“How Not to Die” and Other Resources for Parenting My College-Aged Sons


I’ll be seeing our 23-year-old son, Jake, next weekend when we visit him and his brother for Cal Poly’s Family Weekend.  Guess that means one thing: I’d better get busy reading the book How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger.

If you’re not familiar with the book, that probably sounds ominous, maybe a little creepy, but it’s just the latest title in our ongoing book exchange.  This particular book espouses the health benefits of a plant-based diet (not something I personally find appealing, to be honest).  But Jake loaned me the book a while back and he’s going to be looking for some healthy conversation on the topic.

This book is not my typical weekend read, to say the least (the bibliography alone is 150 pages!).  Still, I can’t wait to crack it open.  And here’s why.  Exchanging books—and, by extension, ideas—with my college-aged sons has become one of my favorite ways to stay connected with them and to expand my own horizons in the process.

Absence makes the heart…a little sad

Both my boys go to school a couple of hours away from home.  I really, really miss our every-day interaction, I won’t deny it.  But their experiences in college and living away from home have helped pave the way for a special and new kind of relationship with their old mom.

It’s been a year since our youngest, Zack, started college, and Jake is mid-way through the master’s program.  I guess my hubby and I are quickly becoming veterans at the whole empty nest thing!  Still, it’s a transition.

During this time, I’ve learned that it really is possible to build a richer and deeper bond with your children while they (and YOU!) discover a whole new world of subject matter! One of the best ways to do that, at least in my own experience, is by sharing a love for reading and using books to fuel a new conversation and connection with your son or daughter.

If each stage was “the best,” where are we now?

Since the moment I became a mom (June 16, 1993…it was a pretty good day!) I’ve genuinely thought “this is the best season of my boys’ life.” Does that mean each phase was perfect?  Um, no!   But each stage was special and even fun in its own way.  Now, with one son approaching his 20’s and the other at 23, I have to admit…I’m a little surprised that new joys in parenting continue to spring up!

Sharing books with each other, or recommending articles or web sites, are some of my favorites things about having young adult children.  In fact, I have to admit that reading with my kids now is more enjoyable and enriching than it ever was in the early years.  For me, anyway.

Story time was sleepy time in the early years

Back when the boys were little, reading together as a family was a priority, but staying awake long enough for story-time was really hard for me! I’m an “early to bed, early to rise” person.  After a full day at work, then all the regular MOM responsibilities after getting home (dinner time, dishes, play time, bath time…then story time).  More than once my head nodded and hit the pillow before we finished the story.

It’s been a long time since Goodnight Moon was our go-to book, and boy are things different now!  Not long ago, when Zack was home during break, we made our regular visit to Barnes & Noble. I was thinking about quality time with my youngest; he, of course, was thinking about getting a new book–compliments of Mom.

The changing face of “quality time together”

Shopping together for a new book is a great way to hang out with college-aged children, even if hanging out or “shopping together” means browsing in opposite corners of the store.

Zack and I went our separate ways; he was looking for something in fiction, and I went to the reference section, looking for a book on writing. Finally, books in hand, we met in the middle of the huge store to compare our treasures.  So funny!  I chose On Writing, by Stephen King, and he chose The Shining, also by Stephen King.  (In the end, it really felt like we were shopping together!)

Most of the books the boys and I share these days are non-fiction and they lead to some in-depth, intriguing, and sometimes some pretty revealing conversations.  Whether it’s The Power of Habit, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, How Not to Die, or some other guide for grown-ups, reading with my boys has become more meaningful than ever!

Kids off to college?  It’s not the end of the world.

I wish someone had told me five years ago that sending children to college would not be the end of life as I knew it.  Ok, maybe it really was the end of life as I knew it, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  And it doesn’t mean the end of the mother-son relationship, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a new and remarkable journey.

Transitions in parenting can be challenging…even when your kids are in their 20’s…but they can also be rewarding and enlightening, too. In fact, I like to think of this time as just the latest “stage”–another phase I will look back on and think, “YEP!  That surely was the BEST stage.”


4 thoughts on ““How Not to Die” and Other Resources for Parenting My College-Aged Sons

  1. Hi Cheryl, I’m mid-way through reading How Not to Die (and I’ve read The China Study, which is essential reading for this topic) and have made almost all the recommended changes. I was so hungry at the park yesterday that I ate a hot dog and chips and I could definitely feel the difference in my body. I quit eating gluten a year ago because it was causing serious issues, too. I have quite a few vegan, fat-free cookbooks now and you’re welcome to borrow them anytime. It was great to see you yesterday. I hope you and Darren have a great time with the boys next weekend!


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