I’m going to say something a bit unheard of in modern times. I am done pretending. I know my thoughts are anathema for most parents.
Here goes …
I don’t care where my children go to college. I’m not saying that I don’t care because my kids are complete failures destined for a life of living in my basement watching Family Guy reruns. And I’m not saying I don’t care in a but-deep-down-I’m-hoping-they-get-a-full-ride-to-Harvard way. Nope, it isn’t any of that.
I don’t care where my kids go to college.
I don’t care where they go to college. I will be equally satisfied if they go to a prestigious university if they decide community college works better for them. They might even choose to travel the world and work for a few years before choosing a college and later a career. Where they end up does not affect me.
I’ve been thinking about this for more than ten years. I have despaired as I watched parents — from the moment Junior emerges from the womb — dedicating themselves to the sole purpose of getting their child into the very best college. First, there were Baby Einstein and flashcards. Then there was soccer at 4, piano at 5, karate, and Mandarin at 6. This was followed by travel baseball and private trainers at 10.
By middle school, children are so programmed they have no downtime. No time to decide for themselves what they enjoy doing. No exploring with friends in the woods behind the house for hours and discovering hidden passions and talents. No leadership that isn’t force-fed through planned undertakings. No time for family dinners.
In a recent meeting at our local middle school, focusing on college planning for seventh and eighth graders, an expert said children need to start volunteering now — not because it’s good for the soul, but because it’s good for the resume. Her message was that to get into a “good” college; students have to show they have values and demonstrate a string of volunteering opportunities that support those values. Real values? I’m not sure.
This idea that students have to excel at the highest level (with experience dating back to early childhood) is supremely flawed. If everyone is a black belt, fluent in Mandarin, and the captain of [fill in the blank] sports team, how can one differentiate these children? I was an admissions director for a short while. I can tell you after reading hundreds of essays that your child isn’t unique. He’s doing exactly what all the other applicants are doing. Exactly.
I’ve made my decision: I am not going to steal my daughter and son’s childhoods so they may wind up at Yale instead of Westchester Community College. I will not force them to be something they are not by signing them up for every class and making them stick with it.
Instead, I will sit back and watch them find their path. I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands, and I will not worry about how it will look to the football coach or the college counselor. I will expose them to life and do it as a family. I am going to discuss issues of the day over slow family dinners. And I am going to teach my children that they can be successful doing whatever they want if they follow their dreams and work hard.
Going to the best college won’t make that happen for them. Giving them the freedom to flourish in their way in their own time will.
So I will resist every urge to push my children for the sake of college. I want them to learn. I don’t want them to learn for a misguided purpose.
My position isn’t a popular one. Parents will be threatened by it. They will feel the need to defend their children’s passions fervently. And I imagine some parents will pity me and worry for my poor kids’ future. They can put their fears to rest. My children will be just fine. Their college application may not have all the clubs, sports, and AP exams.
But they will be authentic. For me, that is enough.