You Don’t Have to Leave, But You Can’t Stay Here

Blogging, I told someone the other day, is a bit like controlled free-writing for me. In theory, there is a focus to each day’s post but I’m not holding myself to the same rigorous standard I might apply to academic writing. This approach lends itself to a wide-variety of posts–no one will ever accuse me of being an “educational” or “political” blog partly because each day’s post depends, in many respects, on what I read in the paper.

But today, I want to revisit yesterday’s post because I fear I might have sounded a little less than enthused about the place I work. Let me say categorically that ASU is a great university. I have colleagues who are some of the best teachers in the business. One of the most frustrating things for me to read are blanket attacks on college professors. My colleagues here, unlike faculty at large research universities, teach a full load, research in moderation, and serve both the campus and the community.

Put simply–they are some of the finest educators I know, dedicated to helping our students achieve success. We have undergraduate programs that are some of the finest in the nation. Our Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Geo sciences students regularly participate in undergraduate research, get accepted to medical schools and graduate schools. I’m partial to our English department and the employability. Our students go to graduate school, teach, and, at times, become officers in the military. Our kids graduate, get jobs, and have some of the lowest student loan debt in the nation. I could go on and on.

But, as I noted yesterday, I still don’t want my son to go here.

When my wife and I had our first son, I told her my parenting model was Homer Simpson and that the key to great parenting was keeping our expectations low. Remember, I told her, the mind is powerful and we should encourage our kids to repress as many memories as possible.

Of course, the real goal of parenting is to create human beings who are better than you. We do that by giving them appropriate opportunities and steering them into making good choices. Sometimes we have to be surreptitious. And many times we have to let them fail. But most importantly, we have to let them be uncomfortable.

When my son goes off to college, I want him to live someplace where being the tall white kid isn’t the norm. I want him to live someplace where he doesn’t know anyone, where the couple living next door is the same gender, and the couple on the other side is multi-racial. And I want him to live someplace where the washing machine is across town and only works with quarters.

I love my son but I don’t want him to come home every weekend.

Most importantly, I want him to struggle with ideas independent of my wife and I. He needs to see and hear things outside the context of his comfort zone. Certainly, he’ll be home on the holidays, crashing on the couch, but when he does I’m hoping he’s different. He should see us as small town, backwards, and out of touch as the world of ideas and people opens up before him. I have faith he’ll eventually change perspectives and realize we aren’t quite as dumb as he thinks, but when he goes to his 10 year reunion, I hope people look at him and say, “you’re different.” That’s not a bad thing. (At my 10 year reunion, someone told me I talked different. I felt like saying, I’ve got a PhD in English. I damn well better sound different or I’ve wasted my money!).

I understand parents who want to keep their kids close. I’m sure they have the same hopes and dreams. We want our children to be happy and safe (and employed!). Many parents hope their children stay around and live near by. There’s something to be said for that. We live 7 hours from my wife’s parents and holidays are a pain. I know her brothers, sisters, and parents would love to see her and our children more often. My relatives live even farther way and I haven’t seen many of them for years.

And sometimes that’s the price we pay for sending our kids off into the world. Periodically, I’ll ask my students where they’ve traveled. I’ll have some military children who have been everywhere, a couple of folks who have, at least, crossed into Mexico (we are two hours from the border here), and I’ll have 5-10 kids who have never been outside Tom Green County. I realize sometimes this is economic, but not always. Usually, it’s a conscious decision by the parents who don’t see the need.

Our job as parents, though, isn’t to encourage our kids to stay around because we want to be near them. We aren’t supposed to try and turn them into a little us. Our job is to open the world and give them a chance to live in it. I would be thrilled if my kids move off, find love, and come back to San Angelo. But if they come back, they need to make that choice. This needs to be the place they want to live; not the place they have always lived.

The goals of education and the goals of parenting are often the same: we want smart, critical thinking kids, who can both follow direction but who are also capable of telling us how to improve those directions. We want, as the old adage goes, to teach our kids to fish instead of just giving them fish. These goals are long range and largely impossible to measure because they require pushing, pulling, getting out of the way, and, in general, making stuff up as we go along. They require help but they also require times when we don’t help. We can manufacture successes when necessary and allow failure when it’s appropriate.

And it also means, eventually, letting go and hoping nothing really bad happens. That is particularly true when our kids turn 18 and that’s what we hope to do as we encourage our son to choose a school where he can be un-comfortable so he can learn to think, live, love, and become himself.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

129 Responses to You Don’t Have to Leave, But You Can’t Stay Here

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  3. Great piece for parents facing a similar time in their lives. We are in India and thinking of sending our son abraod for college as he really is keen on a U.S Liberal Arts college education. Apart from the financial weight, we are also at times overwhelmed by the challenge of a new culture, a new place, new people and all the challenges of college. And i worry about how my son will cope with all of that, when he can barely manage his day to day affairs her without our support. But do so want hime to learn to be his own person, to take on the stuff of living !

