meetings.

Thank you.

Your posts for high school students entering college and the parents who get them there are wonderful! I provide parent education for Anderson High School in Austin, TX, and I am so glad that I found these videos to share with our community. Just an aside, my husband is on the Advisory Board for the College of Natural Sciences. I hope to meet you sometime at one of the social events the department hosts at its meetings. Thank you.
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