The Helicopters Have Landed
You'd think that a college professor would not have to deal with the parents of her students.
You'd be wrong.
Though it happens infrequently, I do have parents step into my office now and then, on behalf of their "child." My first experience with a parent was just a couple years into my career here at Fresno State, and I dealt with a mom when her daughter plagiarized in my class. Well, actually in two different classes in successive semesters. Unbeknownst to me, this parent was also a fairly large donor to our college. Didn't change my treatment of her daughter's offense; she failed the class and had to retake to graduate. But my guess is that Mom thought it should have.
My latest brush with a parent began last week. I received an email from a parent, asking for an advising appointment for her and her daughter, who will be returning to Fresno State in the Fall. Daughter took some time off beginning in 2006. Age? Clearly not fresh out of high school. Daughter was cc'd, but the email was clearly in Mom's voice. I hit "reply all," but started "Hi, (insert student's name here)," and described our advising policy (students have to attend a Group Advising session before seeking individual advising). I "spoke" as though I was speaking to the daughter, and didn't mention the mom. But Mom replied, with more questions, again cc'ing daughter. I "replied all" again, but this time, put daughter's name in the "To" window and Mom's name was cc'd. Mom replied again to let me know they'd be at the next Group Advising session. Daughter wasn't cc'd this time.
They attended. We had about 50 students, and it was easy to pick them out in the back, as none of the other students looked like they were sitting with their mom. Mom's probably younger than me, quite fit and attractive...but clearly not a peer. They didn't introduce themselves, but after the session, I received another email. From Mom. Letting me know they'd be coming in for my drop-in advising hours the next day.
They did, and when they walked in, the student came in first and introduced herself. Before Mom had a chance to introduce herself, I turned to her and said, "And you're the mom." And yes, I'm afraid it sounded like you think it did...a bit snarky. I honestly didn't mean it to, but we're at a point in the semester where I don't have as much patience as I'd like, and I did not mask my true thoughts very well. The 'ole frontal lobe doesn't regulate as well as it should by the 11th week of the semester, I'm afraid.
Of course, Mom was the tiniest bit shaken, but daughter actually recovered quite well, and said, "Yes, this is my mom, (insert Mom's name here), and she's here just as a second pair of ears." After shaking Mom's hand and inviting her to sit, I looked her in the eyes, and more politely this time, said, "I hope you don't mind, but I'll be talking to (insert student's name here) as we meet." Mom said something like, "Well, yes, of course," and it was clearly implied that she wouldn't want me to think she'd have it any other way.
So, I talked to the daughter. Mom tried to interject a few times, with comments and questions, and I answered her questions, but looked at the daughter while doing so. I believe I saw the daughter grow more visibly confident as this occurred. She had no trouble asking pertinent and thoughtful questions, and responded calmly and insightfully to my questions.
Mom was polite, but looked pained at times. I could tell she wanted to interject, but to both their credit, her daughter was pretty unwavering in addressing me, too.
By the end of the meeting, I had looked at Mom a bit while talking, and all was quite comfortable.
Of course, I could be wrong, but I think all three of us grew through that meeting. I learned that it really is ok to set boundaries with parents. I appreciate that parents care about the quality of their child's education, but when push comes to shove, that young adult student is the only one responsible for how well -- or not -- she does, and I need her to know, right from the beginning, that SHE is responsible -- not Mom.
I think daughter learned that not only can she really speak for herself, but I'm going to listen. And listen with respect, while holding her accountable.
I think Mom might have learned some things, too. About me. About her daughter. And hopefully, about herself.
Above all, I hope she learned she's raised a competent daughter, because I think she has. And I'm gonna do my best to make them prove it.