Sitting in my office today, I was thinking about how much I needed to blog. I have some ideas, but they are thing that need to marinate and be worked on at length, so I was kind of stumped for what to write about. I left work and went to a hair appointment, and the stylist and client next to me were talking about having kids go off to college. I eavesdropped a little and with her first client, the stylist told me about her daughter almost choosing my current institution but heading elsewhere.
As the women continued to talk and I saw under a dryer, they got emotional in talking about their children leaving. One said that she felt like after she moves her daughter in, she just won’t be needed as a mother anymore. The other talked about breaking down after watching her daughter graduate because her baby wasn’t her baby any longer.
I continued to listen a bit (some of y’all know how long it can take to get your hair blown out) and was trying to decide if it was okay to interject a bit. When my blow dryer finally stopped, they were still chatting, and I could tell emotions were running high. The stylist already knew I worked at an institution, so I decided it wasn’t inappropriate to give them my two cents. Without being condescending, I let them know that, regardless of their preconceived notions about their “babies” heading to school, they will, in fact, always be their babies. More than that, I emphasized that they will also still need their mommas every now and then.
We laughed a bit, and I explained that my parents have loved—no, LOVED—having a completely empty nest this year, and the stylist finally said, “SHOOT! I’m gonna need your number so I can call you with my questions!” I laughed and promised her I’d be back in early September so we could chat some more. On the drive home, I got thinking about these two parents and how we, as SA pros, can sometimes react to parents in our day-to-day work.
I know for a fact that as a housing professional, when parents call me, more often than not I’m on the defense as soon as I pick up the phone. That’ll happen when the first parent you let your guard down with calls the CFO to say you’re a “f-ing moron” two hours after what you thought was a great conversation. I’m not bitter about that though…anyway, we often get parents at their worst. Whether they’re angry because they’ve called four different people without getting an answer to their question or because as the RD, I should know how to fix the AC in their child’s room, both parties can be pretty tightly wound.
Thinking about these two moms, it made me think about where those parents are coming from when they call us. For some, this is their first child going to school. Whether the child is first generation or not, they are naturally going to have a lot of questions. For us, it could be fifth time we’ve dealt with their student’s roommate conflict, but we don’t know what kind of information is being communicated to mom or dad. If it’s their last child headed off to school, mom and dad probably have more free time than they’ve had in the last 18ish years! It’s natural that they might hover a bit at the beginning until they decide that having an empty nest is kind of awesome.
I don’t believe a customer service mantra of “the customer is always right” because most of the time they’re not, but they are always the customer. Higher education is a business (that’s a blog for a different time), and these parents and their students are our clientele. As frustrating as they can be sometimes, it’s imperative that we remember to take a step back and try to see a situation through their lens. This can be hard, especially as a 20-something who can barely keep a plant alive, much less fathom the idea of having children. As frustrating as it can be when we get called for the 25th time about the room dimensions that can be found online, it’s essential that we step back, take a deep breath, and politely answer the person on the other end of the phone. It’s your 25th call; it’s probably their 2500th question. We have to learn to do the dance with parents, as our ultimate goal aligns with theirs: helping their student be successful at our institution.