Temperature control (and lack thereof).
These are just a few examples of the topics of discourse in “Princeton Parents,” the Facebook group that contains exactly what it says on the tin, three point four thousand of them, to be precise. They discuss their Tigers’ living arrangements, study habits, professors, diets. They complain. They gossip. They quarrel. And in the very particular way that Nextdoor forums or Google Maps reviews or Letters to the Editor in local newspapers can be, Princeton Parents is so utterly fascinating.
As I assume is the same for any other Princeton student who knows of this group, I was invited into this world by my mom, whose Facebook alias I will not be giving in order to protect her from any possibly rabid contingents of the rest of your Parents. I am not eligible to join myself;
Princeton Parents is minorly exclusive, in that you must confirm to the administrators that you have a child who attends or has attended Princeton. It is also lightly moderated: the University itself holds an account, but their reprimands are light, as exemplified by the reminder to Parents that the “#1 rule of the group is to be kind and courteous!” amidst the aforementioned Ted Cruz Whig-Clio Cancel Culture meltdown. In terms of their Tigers’ lives, there is little guidance as to what the Parents can and cannot post. And it’s not like their kids can see it either.
This isn’t to say that the Parents are posting anything bizarre, or harmful—they obviously care about their children, and want them to have the best experience possible at an institution that is likely taking a nice chunk out of the family income. But this is to say that the Parents do not hold back. They use their real names and Facebook accounts, but refer to their Tigers largely only by their graduation year (save for the occasional dorm reference or photo). Thus, because surnames so often differ, there is a thin film of anonymity in the forum. Perhaps this is what engenders the habit of the frequent-poster Parents who take this Facebook forum as carte blanche to share every detail of their child’s life that they presumably think could be relevant or interesting to other Tiger Mommies and Daddies. See, while many Princeton students are polite enough not to voice their complaints or ugly, jealous feelings to their peers, if they’re close to their Parents, they just might vent to them (I know I do). And because their Parents have few reference points for whatever it is their Tiger is talking about, they take it to the group.
The result is a mixture of a) genuine logistical inquiries about sending a child to Princeton University and b) questions and comments so overbearing that it would make any sane ‘23 Tiger and her mother ask if these people know that their child is living independently now and is not in fact going to be waiting in the daycare line for their SUV. Reasonable posts about scheduling flights and financial aid are interspersed with “Where can my daughter get ice for her shins?” and “My son’s room is too cold! And he’s hungry!”—queries I can only imagine were deemed too babyish to text in the hall’s GroupMe by said children, but perfect for the daily FaceTime call home. Best of all, though, is when the Parents get at one another, producing epic comment threads that mirror the greatest Tiger Confessions controversies, only aged like a fine wine.
Now, I know I’ve been vague in my descriptions so far. I can’t hide why: I’m scared of the Parents. I’m scared that one of you is going to read this, and show it to your Parent, innocently wondering whether they too might be divulging the fact that you manage your COS126 deadlines so badly that your mother is concerned about your sleep schedule or writing speculative fiction about your first fully realized Forbes brunch. I don’t want them to come for me—I promise, I’m just like their children! I don’t know what those little triangles on my shirt tags mean either! And I respect their empty-nester anxieties; I mean, it really must be scary, after ten months of having your twenty-year-old at home where you can keep a watchful eye on their short-lived baking projects, to see your Tiger left to the whims of Princeton dining. I mean, what if they get served carrots in their vegetarian dinner and they hate carrots?
But even though I may be slandering them just slightly, and even though I do believe that any of them would not hesitate to run me over at the closest Bed Bath and Beyond to campus during move-in fall ‘21, I really do admire the sense of community created by and apparent in every post that they make. The Parents help one another out. They share photos of the towpath on a misty morning and Firestone lit gorgeously from within. They band together to correct the most ridiculous among them—Ms. Carrot (who, I’m sorry, I can’t help myself, even had the audacity to refer to Princeton as “Prison University”) was thankfully met with 89 Parents who reminded her to check her attitude at the door.
Princeton Parents strikes a chord even in my judgmental heart—I made the choice not to return to campus this semester, and though I may not always be able to quench the FOMO induced by the Instagram stories and crowded Zoom rectangles of my peers, somehow, the Princeton Parents has been one of the things that has made me feel the least alone. Your Parents don’t hesitate to rat out your fears and insecurities, and so there is no posturing about how Princeton is now and always the Happiest Place on Earth for its students. There are only mentions of you at your most vulnerable: admitting you don’t know all the answers. Asking for help. Not only asking for help but asking your Mommy to ask for help for you. It’s the kind of lack of proactivity that’s irritating and a little entitled, though also kind of refreshing. Princeton teaches us to package and brand ourselves so well that it’s sometimes all too easy to forget what’s underneath: still our Parents’ little Tiger, out in the big, scary jungle of the university with the largest per student endowment in the country.