My son on his “Snow White pony” at Thursday night Village Fest.
Talk about failing “Parenting 101.” My son called me throughout his freshman year of college with the most trivial questions—like how to address an envelope to how to pay for gas with cash. What happened during his 18 years that he made it through in one piece without basic life skills?
I’ll tell you what happened. I was rushing to school with forgotten homework, packing his lunch and swim bag. I picked up after him and did his laundry. He was, after all, way too busy pursuing the title of Valedictorian to be bothered with mere mortal pursuits of day-to-day life. I was the enabler. But, I learned from his questions and made sure my second-born was ready and prepared to leave home.
One of my best friends lives 30 minutes from his university. She called him his first weekend at school and said if he ever needed anything, please call. Was she surprised when he said, “Could you bring me some laundry detergent? The thread count is so low on the sheets Mom bought me and they’re itchy.”
She said, “No, I’m not your mother and when I said if you needed anything I meant in case of an emergency. You can find your own laundry detergent somewhere on campus.”
My son during his graduation night speech.
Here are 10 basic life skills kids need to know before they leave home:
Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic!
Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables and cooking rice.
Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.
How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from my son: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?” Hmmm. Good question.
Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes —gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room—and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake in Seattle. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike—use a solid bar type.
Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships—and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!
Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
What other essential life skills would you add to the list?
My beautiful son when he was three.