Monday, February 12, 2024

That Parent

 That Parent

By Stephanie Kepke


I’ve attended many Hofstra Admitted Students Day events as a representative of Hofstra Parent and Family Council. There is one nugget of advice that’s always dispensed, and that is, “Don’t be that parent. “Who is that parent?” you may ask. Well…if you’re inserting yourself into your student’s college experience—calling professors; checking email; reminding your student about deadlines; calling multiple times a day to check in—you might be that parent. It’s discouraged for obvious reasons.

But…what if you are that parent? Is it ever okay? Maybe not to the extent mentioned above, but there are exceptions to the rule. Full disclosure, I am that parent now, even though I was the exact opposite when my oldest son attended college four hours away at UMass Amherst. I had no idea who his professors were, what his grades were (until I checked once at the end of the semester). I didn’t know if he handed in his assignments on time or if he failed any tests. Never once did I call and tell him to do his work. We spoke maybe once a week and usually only if he called me. And while I would have loved to check in more often, I respected his space. Here’s the thing, though—he did not need me to be involved in his academic life. He made Dean’s List pretty much every semester. He was an early to bed, early to rise type, so I know he wasn’t missing classes. I didn’t need to interfere, so I never became that parent. But, my oldest is neurotypical, unlike my younger boys who have ADHD, OCD and hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which can cause attention issues. My youngest also has Tourette’s and is on the autism spectrum.

My two younger sons attend Hofstra (a sophomore and a senior). When my middle son matriculated, I assumed the same hands-off approach as I did with my oldest. I didn’t nag him

about assignments. I didn’t check his email. Even though he commutes and lives at home, I gave him a wide berth and didn’t interfere. And then…well, then covid hit, Hofstra went to virtual before any other university in New York, thanks to early positive cases. My son struggled, as many students did. But, I still maintained that hands-off approach…until my son failed three classes in the fall of 2020 and had to take an academic leave in the spring of 2021 (we thought he lost his scholarship and by the time we realized he didn’t, thanks to the amazing Branka Kristic, it was too far into the semester for him to return. (You can read more about that in this essay: Triumph Over Failure.) All of the sudden I realized that my son needed my interference. He had multiple emails from professors unread in his inbox warning him that he would fail if he didn’t turn in his missing assignments. I was furious with myself, thinking that perhaps if I even glanced at the portal or his inbox, I would have known of the impending academic doom. He finished the semester with a .42.

He returned in the fall of 2021 with a new major that truly captured his passion, music business and performance, and a renewed determination to do well. Part of our agreement when he returned was that I was allowed access to his inbox and would be checking it and the portal regularly. I wasn’t overbearing, I simply gently steered him to complete his work on time and answer emails promptly. He appreciated the support and put in the hard work necessary to succeed. He earned a 3.47 that semester and has held pretty much steady with his GPA since, with a slight dip here and there, usually due to extenuating circumstances (for instance, wrist nerve pain for a percussionist guarantees a less than stellar grade).

When my youngest son started Hofstra in the fall of 2022, I requested access to his email and the portal right off the bat. He agreed and also appreciates the support. He was accepted into the PALS program, which could have taken my place as the steady hand steering him (though of

course much more involved than I could—or should—ever be), but we decided that it was not possible financially for him to participate in it. It is definitely worth the money for those who take advantage of it, and I truly wish he could have done it, but it was not feasible for us with two college tuitions to pay, even with my students’ generous scholarships—especially since we had been paying college tuition for our kids steadily since 2016 (with two also overlapping in 2019-2020).

Of course, Hofstra does not let students who do not join PALS flounder, as Student Access Services is ready and willing to help all students with disabilities. And this is another area in which a little push from parents can be helpful. I encouraged my sons to fill out the SAS contract and take advantage of all the accommodations afforded them. I had to remind my son several times to drop off his contract, and I dropped off all the initial necessary paperwork from his high school, and his psychologist and neurologist. Luckily, SAS understands that sometimes students with special needs require a bit more parental involvement. And they are now encouraging students to be proactive by requiring they hand in their accommodation letters to their professors directly. This will help the most vulnerable students learn to advocate for themselves. You can learn more about this by watching The Student Access Services (SAS) Changes on the Hofstra Parent and Family Council Events page. This is so important, because while I keep an eye on the portal and inbox, I do NOT contact professors for my kids. Yes, it can be incredibly frustrating to keep reminding them to answer emails, but they need to learn to speak to professors and to handle any issues that arise on their own.

So, am I bad parent for being that parent—the parent we are all cautioned against becoming? I’d like to think that I’m just doing the best I can to help my kids navigate what can sometimes be a daunting experience for students with special needs like ADHD and autism.

Since I didn’t become that parent with my oldest, but I did with my two younger sons, I’d also like to think that I’m nimble in responding to what each individual child needs at the time.

So…here is my advice (and you can take it with a grain of salt, since it’s against the advice of experts)—if you think your student would benefit from an extra set of eyes on his/her/their inbox, request permission to be that pair of eyes. Request permission to check the portal to help your student stay on track. You should NOT force your way into helping your student nor should you sneak into your child’s inbox and portal. The arrangement works with my kids because I asked and was granted permission—mind you, you can impose conditions if permission is not granted. As I mentioned above, part of our agreement to allow our son to return to school after failing three classes is that we had access to his portal and mail. The same thing with my youngest—he had struggled with turning assignments in on time in high school, so a condition of him attending Hofstra was access to his inbox and portal. If he refused, we would have had to rethink investing such a hefty chunk of change in his education.

Only you can decide what’s best for your student, and just know that if your student is at Hofstra and you’re reading this blog, you’re already doing a great job in being an involved parent who wants only the best for your child…no matter how hands-on or hands-off you are.

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