Podcast 122: Tackle a “Power Day,” People Who Question Your Good Habits, and What’s Your Advice about College-Bound Children?

Update: The September book tour for The Four Tendencies is set! I’ll be going to New York City (obviously), Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  I hope to see you there — please come, bring friends. Info is here.

Try This at Home: Tackle a “Power Day.” In episode 6, we discussed a “Power Hour.”

Are you wondering if you’re a Rebel? Take the quiz here to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Happiness Hack: Jen explains why having a two-person book group has made her happy. (I love one of their reading choices, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.)

 Happiness Stumbling Block: Kelly’s in-laws discourage her from eating the way she likes to eat.

I mention several strategies of habit change from my book Better Than Before.

If you’d like to know what a low-carb zealot like me eats every day, here’s the post.

Listener Question: This week, I have a question for listeners. My daughter Eliza is starting college in the fall, and I would love insights, suggestions, experiences, and advice about dealing with a child going off to college. This is a big transition, so I would love to hear people’s ideas.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth gives herself a demerit for lamenting the end of the first grade for Jack.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: How I love the waterfall in the ravine of the North Woods of Central Park.

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  • Jean Marie

    Oh, yay, you’re coming to Dallas! I was listening to the podcast and was sad that no Texas locations were mentioned (I would have driven to Austin). And then I looked at the list and I am so excited!

  • Jill

    I love a Power Day. When I had sick time offered through work, I would schedule a “wellness” day where I would block out all of my annual appointments (lady doctor, dentist, eye doctor, etc) and add something nice like a yoga class into a single day. That way it was scheduled, I got all my appointments out of the way, I was putting my sick time to good use and I felt healthier!

    • Talley Sue Hohlfeld

      My sister does all that “wellness” doctor stuff on her birthday! I think she has worked places where the birthday is a free day off, which may have gotten her started. But she takes it as a vacation day if it’s not a freebie.

      It’s easy to remember, and easy to plan. And she frames it as “loving herself.”

  • When I was in college, I loved receiving care packages. It was always fun when there was enough in them to share with my friends. One idea for birthdays is a birthday box – a dessert, balloons to blow up, birthday paper plates and napkins, etc. – things that you would have at a birthday party in a box and mail it.
    I have a sister that is 11 years younger than me, so she was definitely left behind when I went off to college. One thing I did was have her spend a weekend in my dorm. She loved it.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love this idea.

  • Debbie

    My daughter just graduated from college. Because she is an only child, we became “empty-nesters” quickly. One thing I did was to text her “Good morning” every morning and “Good night” every night. I always ended each text with our special symbol, 3 kissy emojis. These texts helped me stay connected and it let her know I was thinking of her. Of course we would text sometimes throughout the day, but the morning and night texts give me a sense of peace knowing she was safe and doing well. The next 4 years will be the fastest 4 years of your life. I always heard it, but never believed it. Well it’s really true! Good luck! Hopefully, she is going to college close so you can visit often.
    P.S. Care packages are fun too. I would always send one at Halloween, Finals time and Valentines Day. She loved them! And find cute or funny “Thinking of You” cards. I would try to send one every couple of weeks with some extra spending money or a Starbucks card. I think she really looked forward to getting mail.

  • Tiffany

    We’ve got four kids and this fall there will just be one left at home. We’re embracing our “3 musketeer years” with just our daughter, husband and me. We’ve decided to kick it off with a short trip away for the three of us after taking our son to college in August. In a few years when our youngest is ready to leave home, we’ll start the “just the two of us” years and will plan things to enjoy then too.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea!

  • Carol

    Hi, Gretchen and Elizabeth!

    It’s interesting how Elizabeth’s demerit is related to Gretchen’s question to listeners. I think in those transitional moments it would be helpful to do three things:
    – remember the past (learn from mistakes, celebrate accomplishments), but without being lost there;
    – acknowledge the present moment (let yourself feel the doubts, anxiety, excitement, questioning, whatever it is you are feeling, especially if you are feeling conflicting emotions, as people often do at these moments)
    – wonder about the future (imagining, planning), but without worrying (witch is often unhelpful and anxiety inducing).

