A manifesto for the imperfect parent

<p>I was talking to a friend yesterday about the level of stress we all feel now that admissions decisions have started to appear. She got into a writing frenzy after our talk, and wrote something that I think will appeal to many of us self-doubting parents. Enjoy!</p>

<p>I’m a lousy parent, and the college application process proved it.</p>

<p>My oldest daughter, a senior in high school, is smack in the middle of the tortured will-any-thick-envelopes-find-their-way-to-my-mailbox period of applying to college. The hardest part of the process may be over, but the stress, oh the stress, remains.</p>

<p>Unfortunately, I just figured out that this horrible anxiety my child is feeling is entirely my fault. </p>

<p>It looks like I dropped the biggest parenting ball there is. I failed to understand what my main job as this lovely and amazing child’s parent was.</p>

<p>I was supposed to ensure that by the time my daughter’s college applications had to be turned in she had accumulated enough stunning accomplishments that her resume would scream blinding potential. This resume would send an underlying message to everyone who might read her application file: I know exactly who I am, what I want and how I’m going to achieve it. I may be a teenager, but I’m no ordinary angst-filled, rebellious, test-the-rules teenager. I breathe structure and self discipline; I’m going places. So, accept me or watch me go to some other university to light the world on fire.</p>

<p>There are living, breathing kids who, before they are even old enough to vote, manage to develop resumes a career diplomat would covet. These children’s amazing life-long compilation of stats and recs and ECs mean they’re sleeping just fine right now.</p>

<p>If I had just had my eye on the prize from day one, my daughter wouldn’t be spending spring of her senior year lying awake at night worrying that she won’t get even one college acceptance letter. </p>

<p>It’s my fault she’s currently less accomplished than Jimmy Carter.</p>

<p>I never parented with college in mind. I blundered from the get-go.</p>

<p>I thought I was doing my job when I let my five year old daughter play outside for hours, in the dirt, with only a hose and my collection of assorted wooden spoons, muffin tins and mixing bowls. </p>

<p>I now see that all the books I read to her, all the blanket forts she built, all the happy hours she spent making finger paintings or a Play-doh sculpture were huge wastes of her time. </p>

<p>She should have been inside, learning Croatian. </p>

<p>"Honey, I understand this is no fun, but eventually you’re going to appreciate having a hook."</p>

<p>I also realize now that, even though she isn’t really interested in sports, my daughter should have been spending huge amounts of the last twelve years on the field or on the court; being driven to practice and traveling to league games; being a team player and building leadership skills. For college application purposes everyone wants to become a leader and everyone loves team sports. </p>

<p>(In fact, not being captain of some team during high school predicts a really bleak future of blue collar jobs. Who knew? Not I.)</p>

<p>I also should have tried to discourage my daughter from developing such a great set of close friends. Friends take time away from extracurriculars. There isn’t a spot on the common app to list them. </p>

<p>Most important, none of your friends gets to write you a recommendation to send to colleges, so where’s the value in having friends anyway? "Lucy is a great friend, she listens and cares and sometimes she puts our friendship before homework. She would pull me from a burning building. On the weekends, she would rather sit and talk and laugh with me than feed the homeless." Ooops. That sounds wrong. </p>

<p>All those summers our family spent doing foolishly simple things like going to Disneyland or visiting relatives were wrong, all wrong. </p>

<p>We should have been building houses in Bolivia, installing water tanks in Kenya or teaching orphans in China. </p>

<p>My daughter could have then used these amazing experiences when the time came to write her college essays. "I’m a global citizen and I think globally and I eventually want to work for Marc Jacobs… I mean an NGO in Darfur."</p>

<p>My inadequacies as a parent have created a great, caring, creative person with depth of character. </p>

<p>But she’s not going to Harvard.</p>

<p>So I failed. </p>

<p>My bad.</p>

<p>Wait. I have one chance to redeem myself as a parent.</p>

<p>My youngest daughter is only a high school sophomore. Lucky her! I’ve just gone through the entire college admissions process with her sister and I’m now loaded with knowledge and enthusiasm. </p>

