Series 20: For the Love of Back to School | Episode 01
How’s College Life in 2019? Gavin & Sydney Hatmaker Pull Back the Curtain
Pull out your notebooks and sharpen your pencils, because today we’re starting a brand-new series called For the Love of Back to School! Ahh, school. Some things never change (football games! clubs! writing your entire term paper the night before it’s due!), but today’s kids are dealing with challenges that weren’t around when some of us were younger. We wanted to get the inside scoop on the ways young folks think about school and the world they’re learning to live in, and we’re starting with two people Jen knows pretty well: her two college kids, Gavin and Sydney! Gavin’s a senior at Texas Tech, and Sydney’s a sophomore at UT Austin, and they graciously let their mom to grill them on all kinds of topics: what’s different about college from what they expected? Why are they excited to be part of Gen Z? What do they wish their parents knew? (and what do their parents, ahem, not know—besides Sydney and her friends have a major crush on Michelle Obama?) One thing the Hatmakers take away from their chat: as you learn how to be an adult or how to be the parent of an adult, keeping the lines of communication open lifts up everyone.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, guys, Jen Hatmaker’s here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome. Welcome, welcome to the show.
Oh my gosh, you guys, are you ever in for it today? Are you ever? Today, we are starting a brand new series called . . . Wait for it . . . For the Love of Back to School.
Ah yes, back to school. Routine is back. The kids are out of the house and eating the school’s food half the day instead of your food the entire day. Fresh pencils, fresh paper. It’s just a whole deal, back to school.
There is a lot to balance when the kids go back, everything from helping with homework to signing permission forms, the lunch money, looking for colleges, sending them to college. Once they get into college, that means sometimes they come home with a mountain of laundry asking for food yet again.
That’s not counting even the emotional toll that school takes on everyone being on this rollercoaster of adolescence and young adulthood and tests and games and parties and friends and teachers. Not to mention curating their lines online. It’s just a lot. It’s a lot for kids, and it’s a lot for their parents. I think we know that there’s a ton about the back to school experience. It’s kind of ubiquitous, sort of the same across the board, but some that’s very different from when we were growing up.
That brings me to this. I have five kids. They range from middle school to college. I’m always curious to see what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling and dealing with growing up in our world, specifically in our family. I thought it might be fun to talk to them and see what their lives are like at all the different stages. I have two in college. I have two in high school and I have one in middle, plus a couple more special guests.
I think we do well—and trust me, after you listen today, you’re going to agree—to listen to the kids and the young adults and see what they’re excited about and what their biggest challenges are and what their critiques of their parents are. You’re going to hear that today—what they wish we would have done differently, what they wish we would have known. They’re going to talk about how college both did and did not met their expectations, what they think parents should know that we don’t know. You guys, there’s so much in here. My gosh, so much in here.
I learned a lot of things that even I didn’t know, and I’m glad I asked. Sometimes it’s hard to ask because you end up having to listen and hear some hard answers about what you got wrong as a parent or what your kid would have wished you would have done differently. That is not easy to hear, but important to find out.
What you have to opportunity to do today is to learn from our successes as a family and our mistakes as parents. My oldest two kids, Gavin and Sydney, are here from the college world. I asked them everything, you guys. It’s all in here. I asked them absolutely everything. They held nothing back. They were super honest, super smart, super helpful, very insightful. Everything you ever wanted to hear about what’s going on at college right now, you’re about to get an earful.
After you listen today, I deeply encourage you to talk to the kids in your own life more than you think—10 steps beyond what you think they’ll be willing to talk to you about. Even if they resist, even if they push back, which you’ll hear today, they want [to talk to you]. No matter what. You may be surprised by what you learn.
I am so grateful for my big two kids that they said yes to this, that they were as honest and as forthright about their experiences and their hopes and dreams and thoughts and mistakes and emotions about everything college related. As you’ll hear, Gavin is a senior at Texas Tech University and Sydney is a sophomore at the University of Texas here in Austin. There’s a reason that this podcast is longer than usual because we packed it in.
You’re going to be glad you listened today. Whether you have college kids or you have kids who are going to be college kids, or you’re just interested in what’s going on with the young adults right now in the world, you’re going to get an earful and be glad you listened.
I’m so proud and pleased to share my conversation with my personal college kids, Gavin and Sydney.
Jen: I am really happy to introduce a couple of people that I like to the show today, my oldest two children, Gavin and Sydney both in college. Hello.
Gavin: You only like us?
Jen: I do. I like you and I love you.
Sydney: That’s cheesy.
Jen: It is. I’m into you. Thank you for saying yes to this by the way, for coming into talk about college a little bit to my listeners. You could have said no to this.
Jen: I normally just post things about you online without your permission.
Gavin: That’s fair.
Jen: My people have heard me talk about you a million times obviously, but I would love for each of you to just introduce yourself and tell everybody a little bit about who you are in your own words, where you’re at, how old you are, what’s your spot in college right now, what are you studying? All this. Gavin, why don’t you start?
Gavin: Okay. My name’s Gavin, obviously. I am currently a senior in college, finishing up my fourth year here at Texas Tech. I’m studying natural resources management with a focus in ranch management, which is basically just a conservation major. I’m just learning about the way that the environment works [cohesively], the vegetation with the wildlife with the atmosphere and everything else like that.
After I graduate, I’m hoping to go off to grad school and become a professor. I’ll stay at Texas Tech if I can. If not, I’ll probably go to A&M Kingsville. But I have a few plans.
Jen: You’ve got some plans.
Gavin: I got plans.
Jen: I’m very proud of you for caring about the earth and conservation. Gavin’s always giving us lectures about the earth.
What are you hoping to do? I know you want to be a professor, but let’s say you weren’t going to go the academic route, what would your career path look like for somebody who actually majors in what you’re majoring in, Gav?
