Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Academic Monkey Gives Unsolicited Advice

This week's problem presents us with the profile of the Overactive College Parent. The kind that emails professors for a sort of college-level report card. These parents hang around unwanted, wearing t-shirt that say "Proud Papa of a Wisconsin Man" or "This Mom Bleeds Orange and Blue" which translates to "I have no life outside of my offspring."
~ Academic Monkey

Problem Posed:

This is my first year of college. So far, I love it. My friends are smart and interesting, my schedule has a lot of interesting classes in it. Things are so exciting! But we’re just in the third week and already my mom is doing weird things – like sitting in one of my classes. Seriously, I just ran into her in the back of my Earth Sciences class.

My mom is one of those volunteer moms. She was always raising money for my school, attending events and soirees, chaperoning dances and field trips. This has always annoyed me, but what could I do? She’s my mom. But now she’s showing up to campus. She has asked to volunteer with the department I am thinking about majoring in. I find her in the library or at the coffee shop near student parking.  So today I went up to her and asked her to leave. I told her she was being crazy. She told me I was overreacting and then began critiquing the lecture I just had. I totally lost it and yelled at her to go away. It was so embarrassing!! I really thought this wouldn’t happen. I’m over 18 now! And my parents are an hour away from my school. But I’m the baby in the family, and my mom is really religious. I think she feels isolated in our small town. What can I do? This CANNOT continue.

Unsolicited Advice:

Two words: Squirt Gun.

You need to train your super-clingy mom that there is a period of time in the mother/child relationship when SPACE IS CRUCIAL. It lasts from the time you move out until you are financially secure. For some people, that is a few years; for others, it becomes a way of life. But a successful transition relies on this period of independence. She has raised you. She has hovered. Time is now to let you try flying, make sure you fail a little on your own, and then when you are a fully-formed, mistakes-made and foot-sure adult, you can fly back into the coop and make her proud.

She is not getting this message so far. What is up with that?

So I propose a multi-pronged approach. It starts with a squirt gun. (warning: maybe get something that is not gun-shaped, in this day in age no one wants to trigger a campus lockdown). If she treats you like a child, act like a child. Squirt her (spray bottle??) and walk away.

More realistically, "squirt her" emotionally. Tell her that every time you see her on campus unexpected, you will not talk to her for seven days. Stick to it. Create a clear boundary. Tell her that this is your chance to take all her love and support and to make it on your own. So if she shows up, you will not speak to her, and you will not take her calls for seven days after that.

But it also sounds like your mom is a bit unhinged. I would alert campus security to her presence. As a parent, and not a student or staff or faculty member, she is trespassing on your campus. If she sits in another classroom of yours, she is trespassing and ought to be removed. Tell security now so that you can make a discreet text next time. Once escorted off, she will probably change her tune. And if she continues this ridiculous behavior, you can point to a pattern of reporting that could lead to (if necessary) a restraining order.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Start by creating clear boundaries soaked in love.

"Mom, I love you and I have been so grateful to you for your time and volunteer energy during my education. But now I have to be on my own to make sure I can swim by myself. Please do not come to campus without asking me first. If you show up unannounced, I will squirt you with fox piss avoid taking your calls or seeing you for 7 days. If you persist, I will find somewhere else to spend my holidays. I need to make a transition to adulthood, and you cannot baby me anymore."

Then give her a pamphlet to an animal shelter. She can volunteer and coddle the shit out of that.


  1. Really good advice. Dięki Bogu I've never seen anything like that on our little campus, but I'd bet Student Services could tell some stories.

  2. All good advice.

    Or: TRANSFER. Far away. Other side of the country. If this mom is really that clingy, squirting her probably isn't going to get the job done.

    1. I dunno - fox piss sounds pretty deterring. Where can I get some for faculty meetings?

    2. You can get it here:

      It smells very, very musky, even from quite far away. It'll work.

  3. These are really entertaining stories and good advice.

  4. Can your dad help? If no, is your mom paying for college? Or giving you any money whatsoever? How likely is it that she will cut you off? A squirt gun and alerting campus security is probably a bad idea, in that case. The speech is a good one but since your mom is obviously a nutter, you can try it but it will probably not work. And if you don't talk to her for seven days, she can then tell you she won't send you any money for a month.

    Work hard, RIGHT NOW, on establishing complete economic independence from your parents. RIGHT NOW. Don't wait four years. Do it RIGHT NOW. Get a job. Support yourself. Go to school part time if you have to. Don't tell your mother where you live. Don't tell your mother where you go to school. She is not quite right in the head and you're going to have to dictate the terms of your connection with her. You cannot do that if you take her money.

    1. Great advice, but probably terrifying for this problem poser. I hope (s)he can manage at least some portion of it!

    2. This. She may just be having a difficult transition to empty-nest status (in which case Monkey's animal shelter idea is great -- well, until you come home for Thanksgiving and find two dozen "unadoptable" cats living in your former bedroom), but it's also possible that her identity has been so tied up in being a mother to you (and, presumably, your siblings) that she will react very badly to displays of independence (which may feel to her like a part of her body all of a sudden developed a will of its own). It doesn't hurt to be prepared.

      Transferring (or at least contemplating a year abroad) also sounds like a good idea.

  5. Just wait til this mom starts nagging professors for information on Darling Dearie's performance. If she hasn't already started emailing them...

  6. Send her a copy of Oedipus Tyrannos. I bet she'll back off.

  7. In the past, I've found that invoking FERPA can be a love/hate experience, especially when dealing with helicopter parents. I love the fact that the law requires me to not talk to parents but yet I also hate having to explain that to them.