When your kids are babies, you can’t wait for them to become toddlers because you think it must get easier. When they become toddlers, you can’t wait for them to begin elementary school because you think it must get easier. Then, middle school – it must get easier. Then, high school – it must get easier. Then, college – it must get easier. WRONG!
Looking back, each stage seemed as if having a child that age was the most challenging thing in the world. When your 7-year-old comes home from school and cries because he thinks he’s “stupid” because he’s not reading or writing quite like the other kids yet, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 13-year-old cries because her body is developing way faster than the other girls and she has these curves the rest of them don’t have, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 17-year-old comes out of the proverbial closet to you and tells you she’s gay, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 20-year-old tells you he’s joining the military, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. Every one of those scenarios happened to me. I’m supposed to be the communication expert. I'm supposed to know what to say. Yet, I felt like an amateur each time.
What I have learned over the years is it’s not so much the talking that is the biggest challenge – it’s the listening, the staying quiet, the letting them make mistakes and the letting them struggle. As your kids grow, they are continuously bombarded with emotional and mental and physical challenges throughout each stage of their life. As a parent, it’s so hard to decide when to step in and try to solve the problem for them and when to let them struggle through it. The desire to protect them from everything cruel and mean in this world never ceases because the world is cruel and mean. And they must learn how to navigate through it successfully.
The biggest challenge of parenting? Learning to let them fall and figure out how to get back up again. To guide them through the challenges, but not solve them for them. To help them see the tough choices, but not make the choice for them.
I’m watching my daughter struggle right now. We learned she didn’t get as much financial aid for school this year as we thought she would. This means she cannot afford to live in the dorms. The cost is absurd. Paying rent for an apartment (provided she has a roommate) is cheaper! So, the search began.
She is quickly finding out how hard it is to search for apartments from hours away. She’s having to determine how much rent she can afford, how to factor in the cost of utilities, the commute to school, the commute to work. She’s learning about that thing called “credit” and how it impacts the down payment required for a place to stay. Yesterday, I sat and watched as she called apartment after apartment, struggling to ask questions about things she’s never had to experience before. About four phone calls in, that’s when I saw her break down. Through the tears, I could see the stress in her face and hear the desperation in her voice.
“All I want to do is go to school,” she said. “I want to be in Atlanta.” It was heartbreaking to hear.
I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I know, it’s not fair. She loves school. She takes her role as a student seriously. She studies and makes good grades. She’s a professor’s dream student. This child belongs in school. And she’s now having to struggle with finding a place to stay or she won’t be able to go to school there. We will help supplement as much as we can, but she has to take the lead on this one. If she can’t find a place, she will have to stay home and commute to a school in our area. The thought of possibly not going back to Atlanta made her cry even more.
Life is full of tough choices. Life is unfair. Life will always find a way to throw a brick wall or a road block in her way. I have to force myself to stay back and let her get through this harsh lesson. She must do the apartment hunting herself. She must figure out the budget herself. She must make the tough choices herself. I will always be here to cushion the falls and to help kiss the bruises left by life’s punches, but these are growing pains. They never get easier.
I’m now eight months into the program and neck deep into the crap. It didn’t take me long to realize just how little I know about pretty much everything. After successfully courting my Ph.D. supervisor and convincing the admissions committee that I can do this, I have had about a thousand moments of doubt since my journey officially began. It has become painfully clear how long it’s been since I’ve been a student and even more embarrassingly clear how lazy I’ve become with the self-discipline it takes to take on a post-graduate program. But all is not lost. One of my strongest traits is the ability to self-reflect and acknowledge the areas I can improve and design a plan to improve them. And in the spirit of spreading knowledge, here are the top 5 lessons I have learned to date. If it’s been a minute since you’ve been in a classroom and you’re planning to return to get a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, take heed. These lessons just might save your sanity.
Mini-Handbook for Jackasses: Communication & Relationships (Paperback)
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One of the greatest joys of being a college instructor is seeing your students graduate. Over the past couple of weeks, my social media news feeds have been full of happy and proud faces of recent graduates and their families. It’s a time of celebration and a time of transition. One ritual shared by colleges everywhere is the delivery of a commencement address by a well-known speaker. The commencement address is meant to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishment, to encourage them to keep chasing their dreams, and to inspire them to conquer life’s challenges that are sure to come. Some speakers are well-liked while others are not, but the speaker isn’t the most important part of the commencement address; it’s the message.
As a public speaking instructor, I try to emphasize that last point to my students. The speaker is not the most important part of any speech; it’s the message. I try to get them to understand regardless of who is delivering the presentation, try to avoid being distracted from the message. Focus and listen to what they’re saying, especially if you disagree with them. Listening to alternate points of view, having our own views challenged, giving others the opportunity to speak is how we continue to grow. It’s how we continue to learn. It’s how a democracy is kept a democracy.
Imagine my disappointment at reading the news publicizing some of the recent graduation ceremonies around the nation where graduates either walked out before the delivery of the commencement address or worse, disrupted the speech itself by standing up and turning their backs on the speaker or loudly booing during the speech. These behaviors are not admirable. The actions are not the actions of the brave. And for the students who are next to graduate, please consider the following reasons walking out on or disrupting a speech is not a good idea.
Wow! A lot has happened since December! Let's see. Where to begin?
I guess starting a PhD program is a pretty big deal. It's been over 10 years since I was the student, so I've had to spend some time focusing on overcoming some pretty bad habits and learning some new ones. I'll have to provide an update on my rocky path.
Oh, and I made the leap and finally decided to self-publish my first book. It's incredibly short and was actually completed last year. I was shopping around for publishers when someone asked me, "Why don't you just self-publish?" And I was like, "I really don't know!" The result? It's now available on Amazon! I'm excited and nervous all at the same time. Excited because I finally did it. Nervous because I finally did it. I'll have to provide an update on the writing and publishing process and what I learned in a future article.
Did I mention my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary also? Guess I need to also write some articles about marriage and how to not suck at it. Well, at least not suck at it some of the time.
And let's not forget about family drama. I guess no family is immune, right? Yes, I'll have to sprinkle a bit of that back into the blog as well. Handling family conflict. That should be exciting.
Most importantly, I'm still teaching. I'm still loving it. And I've decided to compile 13 years' worth of student evaluations to review so I can pick out the golden nuggets of student complaints and praises and write about them. The Salty Professor will make her debut soon and provide some responses.
So as you can see, I have been a busy bee, so something had to give. I just didn't realize that something was going to be my blog and it would be an entire half a year before I got back into the seat. So, as close in on the end of month 5 of 2017, I think I'm finally getting my shit back together. Guess we'll find out won't we?
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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