Just as the leaves begin to change and Dewick starts offering mashed sweet potatoes and butternut squash more days than not, hundreds of our parents flock to campus. Regardless of the various ways in which they arrive, show love, or offer comfort, Parents Weekend offers an interesting case study. What is the significance of Parents Weekend? Is it for us, or our parents? After experiencing my fourth and last of these October weekends, I thought it would be good to get a better understanding, so I headed to the Campus Center to hear what Parents Weekend means to different folks. Four people I bumped into had very different things to say.
Isaiah Fischer-Brown, Junior: “So Parents Weekend to me, I think, isn’t that special, but also has a lot of meaning because my parents don’t come. But I think that’s probably a reflection of them recognizing that if I don’t reach out to them they don’t need to come. Like if they know that if I need to speak to them I’ll let them know, but usually they me give a lot of independence to just do my thing at school. They’ve only been to Tufts like twice throughout my Tufts experience.”
Sage Scanlon-Perez, Sophomore: “It means a lot of stress because I have to figure out what to do with my mom, or dad, whoever decides to come.”
Julia Doyle, Senior: “I guess it’s not much because my parents never come for Parents Weekend even though they are two hours away…they come other times.”
Atreyo Sinha, Senior: “Parents Weekend is trying to find an appropriate substitute for my parents at school. So I end up just looking for other people whose parents aren’t here and we all flock together and do like dumb shit together, and that’s fun!”
There are clearly a multitude of ideas and feelings on the significance of Parents Weekend. For some students, the weekend is challenging. This could be because scheduling time with parents who have traveled to Tufts is important, but so is balancing school work. For others, seeing their parents in October can’t be a reality. Distance, time, work, financial reasons, religious obligations and anything in between can make it unfeasible for parents to come to campus.
So when parents can and do show up, it makes the weekend all the more significant.
Another part of this significance manifests in the effect these weekends have on the parent-child relationship. I think Parents Weekend serves as a mutual check in, yet there are ways in which the weekend also begins to loosen the often extremely tight links we have to our parents and our parents to us. This process inevitably begins as first years. In order to get some perspective about what this relaxing around the parent-child relationship might look like, I fittingly talked to someone near to my heart—my mother, Sally.
Mom: “What was surprising freshman year was how much more up and down there was than I expected there to be. You were really excited, and then you were worried about school, and then you were excited that you had met somebody and so you know it was more roller-coaster-y and that was a surprise to me. But then when I came it had been kind of like holding my breath and then whoosh, I could see you. So I was happy.”
It’s funny because, looking back from my senior year perch, I don’t remember my first year of Tufts being as turbulent as my mom describes it. Yet, I think many of us have a tendency to “leave our body,” so to speak, during times of high anxiety—the first chunk of first semester freshman year being one of them. This is potentially one reason why my mom noticed large swings in my attitude; I wasn’t grounded in my body, so I wasn’t in control of emotions. That was three years ago. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my parents come for three subsequent Parents Weekends. My mom describes visiting for that initial trip as a bit unnerving socially. Just as I was still trying to figure out my place at Tufts and where I belonged, my mom felt as if my unsettledness contributed to the chaos of the weekend.
Three years later, it’s a different story. Since then, my little brother has gone off to college, I started seeing a therapist, I left Tufts for a semester, and I’ve worked at understanding and recognizing my own privilege. I’d like to think that I’ve grown during my time here—even though I’m still living out the final leg of the journey. But part of that growth has been a gentle separation from the lives of my parents, an autonomy that can only be realized by leaving home. My mom spoke to what that separation has looked like since becoming an empty nester.
Mom: “You are supposed to be at school now. So that adjustment of not having people home and getting used to having our life based not in your activities but in our own activities, it’s a lot more peaceful. It’s peaceful to come and be with you, and then it’s peaceful to come home. And it felt like it was great to be there, and then I was so happy to come home.”
My mom hesitated after saying the word peaceful—she thought she had offended me. But I think what she said is true to some extent. Although no two families look alike, for parents who send their children away for college, the time apart can serve as a gentle separation and reimagining of self. Just as I feel like I’ve changed since coming to Tufts, my parents and their lives have altered as well. I asked my mom to speak to that feeling of peacefulness and how it manifested last week as she came for her fourth and final Parents Weekend. Initially she joked and said it meant not having to go to Target. But then she said this:
Mom: “I think it’s that growing level of trust that you’re separate people. I’m lucky to be in your life when I’m there and I trust that you’re fine when I’m not.”
If anything, Parents Weekend can be an opportunity for us to examine relationships. Whether it be with ourselves, a parent, or a friend you spend time with because your parents aren’t here. For me that’s a little what Tufts has been about: checking in and examining in order to strive for that feeling of peacefulness.