Be warned…perhaps my recent birthday has made me a bit cranky as well as old(er), because there are a couple of opinionated days on the calendar here at The 3 R’s this week.
OK, it’s been awhile since I went off on one of my over-involved parents/over-entitled kids rants. (I’ll bet you haven’t missed them much, either…they were starting to wear on me a bit, too.) This post on The Juggle kicked me back into gear, though.
Quitting your job to devote yourself full-time to the college-admissions process – not your own, but your kid’s? Sometimes I really wonder where it will all end. Juggle blogger Katherine Meyer comments that
“Things seem to have changed a lot since I applied to college in the early 1990s. I was lucky that my father’s affiliation with a university gave him great benefits toward tuition costs. We spent a couple of weekends checking out schools, but otherwise I don’t think the application process interrupted my parents’ professional lives at all.”
The Juggle post references a WSJ article by Sue Shellenbarger which discusses an “appropriate” level of involvement for parents in their children’s college plans. She notes that
“There’s certainly a larger role for parents today than in the past — when I, for example, casually applied to the state university, got in and showed up at registration bearing a tuition check in three figures. Students are being advised to apply to nine to 12 colleges, up from six to eight a few years ago. And today’s high tuition bills give parents a big stake in the process.”
That last point is pretty relevant. It’s much more difficult to work one’s way through school and finish in less than six or seven years – and/or without a load of debt – than it was in the past, which can indeed serve to extend the parental-support years.
When my son was making his college plans – not all that long ago, since he only graduated with his bachelor’s degree a year ago – he had one advantage; a father who knew the system. As a college professor who had done the obligatory stint on the Admissions Committee during his pre-tenure years, he was a qualified guide to the process. His employer was also a generous financial-aid provider to the children of faculty and staff, so funding was going to be available (to the extent that, aside from about $10,000 in savings bonds, we hadn’t established any other college funds for our son ourselves; this turned out to be a huge disadvantage when he left his position at the college to return to school – medical school – himself. But our son did have a scholarship for a few years, some grant money, relatively modest student loans, and some solid experience in managing his expenses as a by-product of his college years…and boy, did I digress right there). In any case, we offered advice, paid application fees, reviewed application forms and essays, and reminded (badgered) about deadlines – but it was by no means a full-time job, and ultimately it was our son’s future in the balance, not ours. It was up to him to do the research and the work to make it happen.
We’re a few years away from getting into the process with my stepdaughter, but I don’t foresee a level of involvement there all that much higher than it was with my son. I thought that the most telling points in Shellenbarger’s article were this:
Sit down early with your teen and “set expectations as a family” about priorities and roles, says James Boyle, president of College Parents of America, an advocacy group. Is the objective to enroll at a big-name school? To prepare the teen for a career? Or to find a good fit that will foster personal growth?
Then, step back and give your child ownership (emphasis added). It’s fine to accompany teens on campus visits, backstop on deadlines and serve as a cheerleader and coach.
But watch for signs you’re adding to the stress.
and especially this:
One mother of a high schooler, a manager for a New York financial-information concern, says friends are pressuring her to devote full time to the college search (again, emphasis added). With other parents on the case 24/7, she says, “they argue that by working, I’m putting my daughter at a disadvantage in today’s hyper-competitive college-admissions game.”
The first point puts the emphasis on the college-bound teen, which is where this whole thing is supposed to be focused. The second one stresses the parents – in more ways than one – and, as seems to happen so often, shifts the focus to them instead of keeping it where it belongs, and that’s when I start gritting my teeth.
Here’s the thing: it’s your kid’s life – it’s not a do-over for yours. I’ve said before that I really believe that our job as parents is the raising of future adults, and it’s a process; you can’t do everything for them until they’re 18 or 21, and then set them loose thinking they’re ready for Life. (At the same time, you can’t refuse to let them loose at all, either.) The high-school and college years are meant to be transitional, a time of gradual shifting in control and autonomy, in which the parent becomes more of a supervisor and less of a front-line worker. However, many parents dread this and fight it – and in doing so, seem to forget their efforts to gain independence and respect from their own parents when they were adolescents. Here’s the other thing: parenting is the ultimate “it’s not about you” situation. The problem seems to be that sometimes parents aren’t exactly clear about when the things they really feel they’re doing “for the kids” may not be quite so altruistic…
One thing in Shellenbarger’s article that I noted with some sense of hope is that there are kids who are willing to assert themselves and put the brakes on their parents’ excessive involvement with the college-admissions process. It’s good to know that they’re developing a sense of boundaries after all.