Ask Mary Jo

College brings change, sometimes

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Q.I finished my first semester at college and loved it. I made dean’s list. At first, I was thrilled to be home. I genuinely missed my family. It’s been less than a week, though, and I’m ready to go back to school! My parents are treating me like I never left. I’ve been in charge of my life since August, and all of a sudden they act like I can’t take care of myself. Nag, nag, nag! What time are you coming in? Where are you going? Don’t drive with other teens. Don’t text. It’s ridiculous. Why can’t they see I’m grown up? I love them, but this is making me crazy.


Mary Jo’s response: I hear your frustration. You feel disrespected. You’ve proven you can make decisions and be in charge. Coming home makes you feel younger than you are.

Before we discuss your situation, I’d like to tell you a story. My parents died within four months of each other. My papa was ill with lung cancer; my mother was living with Alzheimer’s. My father was a deeply faith-filled man. He accepted his impending death with peace and grace; he saw his illness as God’s will and lived well until his final breath. A few days before he died, he began to cry. His tears were for me. Glancing at my mom, he said, “I’m leaving you with a mess.”

I reassured him. I was an adult with a strong husband and supportive family. My friends and colleagues stood by me. I could handle the challenges of my mother’s illness. His response may surprise you: “I know all of that. But you’re still my baby.”

Your parents were given a great gift and a huge responsibility when you were born. When they look at you they see a mature, accomplished and successful 18-year-old. I’m sure they’re proud of you. They also see the newborn they held, the toddler they taught, the child they helped with homework, the pre-teen they guided into adolescence and the young adult you’re becoming.

Your experience is very common. Once you’re home, you are your parents’ responsibility again. When you’re at school, they don’t know what time you go to bed. They don’t know if you’re walking across campus late at night. At home, they are alert for your return. I doubt they rest well until you’re safely in the house.

Please talk with your parents. Share your love, your pride in your college success, and your frustration. Try to see your life through their eyes. To be loved deeply is a great gift. In time, you may be a parent. If you’re like most of us, you’ll fight an impulse to wrap your newborn in bubble wrap. Protecting also involves letting go. Respect your parents. Return their love. Be honest, be sincere. One day life will be busy and spending a college break at home will not be possible. Enjoy life.

Q.My boyfriend told his best friend that he’s going to propose to me on Christmas Eve, and his best friend told me. No way! We’re not even 20, and we both have two more years of college. I love him, but there’s no way I’m ready for marriage. I’m thinking I should tell him I know and stop him before he puts me in a really lousy place. But his friend made me promise not to tell, and I don’t want to lie to him. Help!


Mary Jo’s response: You owe your boyfriend an honest conversation. You could easily bring up the future without revealing what his best friend said. If you’re serious about your relationship but are concerned about the timing of his proposal, he may be willing to wait. Opening the subject is OK – it’s no longer 1905. People discuss significant decisions and make mutual compromises. I hope all goes well for you both.

Q.I got a 3.8 my first semester. I worked hard, but it was worth it. I’ve made great new friends. I’m happy. Why write to you? Because I feel like I’m not connecting with my friends from high school. It’s like we have nothing in common any more. Is this normal?


Mary Jo’s response: You’ve had an amazing life change – of course your friendships are changing. You and your friends may not share as many interests as you did in high school, but the core of your bond probably remains.

Moving forward is OK. Finding new common ground may help you maintain old friendships as you mature and grow. Reframe your relationships. Discuss your feelings with candor. Becoming an adult often involves change; your friends may feel as you do. Give yourself time. After another semester you may feel differently. No matter your feelings, please show respect and honor old ties.

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