Thursday, October 01, 2015

What College Students Miss About Home and the Essence of Parenting

Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell
I am teaching two sections of a business writing class this semester at BYU. On the first day of class I had my students fill out a get-to-know-you questionnaire in class that I use to assess their writing ability. FYI, no one can spell anymore without Spellchecker – including me.

One of the questions is this: What do you miss most about home?

When I started teaching as a graduate student I was very intimidated by my students who were often close to my age. I was always trying to assert and maintain my authority over them because it felt so tenuous.

Now my oldest son is just a few years younger than my students who are mostly juniors and seniors. I think of them just like the grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" thinks of The Misfit who shot her family and is about to shoot her, when she looks at him and says, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

Once you've had kids it's hard not to look at other people and see them as someone's child, which is one way being a parent can make you more compassionate.

So these students in my class who could be my children or your children and who are certainly the children of someone wrote that what they miss most about home is the food. They miss someone else making it for them or buying it for them. One student mentioned missing Costco shopping days, especially.

I'm not very good at domestic arts and feel conflicted about some of them because of feminism. Also, as your kids get older you really want to buck the notion that you are just there to cook and clean for them. There's so much more to parenting than that. It's complex and multi-faceted. You have to teach them how to work, show them how to serve, be an example of a good person. You read to them and make sure they do their homework. You refine them and help them be their best. It's important to do all of this. But they don't miss it when they're gone. What they miss is being taken care of.

My students' responses underscored for me that parenting is essentially selfless. What I want to instill in my kids and do for them is not just food-based. But some of the things I do for them that make them feel most cared for like ironing their clothes or cooking their food (servile things) are the things that mean the most to them. My own mom parented me in multi-faceted and complex ways, but now what I mostly want is for her to cook a delicious Sunday dinner for me once a month and I do miss eating sandwiches that I didn't have to make myself, just like my students miss having their food prepared for them at home. There is more to parenting than feeding your kids, but feeding them is a really big part of it and according to my students that's what they miss most when they are away from home.


  1. Hmm, I didn't really miss the food, but then my mom's not a great cook (she would be the first to admit this). I did/still do miss not having to pay for the food!

  2. i love this perspective. as a college student i missed the smell of my parents home and the way the my laundry smelled when done at my parents house. i always attempted to replicate it through identical detergent and fabric softener use, but i couldn't quite match it. it was as though i needed my mom to actually do the work in order to produce that same clean smell. as an adult, i appreciate when my mom comes to stay and she cleans out my fridge or dusts my blinds. little acts of service that she doesn't need to do at all, but i like to stand next to her and help so i can smell her clothes. it takes me back.

  3. This is oddly comforting for me to read as a mother. I make it so complicated. But a roast and a sandwich--that's what I want, too. Feminism isn't anti-food--right? I love reading about your discoveries in teaching. More, please.

    1. Exactly! It's not complicated--we need to remember that.


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