When I first heard the report on the radio I thought it was a hoax.
At least 50 people have been charged with participating in alleged conspiracy that involve cheating on college entrance exams, like the SAT and ACT. Some of their children were admitted to elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Texas, by bribing coaches.
I listened further and quickly realized it was no joke. I felt stunned then disgusted and outraged. Then I noticed I also felt surprised. These were quite strong feelings to have over something that didn’t involve me or anyone I knew personally. My heart ached because of the obvious social injustice that permeates every aspect of our society but there was more.
I realized that the story drew me in because — if I’m being honest with myself — I could genuinely relate to the motivation of those parents.
While for the most part I’ve resisted the urge to fix everything for my children the way these parents so blatantly did, I have, on several occasions, had a panicky sensation that I’ve got to get ahead of this! One that’s accompanied by an intense fear that my child will feel badly … or even (gasp!) fail at something important.
Do these internal thoughts sound familiar?
- If she finds out she’s not invited, she’ll be crushed by the social rejection.
- I feel so sad for him that he wasn’t chosen for the team.
- This learning disability will ruin his self esteem and likely his life.
- She won’t be able to get over the experience of a serious illness or injury.
- He’ll become depressed if I limit screen time or don’t get him a smartphone.
- Why doesn’t she have more friends? What’s wrong with her?
These parental fears are more common than you think. The impulse to smooth it over and FIX IT for our kids is the norm these days.
What the Varsity Blues example makes so clear is that the short term fix leads to much bigger long term problems.
For our “little” issues its true, too. I recently heard a story of a mom who was distraught because her 13 yo daughter wasn’t being included in the activities of the popular girl clique. What that mom didn’t know is that her distress likely increased — and even created additional suffering for her daughter.
And, we’re mistaken if we think our unspoken fears won’t impact our children. Kids are energetic sponges. They feel our doubt and it colors their confidence and resilience.
What we need to remember is that when we excessively worry about our child’s life and sometimes even move to “fix it,” we’re telling them:
- You’re not enough just as you are,
- There’s a narrow range of what’s acceptable,
- What matters most is what others think,
- You’re incapable of managing your own live.
Believing in your child’s unique capabilities, embracing who they are, just as they are, is by far the most important stance you can take as a parent.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore or deny their struggles, but we can choose faith over fear as our guide and take a grounded position with them. In Positive Discipline we use the metaphor of a tree, strong, balanced and flexible. When we bring these qualities to parenting, our children they have a sure place to rest.
What inspired me to write this post was what my 12 year old daughter shared after she read an article about the admissions scandal.
“Mom, you know what the worst part is? Let’s say I got into Harvard and then found out that you had paid them to get me in… the worst part would be knowing that you didn’t believe in me.”
my 12 yo daughter
Believing in your child is a tremendous gift to them.
In Deborah McNamara’s article, Resilience: Embracing the Emotional Journey, she writes,
It is a parent’s belief in a child that helps them feel there is a way out of it all.
Here are 4 specific ways you can show your child that you have faith in who they are:
- Give children of all ages opportunities to pitch in and be responsible. This often takes letting go of your expectations of how the task is completed. (The dishes may not be as sparkly as you make them!) Let them know their contribution makes a difference. More ideas.
- Pay attention to your child and get to know and appreciate them for all they are, not just the easy to love parts. Looking back now, I see I could have spent more time learning about and even playing video games with my son. More ideas….
- Love and connect with your child each day. While this sounds obvious, time gets away from us and it helps to be reminded to intentionally connecting. More and even more ideas….
- Learn to tolerate and even embrace feelings, both yours and your child’s. When hard stuff happens, resist the “fix and rescue” mode and instead practice letting go. In doing so, your child will have an opportunity to genuinely feel their disappointment, anger, sadness… you name it. When appropriate, help your child name their feelings. Research shows that when we label our emotions, we’re better able to integrate them.
My friend shared a mantra she uses to help her remember, in the most challenging moments, that her child’s path is just that, her child’s path:
Love the child you have, her path may not be the one you imagined but it’s right for her.
The bottom line is, your child is going to be ok.
That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be fun or easy, but at a deeper level, she will be just fine, whether she’s reading by first grade or not, whether she goes to the prom or not, whether she attends college or not. She’ll always have a loving family and that’s the only part you can control.
After writing this post I listened to a discussion on the radio program, Fresh Air, addressing this very topic. I was struck by the guest’s advice for parents supporting their older teens:
Your child is the expert on himself or herself. We are 20th-century parents giving advice to 21st-century kids. They’ve inherited a brave new world that we never lived in.
Dr. B. Janet Hibbs
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.