Gavin: If everything turned out that I wasn’t going to be a professor, chances are I would probably end up being a ranch hand or a conservationist for private ranches. That way, I have the ability to go out to people’s land and personally assess what they have. A lot of conservation is really kind of broad, trying to apply it to a large scale. But I’m a huge fan of small-scale private land, working with one family, one rancher at a time and getting their ranch up to where it needs to be.
Growing up on Peepaw’s ranch all the time, our white tail out there are not healthy at all, and neither is the land. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. After being in college for the past three years, I’m learning quite a bit and I would be really excited to work with anybody—family members, friends, clientele. I’m excited to work with anybody to be able to learn how to help keep their land as healthy as it can get.
Jen: Okay, see? That’s so great. I love that work.
Okay, Sis, how about you?
Sydney: Those were some very specific plans, and they’re only making me feel mildly stressed. But yeah, I’m at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m studying journalism, which I’m really excited about, but I’m also getting a certificate in social enterprise, which is a really cool program UT has.
Jen: At this point . . . You’re 19. You’re not sure. I surely didn’t know, but if you were just going to kind of explain your journalism major plus your certificate, what is your brain looking ahead toward? What are you thinking, “This is potentially a space that I may want to move into as a career”?
Sydney: I’m really interested in fashion and lifestyle journalism, but what’s especially exciting for me right now is there’s this growing intersection of this kind of writing with social justice. A lot of really interesting fashion publications, like Man Repeller or, like, Teen Vogue is one that more people know, have been doing a lot more work either featuring women doing really amazing activism, or they’re partnering with exciting companies that are helping people in some way, whether it’s empowering women or providing jobs, whatever. It’s a specific intersection, but it’s been really cool to follow that world.
Jen: A savvy listener would realize that I deeply understand one of these paths and not the other.
Gavin: You ain’t got to be savvy to know that.
Jen: Yes. Brandon is the ranch land/deer parent, and I am the words/women/activism parent. We have cloned ourselves, and here you are.
So how about this question? School literally just started for both of you. What do you like just currently, just this minute, about being back in school, where you’re at now as compared to last year? What do you think about being a senior, Gav? Does it feel any different or what feels different to you on campus this year, if anything?
Gavin: The only difference that I’ve noticed is the fact that there are a lot less NRM students than when I started. NRM is my major, natural resources management.
Anyhow, there’s a lot less of us than when we started. Obviously, not everybody makes it through college. It’s really difficult, to say that least. Being able to see all the same people, all the same faces that I’ve been seeing for three years in the same classroom again, we’ve developed friendships. We’ve developed associations with one another. It’s really beneficial just because I’m able to study and I’m able to communicate and work on projects with all these people that I’ve kind of been working with for the past like two years or so.
Okay, Sydney, let’s send this over to you because you have a different college story than Gavin has. He started at Texas Tech and he’s going to finish at Texas Tech.
Can you talk a little bit about—this is a lot to unpack—a little bit about where you started and why, what you were hoping and thinking? Then what you experienced, which is why, as you mentioned earlier, you’re now at University of Texas, which is a thing.
Talk a little bit about that. I’m glad that you are because, first of all, transfers, about 30% of college freshmen end up transferring, so this is not a rare story at all. I think it’s helpful to hear somebody really talk it through. I know even you felt like, “Gosh, am I the only one doing this?” And you’re definitely not. Can you talk just a little bit about, “Here I was as a senior. This is what I was thinking, and here’s where I am now.”
Sydney: I appreciate that statistic. I found that when I was doing research on transferring and it just made me feel a lot better. I think there’s some weird stigma, almost, around transferring.
I’m new at UT. I’m still a little Longhorn, but I started at American University in Washington DC. It’s really ironic to me because pretty much my whole childhood, I said I was going to go to UT. It was pretty expected of me and a lot of my good friends are here. I just had a year-long blip on the East Coast.
I graduated high school just pretty jaded. I kind of wanted to get out. But I was really excited about American University. I think I was just chasing something really different from high school. I wanted kids who were really passionate about academics. I wanted peers who were more liberal, and that’s kind of all that I followed. I think the rest got put on a back burner, these other things that I’d taken for granted, just like having a great community and . . . I don’t know. Whatever.
And then I . . . it just wasn’t what I expected. I really struggled at AU. From the beginning, things just felt off. I felt really out of place. I found that DC on its own is a really cool city, but the political/academic world is just really intense.
Sydney: I found that a lot of my classmates were really serious about school and internships. Everyone around me was taking six classes for some reason, so I did too. I was struggling under 18 credits. It was pretty much embarrassing if you didn’t have an internship by sophomore year. I knew a ton of girls who never even left campus because all they did was school.
I don’t know. I was really missing out on all these really fun social things I wanted in college, but also I just couldn’t even find friends. I struggled to meet people that I liked and connected with. I also found people to be a little bit more closed off, which is a stereotype.
Jen: Do you think that’s geographical?
Sydney: Totally, and that’s a stereotype I didn’t expect to be true, but something I would often get told is that I am kind of prying and that I would ask a lot of questions. I’d just never been told that back home. I just like to get to know you on a personal level, I think. When I’m becoming friends with someone, I want to know about them, and apparently that was overstepping some unwritten social boundaries or something. I don’t know.
But yeah. I was far from home. I missed my family, and I just wasn’t connecting with people. It was really tough. That’s when I . . . Near the end of the year, I only had a really small handful of good friends that I had made. I had still not found my place, not found a club I was really excited about. I started thinking about transferring.
Jen: Would it be fair to say that you were nervous to talk to us about that?
Sydney: Oh yeah. I thought you guys were going to flip, but you didn’t. You just rolled with it.
Sydney: It’s interesting how a really miserable year made it more clear what was important to me, I think.
Jen: That’s important to say because I think a lot of 18-year-olds coming out of high school, think, “Okay, I have to know my path. I need to have a real clear direction on career.” Frankly, a lot of your high schools make you feel that pressure.
Sydney: They do.
