Picnic Day- An Aggie Parent's Experience

Picnic Day

By Sylvia Pardini, Aggie Parent Council Member

Picnic Day is one of THE annual events students look forward to. Admittedly, it is also one of my favorite events as a parent. I don’t expect to see my son during the day, because his picnic day tradition matches that of many students on campus, to let loose something he can only do a couple times a year.

I am on my fourth Picnic Day and my interests vary each year; however, there are a few things I always have to check off my list, such as standing on the west side of the Quad at 10 a.m. to watch the parade, followed by heading over to the Planetary Science building to pick up a few plants to add to my garden, and visiting with the cows.

This year I added a new element to my Picnic Day shenanigans. Instead of volunteering at the Parent and Family Association booth (those parents rock by the way!), I decided to engage in casual discussion with my favorite part of UC Davis – the students. The focus was “What does effective parent support look like from a student perspective?”

My first stop on campus was the Quad. Zahira (Animal Science, ’19) and Callie (Animal Science, ’21) shared their newly created club with me. I took the opportunity to ask about effective parent support; an ideal student wish list per se. Zahira expressed that her parents are great sounding boards with a listening ear, especially when she is stressed, and she is able to weigh the pros and cons of difficult decisions with them. Her parents provide unconditional support, not in a controlling way, because it is her life she is creating, not theirs. Callie expressed that her parent support is similar to that of Zahira; she likes to discuss options with her parents. They support her decisions, especially since her siblings all majored in business and she is pursuing her own path with animal science. Callie appreciates the financial support her parents provide as she would not be able to attend university on her own. She mentioned that her mom tends to pace her by instilling the sense that it’s OK to say no, since Callie admittedly tries to take on a lot.

Waiting on the sidelines for the parade to start, I ran into Jeri (Art ’22) and her friend Elsie. Jeri stated that she likes for her parents to call her every once in a while to make sure she is not overly stressed. Her first quarter as a first year student was stressful and an occasional call from home a couple of times a week helped her stay grounded. She expressed that it is hard to manage a new schedule, wanting to find your own people on campus, making friends and not feeling alone. Elsie (Psychology ’22) from Southern California agrees that getting a phone call is helpful in warding off loneliness.

Getting the much coveted tomato and strawberry plants requires everyone to stand in line in the planetary sciences courtyard for about an hour. I had the good fortune of standing next to Ashley (Biological Sciences ’21) and she was happy that I asked her my question of the day. She emphasized that communication is key, she speaks to her parents frequently. Ashley explained that her dad’s number top priority is her mental health, which he views as being more important than a degree. While this outlook may not sit well with many parents reading this, she said that her dad’s attitude allows her to succeed without pressure. Her parents foster her independence and she can do as she likes, as long as she is safe.

Thomas (Cognitive Science ‘22) is an international student from the Czech Republic and will be transferring back to his home country next year. He mentioned, provided that it’s possible within a family environment, parents should encourage their children to explore as many fields that interest them as possible. If one feels shoehorned into a specific career because of parental pressure, it’s bound to end in unpleasantness.

Like many of us, I was convinced I had a very good understanding of what the results of my question would be, and I am very happy to report that I was proven wrong. I loved being proven wrong, and I admitted to students that I have to slightly change my own approach. My parenting style is to be fairly hands-off in day to day activities and I tend to wait for my son to reach out to me as far as a phone call is concerned. Not because I don’t care, but because he is so busy, and I like to give him the space to be on his own. He knows my husband, myself and his sister are always there for him at any time. Every student is different as far as needs, which vary across grade level, gender, geography and personal preference. There is no secret sauce that fits all; however, I learned that there are strong commonalities.

Around 1 p.m., I grabbed lunch at one of the food trucks by the Mondavi Center. While I was enjoying my sandwich, Cecilia (Speech Pathology ‘19) and Arlene (Nursing ‘22) asked if they could join me at my table. We ended up talking about parent support and both Cecilia and Arlene stated they were just visiting campus and were Sac State students. I loved the opportunity to get their feedback and see if there were any similarities of the needs of a Hornet as opposed to that of an Aggie. Financial and emotional support is everything to Cecilia, being able to talk about just anything with her mom, and balancing life’s demands while working and studying. She likes enough pressure from home to keep her motivated. Arlene echoed the financial and emotional support from home. At times she feels alone being away from home and she appreciates family and friends asking about her day. She was quite mature when she said that she prefers that her parents are not giving her everything she wants, but everything she needs. Could’ve not asked for better lunch company than visiting Hornets!

Scott (Medieval and Early Modern Studies ‘22) commented that parents should continue with the same unconditional love and care given, however college is the time students are becoming adults and truly discovering themselves. Parents shouldn’t have to give the same help that they would have given during high school.

All of the students I spoke to encouraged support from parents and family, and conveyed that they very much appreciate calls and check-ins through social media platforms or texts from loved ones. Many Freshman students communicated feeling excited to move on from high school and being on their own, while at the same time occasionally feeling lonely. Digging a bit further, freshman, and some Sophomores, often felt a bit excluded from family life, thinking they have to ‘adult up’ overnight. My small sampling of research does not mean this is a blank check to inundate your student with daily or hourly inquires as to how they are doing, but to be sensible of your student’s individual situation, schedule and needs.

Our son and I have established the tradition of grabbing dinner in Winters when I am in town. We love the small town vibe, and the fact that there is excellent food to be had in Winters. I shared my Picnic Day experience with Dillon (Neurology, Physiology and Behavior ‘20) over dinner asked him about his thoughts on effective parent support. He shared that he likes it when we check in once or twice a week, whether it’s over social media, text, or an occasional call. He also loves getting mail and appreciates handwritten notes that he can refer back to on days he is not feeling the love. He likes when we visit outside of a UC Davis event, including those days when his dad visits and helps him fix his truck. It’s casual. Emotional support is important, especially around academic deadlines and exams, and just encouraging him to do his best.

As a family of four, we have a private Facebook group where we share family updates, pictures, recipes, events, thought provoking articles soliciting each other’s opinions, funny bits, dinner polls for favorite food items to be served at upcoming holidays, and the list goes on. No subject is off limits for us. The group is a digital extension of our family life, a continuation of the traditional family dinner conversation the difference being we are all in different locations. It’s an indirect way of staying in touch.

To sum up what we as parents already know, we have amazing level-headed kids. If there is an overall message I want to convey, it’s not to lose sight of the mounting pressure our kid’s experience, and focus our awareness of how we communicate our support and how we express our wishes to be involved in our student’s lives. It is integral for us to communicate reasonable expectations on academic performance, how we ourselves manage empty nest syndrome arriving on our doorstep, and most of all, how we show we are concerned about the student's well-being.

Having those discussions was my favorite part of Picnic Day 2019. Students welcomed the opportunity to be heard on what can be a sensitive topic to address with their family. My discussion with students reminds me to initiate a call with my own son more often.

I encourage everyone to ask their Aggie: “What does effective parent support look like from your perspective?”