How do we measure success for our children? Straight A’s? The perfect college application? Star athlete? I think we often miss it…..MOST of us do. And who suffers because of it? Our children do.
High school students today are bombarded with expectations- grades, clubs, sports, service projects, SAT, ACT, PERT, FCAT, and now the new test whose name I have repressed because it boils my blood. Are high school students doing all of this because they love it? Most of the time no-they are doing it to impress colleges. They need to “beef up” their college apps so they attend mission trips, start neighborhood projects, and play sports that they do not even like….and all to look good.
The result? An amount of anxiety and stress in our teenagers that has catastrophic results. At a time when they are supposed to be finding out who they are, what they love, and where they are headed, many are attending college aimlessly without any clue as to who they really are. They have spent their first 18 years trying to impress the right people and work the right system and they have not even had the time or energy to figure out why they are here and who they were created to be.
I do speak from some experience here. I attended a very reputable college and spent about five years after I graduated interviewing college applicants and sending in reports of my assessment of the students. What I found was shocking and very sad to me. I found myself sitting in front of shells of individuals with not a moment to breathe and not an original idea to share. They had become robots in the college application world. Most of them looked like they just needed a hug, a nap, and a day at the beach. Finally, I looked at one girl in the top of her class in a prestigious high school and said, “How in the world do you have time for all of this?” She looked at me, confused, because she did not know any other way. As it would turn out, she did not get into the college, even though she had the perfect application. Interesting.
One individual I interviewed already had her sorority picked out and her recommendations ready to send to the college. When she found out she did not get in, she suffered from extreme anxiety because everything she and her family had built came crashing down. Sad but true.
Then there was this amazing musician. He was from a modest family, loved his instrument, and was willing to go wherever God called him. There was also the swimmer whose family had sold everything, packed up what was left and spent the year visiting the 50 states. She was spunky and fun and engaging. Both of these students got in to this college. Interesting.
I am going to be vulnerable here. My dad was the poster child of perfection. Choate boarding school, Yale University (like the generations before him), Vanderbilt Law School. Pretty impressive, right? Well, at the age of 30, when I was a little girl, he was tired of being perfect. He took off in his pimped out conversion van (it was the 70’s) and partied like there was no tomorrow. We no longer fit into the imperfect world he created for himself. He thought that all the high achieving would benefit him in some amazing ways but what he found was he did not even know who he was. The reward did not meet the work it took to get there and to this day he has rebelled against everything conventional, including fatherhood.
And where do we, as parents, fit into this equation? We are usually the reason our children end up with their stomach in knots and their social lives nonexistent. A mom told me yesterday, “I told my son (who is in middle school), now is the time to work, you can play when you are 25!” WOW.
There is a population of parents who NEED their children to attend elite universities in order to obtain a status of acceptance from others. How sad. Where have our dreams for our children gone? To them making decisions to make us look good? How very, very sad.
I picked up a mug in the “graduation” section of a store and it read “DREAM BIG.” I thought a lot about that since then. Have we even allowed our high school students to dream at all? Or are we too busy fattening up their college applications with activities that they never dreamed of but will impress a panel of strangers?
As I have have watched one of our four sons graduate high school and enlist in the Army and another one who will be a senior next year, I have reflected a lot on how to be their mom. Here is what I have decided…..
They will each find their way.
We will encourage them, expect them to work to their potential, and pray for them constantly. If they want to take a year off from high school to go backpacking- great. If they want to go to community college to save themselves and us massive debt- great. If they are accepted into a prestigious school with tons of scholarship money and a passion for it- great.
But what they will always know is that they were allowed to find their way. They will not look back and think we lived their lives for them.
Hopefully, they are spending high school finding out who their Creator has made them to be and what He has called them to do. That will take time- probably a lifetime- but they will know they were given the opportunity when they were with us and that all we ever wanted for them was that they would find THEIR way.