Jen: That if you aren’t starting to self select your course load as a freshman in high school that you’re already veering off track. It’s too much pressure. It’s not the way it’s always been done either. This is kind of recent trends in education, young adulthood and college, and it’s too much. The truth is it’s super common to try one thing and realize, “You know what? That’s just not it.” It’s not what I expected or I’ve learned something new that I didn’t know then or I’ve just changed my mind. That is okay. You can change your mind when you are 18 and 19 years old. That’s not an indication at all that you did something wrong or you have no sense of direction or self.
I think that’s probably a little bit what you were hung up on, and maybe what other young adults are too, that a change in direction feels like a mistake. That’s not how I experienced your first year of college at all. I’m glad that you made that choice and you learned a lot. It’s not a waste. To me, I feel like you’ve come home much more secure in what you want and what you need and how you want to get it. Is that fair?
Sydney: Oh definitely. Yeah. I always tell people that even though I had a really lonely year of just fighting so hard to find my footing and find my community and not getting it, I don’t regret it at all. That’s why I am such a big fan of gap years.
Jen: Yeah, there’s a lot of evidence for gap years as being really incredibly healthy for a lot of high school graduates and just that one year is pretty pivotal in what you’re able to discover post high school. There’s just no other way to experience it than just to graduate.
So both of you guys, but Gavin mainly you, you have quite a bit of college under your belt at this point.
Gavin: I have enough.
Jen: You are now a senior, so you’re at the end of the road here. I’m curious if your college experience at Texas Tech, did it resemble what you thought it would be? As you came in as a freshman, what was different than what you imagined? What was the same? How did your expectations line up with your actual lived experience?
Gavin: Some of it was expected. Some of it wasn’t. Obviously the whole pop culture, everything like that, I expected college to be nothing but parties and it was fun and it was easy. And well, the parties was true.
Gavin: But I don’t like parties.
Gavin: So that was scratched out.
Well, it was actually easier than I expected it to be.
Jen: In what way?
Gavin: I did expect college to be very difficult university level. And then I learned after taking my classes that they’re easier than the high-school AP classes that I took. The workload is way less. The professors are much more willing to help you succeed in their class.
Jen: Tell everybody listening, Gavin, just a little bit about the professor that you’ve talked about. Because going into school if you did not have a path toward becoming a professor, that was . . . For me, if I’m getting interviewed as the parent, that’d be one of the most surprising developments in your college career is that you want a doctorate. I didn’t see that coming, kid. You know what I mean? School’s like “meh” for you.
Gavin: Do you think I saw it coming either?
Jen: None of us did. I would love for you to talk about the professor that has sparked your imagination toward this path for yourself.
Gavin: My freshman year, I took a class called NRM 1401. It was natural resources management. It was the introductory class. This is the class that’s a requirement for all of the NRM majors, like myself. Then it is also an elective science class that non-majors have the opportunity to take to fill their science fulfillment . . . Not science fulfillment. What’s it called?
Jen: Yeah, your science credit.
Gavin: Yeah, your science credit. That’s what it is.
When I entered college, all I wanted to do was get my bachelor’s and become a ranch hand. That’s it. Maybe work with my grandpa on his ranch, do something. I don’t know. That’s about the extent of what I had planned out.
Afterward, I met this professor. His name is Dr. Phillip Gibson. He’s in his 70s. He’s just this old man who’s as happy as it gets. This guy is fun. He’s playful. He’s got stories upon stories. He’s been a professor for 50 years.
Gavin: He’s been doing this a long time.
Dr. Gibson originally was the chair of the NRM department here at Texas Tech. He decided to turn down his position as chair of the department to teach the most basic introductory class of the NRM so that way he could share his passion of natural resources management with non-majors, with people who don’t know what it’s about.
After being in his class, after taking his laboratories, after doing a little bit of work with him, a little bit of research with him, he’s a complete joy to be around. And his passion for teaching people what he loves to do completely sparked something inside of me. I thought to myself, “I want to be that for somebody else. I want to be that spark that will make people think, Wow, this is amazing. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Jen: I know. So cool. I’m a big fan of teachers at every level and professors at the university level. They really can help you plot your own course because you’re really honing in on what it is you love and your area. There are these amazing mentors and leaders that open up just a huge world of possibility.
In fact, Gavin, you had another professor who did some stuff that I loved. Talk about the one who was like, “Okay, if you’re struggling. If you need some help,” and his, “These are the things that are always on the table,” accessible to you, like the basketball lunch.
Gavin: Oh yeah. First of all, that’s almost every professor in the NRM department. I’m really thankful that all of the ag professors at Texas Tech are super helpful to their students. We have really, really personal relationships with our professors in the ag department. The ag professors just love their students.
This professor’s name was Dr. David Weindorf. He was my professor for soil sciences. He told us on the first day, “This is the hardest class you’re ever going to take at this university.” Flat out.
It was for sure. He said that he didn’t want to see us fail. He wanted to see us succeed. He wanted to see us do well. He said, “I have lots of things that I’m willing to help you with.” He said, “First of all, day before a test, every single time we will go to the Rec, (which is just a big gym that’s accessible to all Tech students), and we’ll play two hours of basketball. In the middle of the basketball game, I’ll just ask you questions about soil science. It’s a way that we can get to know one another easily and it’s also a way that I can help you study and I could help teach you what might be on the test.”
He said, “If you even want to go a step past that, if you still are struggling and you really want some help, let’s go to lunch. I’ll take you to lunch. I’ll pay for your lunch. We can spend an hour or two talking. I want to learn about your life. I want to learn about how you grew up, why you chose Tech. I also want to assist you in . . .
Jen: The material?
Gavin: In the material, yeah. He said, “This is hard stuff, but I don’t want to see you struggle.” He said, “I’m your professor. I’m teaching you this stuff. If it’s not getting through to you, I want to be sure that it gets through to you.” That extra effort from the professor is just so comforting to have and really, really helpful.
Jen: And it’s real. They do. They do want you to succeed. They do want you to be a credit to your alma mater. They do want to see you take what they have taught you and soar and even go way beyond even what they have accomplished. I think that’s real, and I think that’s sincere and genuine.
