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Graduation Mom

Last month a friend lamented that while he had been joyous in December writing the final college tuition check for his soon-to-graduate son, five months later the respite was over, and out came the checkbook again.  His high school senior daughter had finally decided where she was heading, and the first “down payment” was due in May. So much for a break from the hefty tuition and room-and-board bills, to say nothing of books, clothes, and trips home.

Many of us have (and continue) to experience eight—or more years—of tuition payments.  Mothering21.com decided to chat with a mom who is in the middle of that experience.  In a recent post on her blog, Pittsburgh psychologist Nancy Berk dubbed herself “mega graduation mom,” as one son graduated from college and another from high school.  When she’s not teaching behavioral science,  Dr. Berk is writing books about rites of passage like Bar Mitzvahs and college admissions, blogging about running a half marathon,  and practicing jokes for her stand-up comedy act.  We recently chatted, asking  her to share thoughts about being at this juncture.

Q. You are at a crossroads in your parenting life: One son just graduated from college and the other is starting, both at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  Eight years in a row of NYU tuition!  But forget the finances. How are you coping emotionally?

A. Right now I am in the throes of cleaning house and getting ready for graduation parties so it really hasn’t hit me yet that they both graduated. However it has been bittersweet with my youngest son, knowing that everything is happening for the last time; yesterday was his last day on the school bus.  After graduation I will likely never enter the high school again! Of course, I didn’t feel that way with my older son because I still had four years to experience everything again with the younger one, and now that’s over.

Q. What are your sons’ majors?

A. They’re both film majors so I like to say that we’ve raised either the Coen brothers or two very expensively educated wedding videographers!

Q. I recently read that one of the questions not to ask a new college graduate is “So what do you do with THAT degree?”  Does your son get that question?

A. My son Daniel is a film editor and has been working steadily while in Tisch.  He has a number of projects so he’s been fortunate that there’s work in New York to keep him employed.

Q. That does raise a question about  careers in the arts. Can  you switch hats from mother to psychologist for a minute and give some advice for parents whose children pursue degrees in fields—acting, the arts, film—where career success is extremely difficult?

A. As a parent you need to be realistic but you also need to believe in your kid. If your kid has a creative vision and wants to try to make it happen, what better place to try than college?  Isn’t better to have kids find out in safe environment if that’s the career for them?  On the other hand, you need to be practical and if your child has a vision and wants to pursue it after college then the question to ask is whether the child is happy with the lifestyle that comes with that career.   Your child may not need the same lifestyle that they grew up with, or maybe they want a better one! That’s something to consider.

Q. What do know now that you wish someone had told you as you prepared to send your first son off to college?

A. Number one relax as you get ready to separate!  There’s a good chance that you will feel closer to your child when they go away than when they were at home, especially after all the friction the summer right before they leave.  I was also worried about sending my son off to the big city and gave him lectures.  But it all worked out. He checked in almost everyday.  Also remember there are stores in most college towns!  You don’t need to panic and set up shop at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Q. Now that both sons are out of the house are you going to convert their bedrooms into a den or exercise room?  There seems to be some controversy about the message that sends to an adult child.

A. I am actually waiting to re-carpet when son #2 leaves because then there will be nothing left on the floor! When my oldest son left I cleaned and got a new bedspread and we now consider it a guest room as well as his room, and he was fine with that.  I think some kids are more emotionally attached to their childhood things than others. If child is still in college, I think you need to make it comfortable to come home.  If you want to redecorate then have a conversation with them about it and include them in the process.

Q.  Whatever compelled you to start doing a comedy routine?

A. Stand up comedy is something I’ve always wanted to do.  When I started writing the college book four years ago, I realized there was so much rich material about being a college mom and dealing with the empty nest that I decided to start doing stand-up.

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