It’s Not Common Sense If You’ve Never Done It Before

Dearest Jane,

My friend, on our last walk, I recognized your exasperation with your son, a twenty-four-old college graduate with a real job, but who forgot to purchase renter’s insurance for his apartment and couldn’t fill out the form without texting you a barrage of questions. Take a deep breath. The transition from the cocoon of college life to the working world of adult life is a process. It doesn’t happen as quickly or smoothly as our young adults’ hope nor as we, their mothers, expect.

It’s not common sense if you have never done it before. I said that repeatedly, during the first years my kids were out of college, when they called or texted with questions about daily life issues that they were facing for the first time. Common sense is practical experience. It is based on understanding how things work, and it is in performing a task that experience and knowledge is gained.

When my kids called with their latest predicament, I willed myself to listen rather than rush in with advice, similar to when I watched and waited to see how they handled a tumble when they were toddlers. I learned to discern whether they were in crisis or merely facing a frustrating chore for the first time. If they were in a crisis-health or safety-I assisted quickly and ably, but otherwise, I asked, “What is your plan?” After hearing their strategy, I responded, “I’m glad you’re thinking of what to do”. Occasionally I gave a time or cost saving tweak, but mostly I listened-to complaints about the late the cable guy, confusion in understanding car insurance coverage, and anguish over paying a replacement fee for a lost key-and I heard them entering adulthood.

Life is work. The administrative tasks can be repetitive and tedious. Patience is needed otherwise tasks become burdensome and frustrating quickly. Early on, finding the time and effort needed for their administrative life was draining. In their first years out of college, when they asked, I willingly answered questions on a range of issues, including lease agreements, parking tickets, and salvaging clothes ruined in the washer, but the follow-up was on them. The costs-time, money and effort-were theirs to bear.

Often, I mused how kids who navigated apps effortlessly, called mom to get daily life questions answered rather than using their phone. I realized it wasn’t just that they didn’t have to sift through screens to find the right answer, but they wanted reassurance as well as advice. All the apps and screens weren’t the same as my voice of experience. Rather than an annoyance, I took their calls as a compliment (and proof that they were dealing with life’s daily tasks).  I knew that this stage, just like the tumbling toddler would pass. And I recognized that unlike in my youth, when I called home on Sunday evenings after the rates went down, my kids had the benefit of technology, that allowed them to call from Trader Joe’s to ask about veggie selection or FaceTime to show me the color and size of the stain on their new shirt.

They made some mistakes; taking risks, delaying tasks or ignoring deadlines. It was hard to watch, but a part of the transition to adulthood. If they were distraught or anxious, I waited for them to act. If they suffered from inertia or an inability to cope, I pushed them for a plan of action, reminding them they were resourceful and capable. I told them to be self-reliant and not to suck other people into their drama. Whether it be a roommate asked to search for lost keys, or a co-worker asked to cover while you deal with your towed car or a friend asked to buy your drink at the cash-only bar because you forgot to go to the ATM, don’t drag others into your self-made struggles. Over time they gained experience. They learned to carry cash in case of emergency, how to navigate the DMV, to set a place for their keys, and to get renter’s insurance before moving into a new apartment. Your son will learn, too. Before long, he will become proficient in dealing with governmental agencies, financial institutions, and paperwork full of legalese.

Finally, my dear friend, I’ve encouraged you to be patient, calm, and understanding. But before I sign off, let me be clear on one point: Do not complete adult life tasks for your son. Coach him, advise him, walk him through it, but don’t do it for him. He can do it and you are just a phone call or text away.

Your pal,





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2 Responses to It’s Not Common Sense If You’ve Never Done It Before

  1. Happyoutlook says:

    Good advice to coach and explain but not to do!

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