  4. kidwriterinc says:

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  5. CrazyHorse says:

    i love the idea of staying away from home and my parents were okay with that. But washing machine across town is too mush for me.

  6. you wrote: “Most importantly, I want him to struggle with ideas independent of my wife and I”

    Not to be picky, but shouldn’t “me” appear at the end of that sentence? Lately, I’ve seen so many instances of I/me being used in ways I don’t think are grammatically correct, Has the “correct” use of these pronouns changed?.
    (ps.I’m asking this in all seriousness, not to be nit-picky or facetious.)

    • John Wegner says:

      You, and a couple of other folks who have commented, are correct. The object of that preposition should be “me” not “I.” In my defense, I really do write these blogs as a controlled free writing exercise. Sometimes I make changes and revisions as I’m writing, but I’m also not going back through the text as carefully as I might. Thanks for reading.

  7. This is a great post, directly applicable to my life for that matter. I’ve always had parents that strictly wouldn’t want me to see life and experience what life really is about. Needless, to say I’ve had to force my way out. It’s great to see parents already thinking about this though – I’d like to add it would probably be good for this to be your son’s decision as well. When we go out to see the world it’s not always nice, one has to be brave and prepared.

  8. What refreshing words you’ve written .. raising a thinking, independent person who will learn his way around and be his own person. No shackles holding him back. The gift of independence (and having a loving home to come back to) is precious. (And how funny “you talk differently”! I’ll have to come back here for visits & a good chuckle.

  9. Lynn Daue says:

    I love this post! I remember leaving for school–it was heart-breaking, but necessary. I’m now excited to go home … and I’m always ready to leave. Now that I have children of my own, I hope that they have the same experiences and attitudes, because getting out and seeing the world is the best thing that I could have ever done!

  10. My mother was never so eager to have me home as when I cut the chord and when to study in Ontario, Canada, for a semester. I was a bit homesick, didn’t entirely enjoy the whole stay but it was interesting to experience a different way of life and I’ve been back to Canada three times since. Happy days!

  11. abroadblogs says:

    A saying that I cling to in raising my own children– some parents give their children roots, others give them wings.

  12. Stephanie says:

    To elizabeth-

    yes, we do learn by being in new situations which may be uncomfortable in that they are new and we must adapt. “comfort” is one way of saying we’re in familiar conditions. I recently moved, and while i’m not necessarily uncomfortable in that i’m anxious, i am uncomfortable in that sometimes it’s challenging to do basic things. because it’s a new place, with new rules, a new map, new people, different weather, etc. stetching my brain…

    i do want to point out the challenges can always come to you. i briefly lived with my parents (as a kinda on the old side boomerang kid) and joined some social groups in my very rural hometown. we were always a diverse (in everything except race) group, and posed challenges to each other regularly in our approaches to life. adaptability, and developing resilience, is an important part of becoming an adult. most of us will face varied challenges ranging from marriage and divorce to natural disasters and illness that we can not control completely.


  13. haywardhelen says:

    But how do you know you are doing the right thing by willing your children to move off and away? And why are you so certain that autonomy is a mark of independence? I’m an English PhD graduate too, but this has never translated into my knowing how best to bring up children. Not unconsciously trying to shape our children is, I think, the hardest lesson of all. Thanks for an interesting read. Helen Hayward

  14. The song is called ,,Closing Time”

  15. This is excellent! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  16. hunt4thought says:

    As a free thinker and a father of two, I am so excited to see a parent who wants their child to grow and learn outside of the influence of his familiar surroundings with full exposure to the world. It reminds of something a little league coach once told me about coaching baseball. A parent had confronted him about not “coaching” during a game to which he replied, ” I have taught and coached these kids at practice, once the game starts, coaching is over.” Even as a young boy I was caught off guard by the profound implications behind his statement. He had established a foundation of his fundamentals on us and then let us out in to the game to apply said fundamentals while learning and adapting to the situations that presented themselves. This is so much like parenting and life. Thank you for a great post and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  17. Thanks for this great post. As a dad, with the same hopes for my two.

  18. Josef Kul says:

    Thank you for insights into both the world of higher education as seen behind the eyes of faculty and the world of fatherhood as seen behind the eyes of someone who has fully grown children. My wife and I are expecting a child soon (February) and it’s nice to learn about fatherhood from as many perspectives as possible.

  19. I like your thinking. Just said goodbye to our eldest son as he heads back to his teaching post in Kuwait. Our other son lives in Vancouver. Both grew up as third culture kids. Both went back to Canada for University while we stayed teaching overseas.

  20. boligannonse says:

    I do not learn by being uncomfortable.How can anyone say that.By experiencing love and understanding can young people grow into loving and caring adults.
    elisabeth norway

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