As a parent, I’m thrilled that both of you are under the leadership of adults who are so invested in your future and in your careers and really even in your hearts and souls and minds. They care about you. I’m just so grateful as a parent because it’s weird to launch your kids. Where we used to be that key person for you, and now there’s all these other really important adults in your life who are really important plot points along your story. It’s thrilling for me.
Jen: Let me ask you guys this. Sydney, we’ll start with you. What are you just most excited about right now that’s happening in your time, like, in your generation at college right now. Maybe inside the class, maybe out? As we just think about your age group and what’s happening inside your generation, something that’s making you excited or you’re watching with expectation or like, “This is something that I feel really thrilled about right now.”
Sydney: What’s exciting for me is seeing how teenagers and young adults are using the internet right now as a force for good and as a force for connection.
Jen: That’s true.
Sydney: I follow so many really amazing young adults doing exciting activism or starting their own businesses and companies.
Sydney: Or just making really amazing art and putting it out there for people. I think things like Instagram, especially, have become such great platforms for getting your voice heard, getting your art seen. I don’t know. I think it’s been really cool to be able to be connected to young people around the whole world through the internet and the awesome things that everybody’s doing.
Jen: Yeah, and I think that’s great because I think young adults on the internet has this stereotypical bad rap. It’s a kind of a trope that your generation is a hot mess on the internet.
The truth is there’s so much good out there with young adults and with teens, so much happening. This is just an integral part of your childhood and adolescence. There’s no conflict of interest for you at all on how to use this well. I see the same thing. I think it’s just a very easy reach for grown adults to say, “Oh, these kids are a mess. They’re always on their phones,” but that’s not been my experience with you guys either. I’ve seen a lot of good.
How about you, Gav? What’s something right now in your season of life with your classmates and peers that you’re excited about?
Gavin: Something that I’m really excited and happy about is the fact that I’m starting to see a lot of people fight for the underdog. There’s a lot of people who just aren’t as good as other people at certain things. They might not be as good at school. They might not be physically or mentally as well as others. I’m seeing a lot of people who are just really helping each other and understanding one another. I think that’s a huge thing, the inclusion of everybody.
Jen: I agree.
Gavin: It’s a huge thing that I’m happy I can see.
It’s sad to say, but it’s not everywhere. There still is quite a bit of separation especially when you talk about politics, but I’m happy to see that . . . More often than not, I’m seeing a lot of people put their politics aside and put their own personal viewpoints aside to help love one another.
Jen: Yeah, I see a lot of that too. I know my generation is very happy to look at yours and see massive strides forward on inclusion and diversity and really loving, kindness, acceptance toward your peers of all different stripes.
I’d love to hear your take on that, Sydney, because Gavin, he brought up politics, which is not something me and my friends talked about when we were your age. It just was not a part of our vernacular, a part of our daily lives. It was just a very different era, but your generation is inundated and paying attention and involved and engaged. What are your thoughts on what Gavin just said?
Sydney: That’s a tough one. I think the political involvement of our generation is a really exciting thing, but I also think we’re so involved because we have to be. I think we’ve been forced into politics in a way, because the political has become so personal right now, especially in the last few years, whether it’s . . . A really huge thing students have been getting involved with is anti-gun violence, and that’s because we’ve had to be because we’ve seen other kids get killed in their own schools.
So I don’t know—I think in a way, young people right now have lost kind of that degree of separation that we get to have from politics. I was completely invested in the presidential race when I couldn’t even vote in 2016, you know, which I think there’s good and bad things to that. I feel like part of it is because we have also just so much access to information and, like I was talking about earlier, we have platforms to get our voices heard and we’re choosing to use that. I don’t know. I think it’s good.
Jen: I agree, and it’s not without its challenges. It’s a lot to process and manage when you’re 18, 19, 20, but again I think you have the capacity for it. It is exciting to watch your generation come to the table earlier than a lot of us did. You’re ready to engage, ready to vote, ready to have these conversations, ready to discuss these important places. I think that bodes well for us. I look forward to that, and I think that’s going to eventually create far better representation in our government, both local and national. I think our representatives are going to start looking more like the country because you have an entire generation coming up paying attention.
Let me ask this question. Besides moving out of the house, how has being in college for both of you changed the dynamic of your relationship with us, with your parents, with Dad and I? I’m curious how would you grade us on cutting the apron strings and letting you go? How did we do in that? We don’t know what we’re doing either. We’re learning.
I’d like to hear what you wish we would have done differently maybe and what it is that you liked, like, “This is a thing that set me up correctly,” and this is a thing that you either wish we would have done differently or you wish we would have known. You want to start, Gav?
Gavin: I think that y’all did a really good job. I really do. Whenever I left, I went off to college, while it was nice to have support from your parents and not really have to worry about anything, I also wanted to begin the process of being able to take care of myself and managing my own finances and bills and rent and insurance and whatever else. I think what y’all did was really beneficial, being able to still pay for the stuff that I really couldn’t afford, but allowing me to take over the things that you knew I could handle, which increased every year, me taking care of a little bit more.
Jen: That’s true.
Gavin: Year by year by year. You didn’t just cut the strings and let me fall. You slowly lowered me down until I was ready to drop. I think that that was really helpful and I’m really thankful for it. Honestly, I don’t know what y’all could have done better.
Jen: Well, that is nice. What he’s doing right now is aiming for Favorite Kid Award. We know better than that. We know there’s plenty we could have done differently and we probably would have done differently.
Jen: It’s strange as parents because . . . it’s so strange to sometimes think when you guys are heading off to college and in college that in some ways I think, “Oh, we did way too much,” and then in other times I think, “We haven’t done nearly enough,” and I’m not sure which it is. I feel differently depending on the day. It’s strange to separate also your own personal experience because you guys are your own people. You’re going to go have your own college story. It’s weird to untangle from that and not either take the credit for what you do right or the blame for when things are going wrong for you or for when you’re hurting. It’s strange as a parent too.