<p>I have two short years to guide her into purposeful activities that will position her for acceptance to a top tier school. </p>

<p>This daughter’s grand plan was to get a part-time job this summer, earn some money, and basically just relax after a long school year.</p>

<p>I don’t think so.</p>

<p>Her summer needs to be strategic. She’ll need to attend the right sports camp to get in front of the right coaches, and Uncle Bob, who runs a research lab at a biotech startup, better be ready to offer his niece an internship. </p>

<p>Between summer camp at Brown, a trip to Thailand (watch out developing world—here we come), lacrosse training, early SAT tutoring…well, working just doesn’t fit in. </p>

<p>So I say to this daughter: "let’s get going. There are streams to clean and kids to tutor; clubs to join and instruments to learn. If we do this thing right, when it’s your senior spring you will sleep well knowing that many thick envelopes are heading your way. Your sophomore, junior and fall of senior years of high school may be a complete blur, but that’s OK. Your resume will sing. You will be in, and I will be redeemed."</p>

<p>Had I only known seventeen years ago what was going to be required to get kids in to college these days I would have done everything differently. From nap time to play time, family time to dinner time…everything would have been singularly focused on achieving the acceptance dream. </p>

<p>But I was confused before— I had it all backwards. Thankfully, now I completely get it. Children only have a short window of time to get ready to apply to college but they have their entire adult lives to flop on their bed reading teen magazines and Archie comics. There’s time for Lego’s latter. Childhood is fleeting and a parent’s most important task is to work extremely hard to cram those precious years full of significant stuff that will then make any elite college admissions officer’s hair stand on end.</p>

<p>Phew. I may be slow, but I’m glad I learned that parenting lesson before it was too late.</p>

<p>Brava! Well said!</p>

<p>You should try to have that published somewhere.</p>

<p>Thanks so much for posting this. It's well written, true and sad-funny. Reading it, I can only hope that by the time our kids have kids and they are applying to college, it won't be so true.</p>

<p>My DD has said some of these things to me!! "Why didn't you MAKE me go to geek camp? Everyone here went to geek camp!!" "Why did you let me take the extra dance classes and be in student govt when I should have been taking more physics at RPI???"</p>

<p>More fodder for the "Mommie Dearest" book...</p>

<p>Fabulous. Love it.</p>


My daughter could have then used these amazing experiences when the time came to write her college essays. "I’m a global citizen and I think globally and I eventually want to work for Marc Jacobs… I mean an NGO in Darfur."


<p>This is so true it almost stopped being funny.</p>

<p>This hits so close to home! I've been eyeing my 12-year-old since completing college apps from a completely different frame of reference...poor kid! I'm working on holding those temptations at bay.</p>

<p>Thanks for sharing.</p>

<p>I love that! Thanks. The bottom line is that, often, the real nugget of a particular kid comes about unplanned and unexpected. Who knew my nephew would have a passion for educating others about Tourette's Syndrome because he got teased in elementary school? Who knew that dragging our kids to road races while H and I ran would lead to our son becoming a passionate and gifted runner? We get intimidated into thinking we need to "build" an applicant. I think there is a backlash coming.</p>

<p><em>stands and applauds</em></p>

<p>I'm glad you all liked it as much as I did! When my friend sent it to me, my first thought was that it should be published, but then we realized that CC parents would be the best audience of all. Her daughter does have an acceptance in hand from a perfectly good safety, by the way.</p>

<p>Thanks for the breath of fresh air! And the reminder that now is the time to savor the memories of those hours spent digging in the dirt, creating fanciful costumes out of found objects, and gazing at the Grand Canyon with his parents instead of learning Croatian--those were the gifts worth giving.</p>