    Regarding the move to college, I suggest that parents and children have an honest conversation about how to keep in touch. When I went to college, I received a phone call from BOTH my mother and my father EACH AND EVERY SINGLE DAY. Perhaps that would work for some parents and children, but to me that was extremely overwhelming! The other day someone on the internet wrote about “relational frequency”, how often and how much do you need to interact with someone. Some people might have a higher relational frequency, meaning they want to meet more often and might need more contact such as an in person meeting or a videoconference, so they can see the other person’s face. Some people might have a lower relational frequency, meaning they want to meet less often, and may feel fine with phone calls, text messages and emails. If parents and children are compatible on the relational frequency, great! If not, perhaps they could talk and find a middle ground that, while not perfect, is acceptable for both parties.

    Another important is the parent’s sense of loss for the child that is leaving home. I am 30 years old and do not have children, but I can empathise and imagine that for many parents this transitional phase can be very tender. It is OK, and even necessary perhaps, to acknowledge these feelings, and to have a sort of “grieving period” in order to process them. However, I’d like to share a cautionary tale from my experience. Soon after I started college, my parents moved to the city of my University, and I went back to living with them. Years later, I ended college and received the news that I had been approved to grad school with a full scholarship at a prestigious University, in another city; this meant that I would, once again and this time for good, move out of their house. And I’ll tell you, my parents congratulated me, but they were SAD. Like, for the next few days, it almost felt like someone died instead of me having had such a nice achievement. My parents only started feeling a little better after the news spread out and their friends, coworkers and family started congratulating them excitedly. So my message is: Do not let the bittersweet become sour.

  • gametime2210

    Regarding Eliza/college, my advice would be to remember that when she comes home for visits and breaks, she will be pulled in many directions. Trying to catch up with old friends, see favorite missed places, and maybe even connect with new friends who are also living nearby. I remember feeling so much pressure from my family during this time because they were so disappointed I didn’t want to spend all my time with them. It got so bad that I eventually started staying elsewhere and not telling my family for some of my visits.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestion!

  • Me

    I sent both of my kids off to college armed with small toolkits-hammer, duct tape, command hooks, screwdrivers, measuring tape, superglue, spackle, fishing line, a small plunger, picture hangers, and such-things they already knew how to use and were likely to need at some point in the dormitory or off campus housing. I realized that they could purchase tools once they arrived, but knew they wouldn’t want to spend money on them either. It turned out to be a great way for them to meet other students once word got around that “#4B has a screwdriver and knows how to use it!” Turned out to be one of my better parenting moments…

    • Jessica Feldmann

      Yes this!!! I met a lot of my floor mates just by having a hammer. Best gift my mom got me for college.

    • Kelly

      I absolutely agree with this as we were the parents that didn’t have tools and had to go find someone to borrow them from. i will also add cleaning supplies. The dorms are gross even though they were “cleaned” over the summer. A vacuum and disinfecting wipes are a must to clean everything before unpacking.

  • Hi Gretchen,

    Our daughter, Katie, just graduated from NYU. She spent her first summer — in between her freshman and sophomore years — back home in Minnesota, with us. Only a week ago today she was showing a friend the photographic evidence of why that had been so much fun…


    I hope that helps!


  • JoanMH

    Regarding Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, also read her earlier work “Housekeeping” – a book that was at once disturbing and satisfying, a book which I sat and contemplated for hours after finishing. I also still think of the characters in Gilead.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE that book.

  • Valerie

    Re: “Power Day” … my friend I have been doing this for years and we call it “office hours”. We set aside a day where we cross things off our to-do lists. It’s so much more enjoyable with company.
    Re: college care packages: I’ve been out of college for a while, BUT my aunt used to send me little holiday themed boxes. It would be things like holiday themed kitchen towels or valentines day candy, etc. This might be a good way to keep your daughter looped in to the family tradition. For pictures, my cousins used to have little cutout pictures of themselves that they would use. The family at home would put the cutout of child #1 in the photo in a funny way.
    – Valerie, New York, NY

  • My kids are 7 years apart but very close, so sending off my son to college was tough not only for my husband and I but also for his little sis. I wasn’t ready to get a phone for her, but we did get an ipod, so she could have free and easy communication with her brother that didn’t require asking mom and dad for their phones. We got a house phone again as well.