Sydney, what would you say?
Sydney: I think something I wish I was a little more prepared for or had a little bit more help with was I think processing the grief that’s involved with going to college. I think everyone is constantly just talking about how exciting it is and I think encouraging everyone to push through the fear that is going to be natural when you go to college, but what nobody really talked about . . . And what I think I felt a little bit alone. It’s just like how much you’re losing when you go to college.
My whole senior year, I just remember feeling like the last bits of my childhood were slipping between my fingers. Going to college, you lose your best friends that you’ve known for years, at least on that day-to-day basis that you’ve had them. Losing the comforts of home and of your family and of just routine and knowing what comes next.
And that was really tough for me. I didn’t expect that because with all of the change that comes with your freshman year, of course there’s so much excitement and joy and learning and adventure, but that’s also so hard because you’re losing a lot.
That’s something that I feel like nobody really talked about and no one really prepared me for, but after the fact, I’ve had that conversation with a lot of friends, and they’ve been like, “Yes, that’s a good way to phrase it.” It’s hard.
Jen: Yeah, Dad and I both know now for sure that that was not a conversation that we had with you—with either of you really. I think it’s largely because we were drawing on our own experience, our own college experience. You know Dad and I had fun in college and we loved college, and we weren’t that far. Dad was further, but I was a afternoon drive away.
I don’t know if it’s just a different time or a different . . . I have no idea what it is. I don’t know what the factors are, but we didn’t struggle. I didn’t even have it in me to know to prepare you for that. I should have known because you had some . . . You were already saying in advance, “I’m afraid college isn’t going to be what I hope it’s going to be,” and I was like, “It’s going to be a blast! You’re going to love it!” I was just like that.
I see now that there needs to always be an open door for early college students, really even later, to be able to say, “We think these are going to be great years for you and we hope they are, and we’re praying they are. But if they’re not, you can come talk to us. If things are going sideways, we want to hear about it and we want to help you.” That might be true. We might need to rethink this, and I think that’s something we learned with your experience, Sydney, that we’ll probably do differently with the younger kids.
Jen: Let’s just pretend right now that I’m not your mom and that nobody is listening. What would you guys say thus far . . . Sydney, you’ve got one year under your belt. Gav, you have three. What do parents not know about what happens at college right now? What would parents either be horrified to find out or maybe even excited? I don’t know which way this answer’s going to go. I won’t let you. What do you think that parents are pretty much on the outside of which is some sort of college reality?
Just remember you can answer with no repercussions.
Sydney: My answer’s not going to be that juicy.
Jen: Oh okay. Darn it.
Sydney: I go to a nerdy school and AU was even nerdier, but I think what parents don’t know is your kids probably aren’t going as crazy as you fear. Also, at least at a place like UT, we truly are here to learn and just consume knowledge and books and experiences and all kinds of things. That’s what’s exciting to us. I was just at a party the other day and I ended up in a circle of people and we were talking about Michelle Obama. That’s exciting to us.
All the time I meet people and we’re talking about books and politics and what we’re learning.
So another thing parents should know is your child is partying. Your child is drinking and going out and dating people, maybe dating multiple people. In general, the average college kid is probably going to some parties, but is also doing their homework. We got it. I’m sure you did that in college and all your friends did.
Jen: That’s what Dad and I say all the time when we find out just a little bit too much about you guys, we always have to look at each other and go, “Okay, think about what we were doing at that age.”
Sydney: Right. Parents and kids like to take risks and have fun and be stupid when you’re a teenager and a college student, but both sides of them are lying to the other side about it.
Jen: That’s true.
Gavin: Well, I disagree with that. Mom, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I’m a rule follower.
Jen: Oh my gosh, listen. This is the kid that when you two were little and we would be on an elevator and the doors would start to shut, Gavin tackles Sydney on the ground screaming bloody murder for fear she was going to walk off the elevator without our supervision and we’d lose her forever. You’re a rule follower. You always have been.
Gavin: I am, yeah.
The second side of that, which I will agree with Sydney to an extent—if they are not out there partying and drinking and doing whatever, they’ve tried it.
Jen: I’m sure.
Gavin: Everyone has at least tried it. College is dangerous.
Gavin: It is ridiculously dangerous.
Jen: What do you mean by that? By the way, this is my first born, type A, rule follower, which I’m a little bit like you, so I can understand this response.
Gavin: My freshman year two guys on my floor were manufacturing crack, three guys were growing weed in their closets.
Jen: That’s true.
Gavin: During welcome week, two of my friends were raped.
Jen: Yeah, that’s real.
Gavin: That was the very first week that I was in college ever. Past that one week, many more followed.
Jen: Sure, that’s true. All the statistics support that.
Gavin: I’ve had a lot of friends fall into being drug addicts, into being alcoholics. I’ve had a lot of people . . . I’ve had I believe three friends from Texas Tech kill themselves because they couldn’t handle the stress. College is incredibly stressful. It’s hard on students with money. It’s hard on their brains. I would argue it’s harder than it used to be.
Jen: I agree. One thing I noticed when we went on college visits with both of you guys is how at least attentive your campuses are to this exact thing that you’re talking about, how many safety mechanisms they’re putting into place now, how so many guardrails to keep the student body safe and accountable. I was always really grateful when we heard the safety measures taken on every campus, but the truth is this is what the numbers say.
As parents, this is part of our worry at home, like, “Are we vigilant enough? Would we know if something happened? Would you tell us?” I’m not sure. It goes both ways. Some college kids are really open and vulnerable, but some keep these a secret until it’s just too late or until so much damage is done. As a parent, it’s hard to hear, but it’s good to hear that college can be an amazing experience, but it’s also a place where freedom is new and supervision is low. That could be a breeding ground for just trouble and struggle and pain.
But what would you suggest to the parent world just on how to best pay attention to that and keep our eye on it and keep tabs on the physical and emotional mental health of our college students?