<p>Wow. Yup, you nailed it. That pretty much covers it. Bravo, my dear!</p>

<p>Yet another veiled, zero-sum -- somebody else's winning, therefor my kids are losing -- Swifitian piece ala Erma Bombeck.</p>

<p>I was just thinking about this exact thing. I have to say these thoughts have, unfortunately, seriously crossed my mind over just the last few weeks. But then I remember that my D is happy, has followed her passion for singing, and has done pretty darn well in high school considering all of the distractions, emotional upheavals, loss of her grandfather this year, and just the agony of being a teenager. I couldn't be more proud of her. I got caught up in the "dream school" ideal also, but I am trying so hard to be thrilled that her safety is a great place for her. Thanks for a great piece of reading on a very stressful day!</p>

<p>I'm understand that this is a stressful time, but I have to say that I think this thread post reflects a mismatch between lifestyle and goals. Despite all the hype about college admissions, the vast majority of college bound kids are still leading ordinary lives and happily going off to their state universities and doing well, surrounded by relaxed and fun-loving students. </p>

<p>I raised my kids in a modest suburban home, with a relaxed lifestyle, enrolling both kids in a nearby public school within walking distances, sending my son off to the local public high school. My d. -- the one who ended up at an elite college - was more driven, ambitious... but she set the tone, not me. I was the one holding back. Even so, she spent a good part of her childhood roaming the neighborhood & playing dress-up with the other little girls, and generally had only a few hours of EC's each week outside of school hours during high school. Most nights, my kids were home by 6 pm.</p>

<p>In the neighborhood where my kids grew up, some of the kids are now attending the local community college; one kid on the block was a recruited athlete at Stanford, but his sister is attending an out-of-state public known as a party school, far off the CC radar. My son will graduate this spring from a CSU; the earth will not fall off of its axis at the shame of it. (On the contrary, he is quite busy with job interviews and weighing career options). </p>

<p>If your heart is set on having your kid enter an elite college... then I suppose that it makes sense that you are going to to have to raise an elite kid... though as noted about the only thing I did was open up my wallet and stay out of the way for the kid who ended up with elite aspirations, and pretty much broke all the rules for the college-race along the way anyway. </p>

<p>But if you want to raise a regular kid -- even a regular, very smart kid who grows up to be a doctor or a lawyer -- then what's wrong with that kid attending a regular college? Who passed the law saying that all kids have to attend "reach" colleges, or that any college that accepts 75% of its applicants isn't worth attending?</p>

<p>calmom, I think the original post was written "tongue in cheek"- i.e. a spoof, poking fun at parents who are TOO fixated on preparing kids for the college application process- and was not to be taken seriously! Least that's how I read it. Sometimes the best way to wake someone up is to use humor to get the message across.</p>

<p>What menlo said. </p>

<p>calmom, what's a "regular" college? State U down the street from me, this year's freshman class: Avg HS Acad GPA, 3.864; Combined Math and Reading, 75th Percentile, 1360. 24,000 applications. I'm glad S tests well, and hope his grades don't fall below a 3.0 (he's just above that now).</p>

<p>Not that I'll be able to afford even State U without aid of some kind from somewhere; tuition alone is likely to be in the $80K range for 4 years -- not much, I know, as tuition goes these days -- but I don't have a spare $20K/year to spare, and the kid will have to live at home unless some money falls out of the sky somewhere (oh please oh please oh please!).</p>

<p>rainmom-loved your post, it made me laugh a lot. It reminds me of columns I've read by Anna Quindlan. I think the big secret is that kids raised in less pressured home where family comes first do really well, both in college and in life because their identities are well formed.</p>


Er... I think I mentioned "community college" and the fact that my son will be graduating soon from a CSU in my post. (Stats for his CSU: 80%+ admit rate; SAT mid-range 450-590; 43% of entering students graduated in the bottom half of their high school classes). My son, by the way, was a NMF with all SAT scores 700+.</p>

<p>Erma Bombeck couldn't have said it better!</p>