Sunday, November 15, 2009

My...I Mean...My daughter's College Search


My daughter is applying to college and I swore I would remain calm. I would be the sane parent. I teach creative nonfiction in college. I’ve been around college students for twenty years. I hear the nightmare stories they tell me of their parents and how they hovered, how they dictated, how they took control. I am their safe haven in a storm. I don’t want to be the crazy mom worrying incessantly about where my daughter is going to go.

I don’t really care where she goes. I just want her to be happy and find the right fit for her. I don’t care if she ends up at my alma mater (where I met her dad), I don’t care if she goes to any of the schools where her relatives went. But I do get frustrated when I want to plan a trip, when I think she should be working on her essay, when I know time is shrinking before she has no free time left and she looks at me with contempt and says, “I don’t like being told what to do”.

I know she doesn’t do it to spite me, but she doesn’t write her essay, she doesn’t plan the trip to California, which is now too expensive to go on, she doesn’t clean her room. And I suddenly become the crazy mom.

From an intellectual perspective, I think the college search is interesting – what fits one student, doesn’t fit another. I find it fascinating to see what schools students are drawn to. I’m intrigued watching my daughter decide she wants a campus school, then no, she wants an urban setting. She wants a small school, but no she wants a bigger school. We thought she would love McGill. Wrong.

I know my daughter is scared, excited, and anxious. She’s not one to share her feelings, so I am left to interpret her behavior. I also know she has so much to look forward to and I think that’s one reason why parents get too involved in the college search - we want our children to maximize the opportunities ahead, so it’s hard not to become overly invested in where they’re going to spend the next four years. At the same time, parents have to let go which we aren’t always good at doing. Our kids have exciting futures ahead while we are looking at…what? Our empty nests? So it’s vicarious excitement. But this isn’t about our lives. It’s the kids’ lives. We need, I need, to learn to guide, not push. Ask, not tell.

I need to learn to be in the backseat and keep my big mouth shut. Easier said than done. I like to talk. I like to hear myself spout my opinions. And I actually do know my daughter and what she might like. I’ve lived with her for almost 18 years. But I have to let her figure it out for herself, as frustrating as that is for me. It’s not about me. She needs to drive.

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