Gavin: I would say that one thing that parents can do is develop a level of trust with your kid. I understand that whenever they’re in high school, they’re still your kid. They’re still stupid. They don’t really know what life is about. But in high school, if they’re treated like a child up to the day that you drop them off for college, they’re not going to want to come back to you and ask you about real adult questions.
Jen: That’s true. That’s a good point.
Gavin: Of course, there’s moderation that comes into play. It’s not go off the wall with your kid, treat them like your fully grown adult friend. You’re still their parent, but if you never take off their training wheels, they’re not going to want to come to you whenever things get bad. They’re going to go to their friends or they’re going to go to Google or something. I don’t know, but they’re not going to want to come to you.
I know being the first child . . . You can correct me if I’m wrong, but being the first child, I believe that I was and always will be treated like a child.
Jen: I hope you’re wrong on “always will be,” but I definitely know that you’re right on we took the least amount of training wheels off for you and we’ll probably take the most amount off for Remy. Parents also kind of learn how to widen out the funnel, but it’s weird with the oldest because you don’t know. You’ve never done it.
Gavin: Which I completely understand.
Jen: I think your assessment’s right that you had more guardrails on than the younger kids would.
Gavin: I completely understand. In high school, I did want to be treated with more maturity. I wanted to have a little more trust, maybe a little more leniency that was put into play because after all, I may have been still in high school, may have still been a kid. But it was such a drastic change from being a kid, being treated like a kid, like a child to all of a sudden, I am legally an adult and I’m on my own.
Gavin: It was weird because I just didn’t really understand where to go from that point.
Jen: Yep, that makes sense.
Gavin: There were a lot of things that I had to figure out that were really difficult. I went to friends. I found a counselor in Lubbock. I talked to my pastor. I talked to whoever else, but I never came to y’all. I think the best thing you can do is establish that level of trust with your kids and let them know, like, “Hey, things won’t be easy. Chances are you’re going to encounter this. You’re going to encounter that. Something’s going to happen too and you won’t know how to deal with it. You can say I may have been there. I may have not been there, but no matter what happens, I’m here for you and you can come talk to me about it.”
Gavin: “We can get it figured out. We can get it sorted out.” I would argue that, I don’t know, the end of high school and the beginning of college is the transition phase from becoming a child to an adult. If you have no help in that process of maturing and becoming your own person, you’re going to be really lost and it’s going to be really difficult. It’s not going to be as smooth as you might hope it might be.
Jen: What would you say, Sis?
Sydney: I think I would agree with that a little bit. I feel like I probably could have used a little bit more support at the beginning there. I didn’t really reach out for a long time because I was trying to do my own thing and I thought I was supposed to do it on my own. I think you and Dad were trying to give me that space too, which is really important and I needed that space, but I also think . . . I remember the first time I actually called you about how hard my freshman year had been, it was such a relief. Your advice was just so helpful and also just your voice and just the comfort of my mom.
I would want parents to know: don’t feel afraid to call your kids and ask them how they’re doing, and actually make it clear that you want to know how they are.
But kind of back to what Gavin was talking about earlier with just how dangerous or crazy college can be, I feel really strongly that it’s important that parents from even middle school on establish just really open non-judgmental lines of communication with their kids about things regarding alcohol, drugs, sex—especially sex. The thing is I think most families’ style, and our style sometimes, was just not talking about these things that parents hope kids aren’t engaging with. You not talking to your child about it won’t stop them from encountering these things.
If your child has never talked to you about drugs or whatever, how are they going to come to you when it’s more important, when it matters? If your child feels like they can’t talk to you about sex, are they going to come to you if they were hooking with someone and then they were raped or something?
Or if they feel like they would be in a lot of trouble to talk about alcohol? Could they tell their parents if they’ve been drinking too much and they feel like their academics have slipped away from them? It’s just so important to have that I think communication, open from the start.
Jen: It’s true. It’s true, and I think from a parent’s side, it’s so easy just to assume that you know everything that’s going on with your kids or you’re, like, sure what they are or are not exposed to and have this real sense of like, “No, I think I’ve got a good finger on the pulse of where my kid’s at.” But the truth is that that’s just not typically true, that there’s a lot hidden. Even if there’s not, it’s worth asking. Whether or not you guys would be as open as you think you would upon being asked, I don’t know that answer.
It’s definitely worth asking constantly just so you know even if you’re like, “No, it’s all fine,” that eventually when and if you need to say it’s not, you can and that line of communication is open. It’s a really weird time of transition for you guys to move into adulthood and it’s a strange transition for parents to watch you move into adulthood.
Let me ask you this. Plumbing the depths of the college mind, let’s just do this quick. Stream of consciousness. We’ll start with you, Sis. What are you watching?
Sydney: I am watching Broad City, which is my favorite sitcom. It’s hilarious, but I’m also . . . Broad City, it’s about these two best friends in New York. It’s what you’d think it’d be, but it’s awesome and sassy and I love it. Then I’m watching a show on Netflix called Atypical right now. That’s about this senior in high school who has autism. He is ready to start becoming more independent and dating and going to college. It’s just about his family and friends coming around him. It is so heartwarming.
Jen: Yes, I saw the previews for that. Adorable. How about you Gav? You don’t watch TV.
Gavin: I’ve never really watched TV. What I have watched recently is the series Yellowstone.
Jen: Ooh, same.
Gavin: Which is amazing. I have yet to see the season finale, so don’t tell me about it. I’m probably going to watch it as soon as we get off the phone.
Jen: Okay, Dad and I watched it this week with Uncle Drew and Aunt Sarah.
Gavin: Just don’t say anything because the last episode left off, I screamed loudly.
Jen: Yeah, same.
Gavin: Then on top of that, I also watch Queer Eye, but who doesn’t watch Queer Eye?
Jen: Everybody who has a heart. Everybody who’s has a heart. Sis, who . . . Just maybe two or three of them. Otherwise, this’ll go on forever. Who’s on your Spotify playlist?
Jen: The girls, love it.
Sydney: I’m sure you were listening to that when you were my age?
