Q: Our daughter had a 4.0 GPA all through high school. Now she's off to university, living in the dorms, and her grades are plummeting. We don't see any evidence of partying or other troubling behaviors, so we're not quite sure what to think. What do you suggest?
Jim: As a dad with two now-adult sons, I understand. Even the best of students often experience a drop-off in grades during their first year in college. The college world is very different from that of high school, and a freshman typically undergoes a certain amount of culture shock even if they're still living at home; on-campus dorm life can be downright overwhelming.
Think about it from your daughter's perspective. She has to adjust to a new living situation and being wholly responsible for her own eating, sleeping and study habits. She's processing a whole range of new friends and acquaintances. She has to learn her way around an unfamiliar and confusing campus while adapting to a strange schedule -- sitting in lecture halls followed by a LOT of time working outside of class. Statistically speaking, she's likely also suffering from homesickness. Once she has navigated all this, she has to find extra time and energy to devote to classes and subjects that are more complex than what she's seen before. It's a big challenge.
I'd encourage you to ask what's going on, what she needs from you and what will help ease the adjustment process. It's highly probable that she's longing for reassurance from you. She may desperately need demonstration of your confidence in her and your unconditional love as you support her during this challenging transition.
I have a feeling that specific explanations will emerge out of your relationship with your daughter. So, don't jump to conclusions. Instead, take the time you and she need to talk things through.
Q: My husband and I try to make a point of having regular date nights. But we're so busy that this is usually the most convenient time for us to discuss concerns and problems. Is it a good idea to talk about sensitive issues while out on a date?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: Current research confirms what we all know (at least at some level) intuitively: Spending time enjoying your spouse is critical to a healthy relationship.
Some years back, marital research experts Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Howard Markman conducted an extensive survey to discover what creates a "strong" relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, the amount of fun couples had together emerged as the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness. The application is that if time spent together having fun is this important, then we must protect those moments against invading distractions.
Here's an analogy. I might or might not have personal experience with what happens when just one red shirt gets thrown into a washer full of white clothes. If you've been there, you know it could be enough to ruin the whole load.
Allowing conflict or unpleasantries to encroach on date night can have the same destructively "coloring" effect because it intensifies emotions -- making it difficult to relax and enjoy each other. If the pattern becomes a practice, your mate may lose the desire to do fun things because the experience ends up "turning pink."
Rather than allowing that to happen, I encourage you and your spouse to set aside difficult conversations during date night and reschedule them for when you can give them your undivided attention. Agree on a different time and place to "administrate" things. Focusing on the fun during dates will strengthen your bond and enable you to deal with the difficult issues better at the proper time.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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