Let me tell you about my daughter, Maggie. She was an excellent student in high school, was on the cross-country and track team, volunteered, and had a part-time job. She’s prime parent bragging material.
As a high school senior, she applied to a number of schools, and was accepted to all of them, including several competitive, prestigious schools in interesting far-away places. She also applied to the local state school, a safety school, the next town over. They accepted her and offered her a full scholarship into the honors program.
She’s a pragmatic person, and also a kind person. Her decision eventually came down to the fact that she did not want a ton of student debt and she did not want me and her dad to take on a ton of debt for her. So, despite the lure of the other pricier schools, farther away from home in more interesting places, she chose the local state college.
I was proud of her decision, and overall, I have no qualms about it. I think it was the best decision for her, and for her future.
But here’s the thing – when people ask about her, I often find myself saying that she goes to the local state school, and she had a full scholarship, and she was accepted to other more prestigious schools but TURNED THEM DOWN, and she’s a nursing student (The most competitive program at the state school). This is all true and all sometimes relevant to the conversation. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with telling these details.
BUT I hate that I feel compelled to say all of this. I could just say, she’s a junior at the state school, but I keep going because I want to be sure people know that this state school (the one that accepts kids with C averages in high school) was not her only option. That she is a student there on a FULL SCHOLARSHIP, and had other options that she TURNED DOWN.
It drives me crazy that I feel the need to do this. I live in a moderately affluent town and work in an even more affluent town. Many of the parents I talk to have kids at Yale, Stanford, NYU and other schools that give the automatic smart and accomplished “stamp of approval.” You don’t have to say anything else if you say “my son is a Junior at NYU.” We know that he worked hard, that he’s intelligent, did extracurriculars and had a high SAT score – it’s all wrapped up in the one sentence.
Is it terrible that I feel compelled to talk about my daughter’s scholarship and that she is an Honors student, and she is in the highly respected Nursing Program?
Yes, I think it is a little bit terrible.
Of course, it’s not bad that I am proud of her accomplishments; she’s worked hard for them and deserves all of the recognition for that. If I’m telling someone all of the details because the person who is asking is truly interested in the details, then it’s all good (maybe they know Maggie, or maybe their child is figuring out a college plan and it helps to hear what others have decided.) But it’s not so good when my compulsion to tell the details of her achievements reflects my buy-in to the idea that her accomplishments are a reflection of me and my parenting, and somehow promote her value.
Why would I care what other people, often people I barely know, think of my daughter and her achievements?
I want to not care and I think that I don’t. But clearly some part of me does. Is it a reflection of the culture we are simmered in? A world where “ownership” of our kid’s achievements is often the norm? Where we, as parents, with all the love in our hearts, somehow see our children as “accomplishments” to be judged by others?
Even though I reject that mentality, and think that I am apart from it, I am clearly not. I see the college banners in the high school hallway, and read the social media posts about who is going where, and this part of me wants to prove my kid is as “good” as the rest of them.
And of course, my daughter is as good as the rest of them. And so is your child. So, let’s stop using our child’s post-high school choices as a barometer of our own “success.” From this day forward, I will only tell you what my children are doing (if you ask) without any attempt to prove to you that they are as smart or accomplished or praiseworthy as your Harvard grad.
Laura Cleary is a social worker, parent coach, blogger, and mom to three young adult children and two dogs. To find out more about her, visit lauraclearyparentcoach.com