Jen: I did. I listen to it now. How about you, Gav?
Jen: Classic West Texas right there.
Gavin: Listen, those other guys I’ve just recently found about. They are amazing artists.
Jen: Yeah? Okay.
Gavin: They really are.
Jen: All right. We’ll link over to all your suggestions in the transcript so people can listen to what you’re listening to.
Okay, Sydney, what are you reading right now besides textbooks, obviously?
Sydney: Oh my goodness, I read so many books this summer. Probably my favorite book I read this summer you actually sent to me when I was at camp called This Is How It Always Is about this little boy who starts showing signs that he’s actually trans and just the way that his family responded and came around him.
Jen: Yeah, that book’s amazing.
Sydney: The writing is so good.
Jen: How about you, Gav, are you reading anything?
Jen: I knew you were going to say that. Thank you for being honest.
Jen: Okay, Sydney, what’s your favorite game on your phone? Do you play any?
Sydney: I don’t know if this counts, but I’ve been super into the New York Times Crossword lately.
Jen: Yeah, I’ve been watching you do that. Yeah, that counts.
Sydney: I love it.
Jen: That counts. Your Granna and your Aunt Courtney will be so pleased to hear that. I cannot do crosswords. They’re too hard.
Gav, how about you?
Gavin: Easy. Bloons Tower Defense.
Sydney: You still play that?
Gavin: Yeah. The sixth one came out. It was five bucks, and I bought it. That’s a good game. I grew up with that game in middle school, elementary school. I’m playing it.
Sydney: Remember we’d play it in the computer room on the big PC?
Gavin: Yeah, I’m playing it. It’s good stuff.
Jen: Sydney, what is your most useful app on your phone?
Sydney: 1,000% Venmo.
Jen: Oh same.
Sydney: I don’t know how people did anything before Venmo. That’s how I get paid for babysitting. Now every time I eat out with friends, just one person picks up the bill and everyone Venmos them the exact amount they need to. It’s the best.
Jen: Absolutely same. How about you, Gav?
Gavin: I would argue that it’s Venmo as well.
Jen: Yeah? That’s how you do your bills with your roommate, right?
Gavin: Yeah, that’s how we do bills. If it’s not Spotify because I love music, it’s Venmo.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, okay. Well done Venmo. You’ve got our family in the bag.
Sydney, what’s your preferred social media platform and who’s your favorite person or people to follow on it?
Sydney: Mine is most definitely Instagram. I’m not even following that many people that I know personally, but there’s just so many fun accounts to follow. One of my favorite accounts is called Every Outfit on Sex and the City. They just post the best looks from the show and send interviews and quotes and stuff. I’m also following this really cool account called Style Like You. It’s this really funky mother and daughter who interview different people about both their fashion and then just their lives. It kind of twists the two together in really meaningful ways.
Jen: All right, Gavin?
Sydney: It’d be Instagram because I can read what people are writing and see what they’re talking about as well. Facebook and Twitter are nice and all, but sometimes I want pictures to look at.
Jen: You’re not really a big time social media person anyways.
Gavin: Not really.
Jen: Even on the ‘Gram, you’re not on there or anything.
Gavin: On Instagram, I don’t follow anybody that I don’t know.
Jen: Oh really?
Gavin: I’m following 90 people and I’m probably going to cut that down, to be honest.
Gavin: Social media gets way too political for me, so I just kind of keep my distance.
Jen: That’s fine. You’re not really on social media and you don’t watch TV. You’re probably healthy.
Jen: I don’t even know if you’ll have an answer for this. Aside from your mom’s, obvy, what is your favorite podcast if you even have one? Do you guys listen to podcasts?
Sydney: I love podcasts. I’m not saying this to be the favorite child, but I actually started listening to your podcast, Mom, and it’s pretty good.
Sydney: You have some really cool interviews.
Jen: No doubt about it.
Sydney: But lately, I’ve been listening a lot to The Liturgists. They’re really great.
Jen: I love them.
Jen: I did. One of our top episodes of the year.
Sydney: I love that so much. For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, it’s just recording of therapy sessions with her oldest clients. It’s so fascinating and weirdly comforting. I learn something new every time.
Jen: I love . . . I didn’t know you were listening to her stuff. I’m so happy that you are. I really, really like her. I learned so much from her when she was on the show.
One last question, and then we’re just going to wrap it up. What advice would you each give your 10-year-old self about maybe the things not to sweat in middle school and in high school and maybe the things on the opposite end, “These are the things to care about”? You want to go first, Gav?
Gavin: I’d say don’t worry about bad friends.
Jen: What do you mean about that?
Gavin: All of your good friends, all of the people who really care about you and who really genuinely want to spend time with you, will come naturally. You will be naturally drawn to them as well. You shouldn’t have to force a friendship because then that’s not a friendship. Don’t worry about being unpopular, don’t worry about not having every single friend in the school. Don’t worry about any of that stuff. I promise it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have great friends and you’re going to meet great people, and you’re never even going to think a second time about those bad people who hurt you.
Jen: That’s a great point.
Gavin: You just don’t have to worry about it. It’s not as big a deal as you’d think. You’re going to be okay.
Jen: That’s good. How about you, Sydney?
Sydney: I totally agree with that. One of the hardest things for me in middle school and high school was just the natural ebbing and flowing of childhood friendships. I didn’t realize until I was older that it is so natural for your friendships to change a lot as you’re growing up because you should be changing so much. I grew so much and I change and so of course my friendships would. Often you grow in different directions than your friends. Just knowing that it’s okay if some friendships end or for only a certain season of your life, but also the thing . . . Don’t sweat friendships that change. Do sweat your good soul friends and working on those friendships. I think it’s really easy to start taking friends for granted and forget that friendships take work and care.
I started really investing in some of my oldest friends my junior and senior year in high school. We all got really close again and I am so grateful for them. Then I was able to carry these really beautiful friendships into college and have them by me.
Jen: This is the wrap up. This is just rapid fire. Which class do you think is going to be your favorite this year? Sis?
