Today was my first day back at work after a week off for the Christmas holiday. True to form, the worst part of going on vacation was coming back to work to find an email inbox full of various requests. Towards the end of the day, I was just starting to feel caught up when I picked up a call on our main housing phone line, because the staff were busy helping other customers.
The woman on the phone was a distressed parent, who wanted to talk to someone about facilitating a room change for her daughter. For those of you who work in higher education, you know that federal privacy laws prohibit us from discussing matters like these with parents. I could have quickly chosen to end the conversation by simply stating that I needed to speak to her daughter. Knowing how well that comment is usually received by parents ("But I'm the one paying the bill!"), I chose to do something relatively simplistic in nature, and just listen to this mother. I listened as she told me about the terrible roommate situation her daughter was in, and how that was affecting her grades. I listened as this mother told me how helpless she felt, knowing her daughter wasn't very good at standing up for herself. I listened as she vented her inner struggle to help her daughter "develop a backbone" conflict with her desire to fix the situation. I listened as this parent needed an outsider perspective and ear in which to confide her story.
In higher education, we develop all sorts of pithy terms to describe parents of traditionally-aged college students (helicopter parents, hover-board parents, the enemy, etc), and how they impede their student's developmental process with their incessant need to be overly involved. We rarely seem to discuss how to develop a relationship with parents, and utilize the strong relationships they have with their student to assist in the educational process.
The phone call today was a lesson for me in compassion. My initial response to parental inquiries is usually annoyance or frustration - which is compounded by an especially busy schedule. I seldom see a conversation with a parent as a meaningful interruption to my daily routine. Maybe if I sought these interactions out as a way to build a partnership and trust with parents, I will find an opportunity to not only make a difference for a student, but their parent as well.