I am fully aware that the subject matter in this space often drifts toward the topic of my own children. I guess that’s just where I live right now. By now many of you may be thinking, “Seriously, you should be unpacking this stuff with a professional.” You might be right. Believe me when I say that the goal is never to exclude those of you of who have the tremendous personal freedom and opportunities for self-improvement that comes with not having children. Nor is the goal to patronize you with the idea that I have some kind of earth shattering insight because these two little jerks live in my house. The bottom line is that nothing makes me feel more consistently inadequate than parenting. I count myself equally as blessed to be married to an adult who does most of the heavy lifting while I handle trampoline and swimming duty. Although, I did paint my daughter’s nails over the weekend and I may have stumbled upon a previously undiscovered talent. With the aforementioned inadequacy in mind, I’d like to say a word on behalf of parents with high school students.
I will start with this: In my time as a college counselor one truth tends to pass every examination regarding parents; crazy tends to self-identify. Know what I mean? The parent requiring the most attention is rarely going to sneak up on you. They are the ones asking about AP for their third grader. Their ten-year-old has a resume and they usually lead with, “I promise I’m not crazy.” It would be easy for this to devolve into a sharing of examples of complete parental insanity and there is a part of me that would find it extremely satisfying to wallow in that. But the truth is all parents feel a measure of guilt when it comes to their kids. They all have this have this in common from the most seemingly self-involved person to the person who has poured his entire life into his children. The latter are the parents who are going to have to do some soul searching about what’s left of them when their child leaves. You never stop wondering if you are doing too much or are you doing too little. The parent who finds that the answer to that question is that they are doing too much shouldn’t worry about losing his kid, because most likely that same kid will live with his well into the child’s thirties.
Personally, I am finding the relinquishing of control in the education of my kids very challenging. Those of you who know me know my wife is the principal of the elementary school where my kids attend. So, you could make the case that I was never really in control in the first place. However, I vividly remember the time that my son came home from kindergarten incredibly excited about something he had learned regarding Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the first time it occurred to me that he had acquired this knowledge completely independent of me. I used to be the dispenser of knowledge. The last word, so to speak. When they are little, you hold their hands and walk beside them. That part goes so fast. Somewhere along the way the student tries to walk away (which is natural)and the parent stands in the way trying to provide the resistance that we think will help them grow. The parents of a senior are coming to a time in their lives when they are, in some way, losing the thing on which they have based a large portion of their identity. The control that I’m talking about is gone forever. That might make all of us a little crazy. Their reaction? They fight for control. They treat the college search as a list with items to check off. They seek chances to define the success of the search in ways that are easily measured; rankings, etc. The fact that they are struggling to maintain a strangle hold on this process causes them to miss the fact that what their student needs may look a lot like the walking beside them that they did when they were little.
The treadmills of our lives seem to be set on ten. We are so busy. We are so programmed. We rarely stop to reflect and that may be the most important ingredient in this process. We rarely reflect because reflection takes too much of the resource that we aren’t willing to give. Time. Often it’s what’s needed most and offered least. Students need our time and we live in a time when so much of this process is outsourced. Parents have a ‘To Do’ list as it pertains to their kids and the completion of the list represents a validation of their parenting. I don’t know that there is anything inherently wrong with having a list of goals for your child. If I’m being honest I have one for my own kids: kindness, empathy, curiosity and the ability to exploit others to make boatloads of money. Just checking if you were still reading. I guess it just depends on what is on your list and how you are imposing it on them. I think that all of the stakeholders in this process want the same thing: self-aware students who are on their way to becoming adults with whom we’d like to hang. I’m only partially kidding. We are looking for matches, fits or whatever the vernacular might be. We want our students to be in places that will help them realize their potential. Parents and counselors aren’t diametrically opposed on the goals, just the path and the architecture of the destination. As counselors we have a chance to facilitate reflection. We have a chance to ask the questions that lead to a fit. Under the best circumstances, we have a chance to help reconcile the goals of the students and the goals of the parent. The time needed to reflect on the definition of success is a worthwhile investment.
Now, the above statements should in no way be construed as excuses for truly, fundamentally unhappy people behaving in nasty ways. Maybe just a little context.