Sydney: I have a really interesting class called digital storytelling. We just learn to tell stories through different formats, so we’ll be doing videos, podcasts, creative writing, things like that. I think that’ll be really fun.
Jen: Love it. Gavin?
Gavin: Range wildlife habit management. That’s going to be such a fun class.
Jen: Sounds like a party.
Gavin: It’s going to be so much fun.
Jen: Sure sounds like it. Thus far, what class are you most convinced you will never use again? Sydney?
Jen: But you’re kind of a science guy. There’s got to be some chemistry to environmental science.
Gavin: I am an environmentalist, not a chemist.
Jen: Okay, that’s fair.
Gavin: The only little bit of chemistry that’s involved in environmentalism comes whenever you deal with pH levels in soil. I am not a soil scientist. I did not do well in that class, so it’s just something that I’m not really going to use. If I need to work with soil, I’m going to try my hand, but if I can’t do it, then I’ll hire someone.
Jen: Fair enough.
Sydney: I think I just fell asleep with my eyes open.
Jen: Oh my gosh, right?
Last question, and Sydney will know this because she’s listened a bit. This is a question we ask every single guest in every single series. It’s from a writer that I love. You’ve heard me talk about her, Barbara Brown Taylor. This is the question she asks. You can answer however you want to answer. Some people answer this with really funny ridiculous things. Some people say something really serious and poignant. It’s whatever you want. Whatever your real answer is. The question is what is saving your life right now. Who’s got it?
Sydney: For me, right now, this is kind of personal, but it’s antidepressants.
Sydney: I think part of what made my freshman year so hard was I moved across the country alone with undiagnosed and untreated depression. I got into therapy and then eventually started taking medication my second semester. It was such a game changer for me. This summer is when I really started taking it regularly. It has made such a difference for me.
Jen: Totally. That’s a good answer. Gavin?
Gavin: For me, it would be some of my professors just reminding me that things are going to work out. Obviously, I’m nearing the end of college and that’s terrifying because I’ve never had a real adult job before. But having the reassurance from people that have been there that tell me it’s going to be okay. One way or another, you’re going to end up okay, is really nice to hear.
Gavin: I need that reassurance. I’m a very anxious person. Having just that type of support and that type of comfort is nice to say the least.
Jen: It’s true. These guys know the path. They know the grad schools. They know the department heads. They know everybody. This is your little army of professors who are prepared to get you guys into that next level, be it career or grad school. Again, shout out to all the professors out there. Going the extra mile for the students, help writing them recommendation letters. All of that matters so, so much. We are so grateful for the investment of university professors and academics in the lives of our kids as they grow up and need more than their parents to make it.
Okay, you guys. Thanks for being on and thanks for your honesty.
Gavin: Of course.
Jen: Talking about the goods, the bads, the successes and the failures, yours and ours. That’s a life. This is real life stuff. Thanks for being on.
Any last words? You get the last word.
Sydney: I want to add this to your last question about what’s saving your life right now. For me, it’s been my high school homies who are here at UT. They have just welcomed me into their circles and showed me the ropes. They’ve made this transition so much better for me. Don’t just throw away your childhood friends when you go to college. They are still wonderful.
Jen: 100% true. Love that. Love them too. Love your friends. Gav, anything else?
Gavin: Listen to your parents. They’re smarter than you are.
Jen: I don’t know if we’re smarter, but we definitely . . . Nobody loves you more.
Gavin: You’re wiser.
Jen: Nobody loves you more.
Gavin: You’re wiser.
Jen: Nobody cares about you more. Nobody wants to see you succeed more and be happy and find love and joy and fulfillment. We get that wrong sometimes. We sometimes press too hard on the gas when we should press on the brake. Sometimes we press too hard on the brake when we should just back off altogether. At the end of the day, nobody is more for you than me and Dad.
That’s it. Good job, you guys. Good advice. Good counsel, good reporting from the college sector. Proud. So proud of you both. So thrilled about where you both are in your lives, in your college career, what’s coming down the pipe for both of you. We just see so much pavement in front of you. It’s exciting to watch and we’re thrilled to be a part of it and believe in both of you so, so, so, so much. Just more than you can ever imagine. All right, that’s it. Love you guys.
Gavin: Love you too, Mom.
Sydney: Love you too.
Jen: Whew. Listen, ask a question, be prepared to get an answer. Oh man, the kids and I had to stay on the phone for a little bit afterwards and download a little bit more and talk more about our discussion and their vulnerability. Just proud of them. Just super proud of them. Glad they feel confident and safe enough to say, “These are the things that worked and these are the things that didn’t and these are the things we wish you would have done differently.” Man, this parenting thing is no joke, you guys. Absolutely no joke.
I am so happy you listened. I’m so happy you’re here today. I hope this sparked some great conversations with the young adults in your life or the kids in your life who are coming up on this age group.
Speaking of coming up on this age group, more to come. Next week, I interview my high school sons, Caleb and Ben. They are a senior and a sophomore in high school. Then the week after that, I interview Remy, my eighth grader and her best friend, Ella, also in eighth grade. We’ll hear what’s happening in the middle school world. Then even more exciting guests after that. I’m going to hold those back.
This whole series is going to be useful and informative and eye opening and maybe a teeny bit terrifying. There’s nothing like opening up your own parenting experience to your podcast community, but I’m proud of my kids and proud of them for being on and thankful for who they are and who they are becoming. It’s always great to look behind the curtain. You’re not going to want to miss next week. Caleb and Ben are hysterical.
Thanks for listening and subscribing and rating and reviewing. This is a good one to share. This is a good center point of discussion with your husband, with your spouse, with your wife, with your kids, with your friend circle. Put this in the middle of your community and start a conversation. Appreciate you sharing all the episodes that you share and reviewing and subscribing. You guys are the absolute greatest.
Okay, next week, I bring you Ben and Caleb Hatmaker. We’ll find out what’s going on in high school. Thanks, guys.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!