    I think the show’s Happiness Hack idea about a 2 person book club is a great one for you as a mother/daughter, your husband and Eliza, and the two sisters. I did this and tried to keep up with my son’s freshmen reading list so we had something other than the weather and dirty laundry to talk about (he’s not a big talker). I also read Adulting and buried the margins in “notes from mom” about what I agreed with, disagreed with, reminders about what we taught him growing up, and stories of my own time leaving for college.

    Finally, to prepare for my son to leave, we had a bucket list and movies to watch before he left. Once a week, we watched cheesy coming of age movies and TV shows he hadn’t seen yet that were important to my husband and me for him to see.

    Good luck!

    P.S. Don’t forget to ask the girls what they think should change or stay the same. Elizabeth is right, at some point you stop dying Easter eggs and maybe they’re ready to let that or other “yesteryear” traditions go. Hearing them say it my make it easier for you to let go and not stress over making her visits home perfect and a recreation of times better left in the past. I was excited about not having to carve pumpkins anymore! ooxo

  • Jessica Feldmann

    College advice: for Eliza, the best advice my dad gave me for college was to take one class just for fun each year or semester if able. Volleyball ended up being my favorite class! You meet a different group of people and it’s a little stress relief from your core classes. My mom’s advice was to no room with someone from high school. While my first roommate situation ended up being a disaster I grew because of it and didn’t ruin a good friendship with someone I already knew. For Gretchen, care packages and any mail in general is awesome when you are in college. If you are able, show up for things like parents weekend or homecoming. Talk on the phone or skpe at least once a week (schedule it!). Invite her college friends to spend the weekend sometime and get to know them too. When she comes home remember she is an adult now and used to having more freedom so don’t over-parent.

  • kylidica

    Here’s my advice for Eliza (and you, Gretchen):

    I remember the first night of college so well. My parents dropped me off at the dorms in Berkeley, and even though I had been waiting ALL SUMMER to be on my own, I was desperately homesick the minute after they left. I couldn’t bear to eat alone in the dining commons, so I snuck a piece of pizza out and felt quite lonely in my dorm. Later, I was chatting online with a friend who was a few years older. He told me to take a hot shower, put on pajamas, and read a funny book until I felt like falling asleep. This advice and Bridget Jones’s Diary got me through that first, unexpectedly homesick night.

    Gretchen, my advice for you is to take Eliza out to dinner when you get there! It might seem obvious, and she may even tell you that you don’t have to stay, but picking a fun place or trying a local’s favorite will mean that she doesn’t have to eat sad pizza at her desk, like me. Haha.

    My mom used to send me themed pajamas in care packages. Halloween pajamas with black cats, Valentine’s Day pajamas with hearts, etc. You’d be surprised how often pajamas were considered appropriate at college events.


    p.s. I wish I could come to your SF book event, but sadly, I will be teaching at that time.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestions!

  • Christine

    The #1 item my roommate and I brought freshman year: a fan! College dorms are often without air conditioning, which can be especially brutal on those early summer days. We definitely made friends right away because everyone came to cool off in our room!

  • Julia

    Young people going away to University tend to pick up nasty colds, I recommend sending them off with plenty of effective cold remedies !

  • Stacey Neve

    I’m interested in the 21 Day Happiness projects, but the links don’t seem to be working for me.

  • Jessica Bland

    Congrats to Eliza! Here’s my personal nugget of wisdom: Text messages, postcards, and care packages really are a college kid’s best friend.

    I graduated from college four years ago, and I remember it being a really difficult time for me mentally – as it is for many! As a double major in the performing arts and philosophy, I had VERY little time between books, rehearsals, and sleep. Calling home was always so hard for me, even though I desperately wanted to talk to my family.

    My mother took it upon herself to text or call me every single morning with a very simple and quick “Good morning, I love you.” Outside of this, my mother never pressured me to call or email. Unless it was something extremely important, my mother let me set the days and times to call home. This ended up being extremely helpful for us going forward, as I’ve never had a truly set routine due to my profession.

    About postcards and care packages: The other day, I was going through my hope-chest, a catch-all for my nostalgic items. Not only did I find a bunch of post cards that my mother sent me during my college years, but I also found the C-3PO pez dispenser she sent me for Valentine’s Day one year.

    For my mother, sending the postcards and care packages was a fun and tangible way for her to keep being my mom, even when I wasn’t under her roof. For me, they were huge pick-me-ups. Hanging the postcards in my dorm room reminded me of how much I was loved amidst all the successes and failures that accompany being a college kid. In short – I can’t recommended post cards and the random care package enough!

