My College:
Family Life

Happiness Is a New Dynamic With Your Grown Child

Shari Bender

I was spoiled for four years.

My oldest went to college less than two hours away, and I could pop in for a visit with minimal intrusion. Freshman year, Rose played a shepherd in her first college theater production — not the lead role but a star in my eyes — and I was able to go and watch the best darn performance of a sheep herder you’ve ever seen (unbiased review!).

A sophomore spill, which resulted in a broken ankle and Rose wearing a boot for a month, was much less stressful than it might have been because I could drive up and run errands with her easily and then go back home to be with my high schooler.

Junior year magic shows were a college highlight, and made easy by the fact that even back-to-back shows were a mere day trip. The occasional college cold? (This was pre-COVID; she graduated in 2019.) Just drive up, drop off some soup, drive back home. Graduation was as magical as the movies, filled with family events and wholesome fun.

Rose had many options after graduation, but narrowed it down to two possible future paths: a research job at the same university where she'd studied as an undergrad, or a job in global health coupled with a graduate degree program located on the opposite side of the country.

I wanted her to stay put. It was better for me, and for the family.

But of course, as I think most parents do, I wanted my child to pursue her own path, not the one that I might carve out in my fantasy of what is right for her.

And it seemed like she really wanted this job that was 3,000 miles away. They flew her out for an in-person interview and it went great.

I could see her excitement percolating. She would data crunch in global health as a full-time job while being a part-time student. Tuition would be covered by her employer, and she'd graduate in three years with a Master’s in Public Health.

In my pre-pandemic naiveté, I thought global health was someone else’s problem. These folks studied malaria, meningitis and other diseases in the developing world, their biggest publication titled Global Burden of Disease. This new job would also require her to work overseas for a time, studying and learning and accumulating data in real time, crunching real world numbers and writing codes. All of this sounded Very Far Away.

Alas, the pro/con list, a favorite in my household when making important decisions, led to more Pros than Cons for my daughter. She made the decision — she was heading thousands of miles away to Seattle, WA after graduation to pursue an exciting job, continue her education and explore all the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Wait, what about ME?!

Again, it was pre-COVID, so I decided that I would be a jet-setter and would head to the West coast to visit whenever possible. Her Dad helped move her in and I bought a ticket for October 2019 to visit with my mother and son in tow. Okay, this wouldn’t be so bad.

October long-weekend visit, totally doable in pre-pandemic times.

Rose came home at Christmastime 2019 and we made plans for me to fly out and see her again on March 18, 2020. Well, we all know how that played out.

The pandemic catapulted Rose’s job at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the world’s premier scientific go-to for coronavirus modeling, into the spotlight. The CDC, White House and global leaders turn to IHME for their expertise and insight into global death data. Seemingly overnight these global problems became ours, yours and mine, and during the past two years I have turned to my daughter over and over again for her scientific guidance and perspective.

Mid-pandemic she decided to switch her Master’s degree. She was contemplating a change to a Master’s in Health Metrics, a more obscure and lesser known degree. In my opinion an MPH, particularly in today’s climate, was a solid life and career choice so I suggested she stay put and not put herself through the extra requirements and stress.

In typical Rose fashion, as these kids often do, she made the decision that was best for her — and rightly so. She changed her degree and never looked back. She is secure and happier with her new courses and is full steam ahead for graduation this June, a month after her quarter of a century milestone birthday.

Sometimes it's hard for us parents to sit on the sidelines and watch our grown children make choices that we ourselves believe we would not make. We must bite our tongue a bit and allow them to figure out their own path and navigate life’s twists and turns.

I am now one of IHME’s biggest fans, even sharing the occasional global health video to my Facebook wall. And now I know that a Master’s of Health Metrics and the art of data science is where it’s at. The old adage, “Mother is always right,” isn’t always so. I've learned that a parent can more often be right when they are open to and follow the lead of their grown child, who is now a capable and self-determined young adult.

We teach our children as they grow, and hope that we've helped lay the foundation for strength, resilience and well-being. Sometimes it's hard to let go of the old Parent-Child dynamic and move into the Adult-Adult space that's needed for continued communication and growth. But when we do, it can lead to happiness in the most unexpected places, even 3,000 miles away.

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of more than 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.
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