    P.S: After I graduated college, I sent underclassmen friends Halloween care-packages. They LOVED them, and I’m sure Eliza will too.

    P.P.S: If she does laundry using coin-operated machines in college, make sure to leave her with about $20 in quarters.

  • Talley Sue Hohlfeld

    a few more suggestions for stuff to take along:

    a multi-tool; I gave my daughter one, and she was the hero of the dorm. As was the other girl who had a hammer (I’d forgotten)

    a dishwashing wand.

    an Amazon Prime membership (there’s a student one) and a way to pay for orders, so she can get what she needs (it’s often not that easy to leave campus to find a store, esp. not for freshmen who might not have a car (some aren’t allowed to have one) or who might not have time)

    I tried to get my son to hang a small set (or a cut-down set) of shoe pockets on the wall by his desk or by his bed to use to put random stuff in instead of setting it on his desk to get covered up. I figured he’d be able to find his nail clipper if he got himself into the habit of just sticking them in there.

    i sent both my kids weird stuff (once I mailed a pack of ping-pong balls. just because). And ice-pops-in-a-tube since their mini fridge had a freezer.

    And Insomnia Cookies instead of birthday cake, enough to share

  • Talley Sue Hohlfeld

    Oh–I forgot:

    Before you leave school, get the cell phone numbers of her roommate AND roomie’s parents, if you can. And make sure they have yours. Just in case.

    I used that info to scheme for Valentine’s Day (roomie hid the candy in her room and left the riddle on her desk for me).

    I also used it to call the roommate when my daughter had a medical emergency and went to the hospital for surgery in the middle of the night. And the roommate could call me.

    And we didn’t need it, but if it had been the roomie who’d been sick, I could have been Assistant Parent on behalf of her parents, until they could get there (we lived much closers), and us parents could arrange stuff like travel logistics without her.

    • Talley Sue Hohlfeld

      We also did it w/ my son’s roommate, and since we’re sharing a storage unit over the summer, it means we can contact one another to discuss how to get the stuff out, etc.

  • Sally_Jones

    One thing we did was once we got our schedules we picked a day and time that worked for the college student and we made ourselves available for a phone call, my parents would call us. (This was pre-cell phone and email). This still happens the dates and times change as life changes but it is 19 years after I graduated college and I still have a weekly call with my parents despite the fact that we do email and text in between the calls. We will also call before the appointed time if needed.

    I liked that my parents let me pick the time to check in and it helped them to feel better since they were able to check in and see how things were going. We each got contact but they let me lead the seperation so I didn’t dread talking to them.

  • Talley Sue Hohlfeld

    Re: college

    a lockbox. http://a.co/iPxd7cx
    This one has a combination, so no key to lose (my kid lost his at the end of freshman year).

    It’s a place to keep important documents (Social Security Card & passport, needed for student employment or for a road trip to Canada, since he’s close).

    He can put his wallet there and not worry.

    But I also encouraged him to put any important papers/stuff there. Letters about tuition; forms from extracurricular clubs; his class ring; the power pack for his phone; etc.

    He used it a lot.

    I made my daughter a cabinet to go on top of the fridge, but a cart to go under it might be easier for some people–Container Store has one.

    I heard a suggestion of a coat tree–not sure if it was on your podcast/site, or elsewhere. But it’s on our list for next year.
    It may be a substitute for a valet rack, which we’re considering for my son to hang his sweaty Kendo uniform, so it will dry out.

  • Kelly

    Hi Gretchen. I have two in college now – one in New Orleans and one in New York City. I will advise you to follow Eliza’s love language. Since I live in Atlanta, both girls are very far from home and not easy to visit. They have quality time high on their lists, so I have made a point to visit each daughter on their birthdays, since birthday’s have always been important to them. Neither one of them has gifts high on the love language list, so they are not excited about getting care packages. The few times I asked them about it they said it didn’t matter. If gifts are high on Eliza’s list then the ideas given in the comments are great. They FaceTime with me a lot, but I leave it on their schedule. The one time I couldn’t go to New York for my daughter’s birthday, I planned a scavenger hunt and had her walk around the city collecting gifts at shops that I had purchased and she ended at a flower shop. She loved that. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it and she’ll be home again!