Parenting – “Let’s Stress Out Our Kid!”

Our son is an only child. Sorry, son. That’s just the way it worked out.

A challenge with being an only child is regardless if it’s for good or bad reasons, the viewfinder is always focused on him. No breaks.

Wish for a Sibling

As a good friend pointed out, our son so wishes he had a brother who didn’t do as well as he does. That would at least take off some heat off him from time to time. A sibling might give him a break. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, we’re always turning up the heat up on this kid. Grades, homework, and whatever else we think is important on a given day.

And this year, his junior year, the temperature is rising to 451 degrees, and it is getting freaking ridiculous. Challenging science and math AP classes, ACTs, crew five days a week, driving, and of course, all the talk and decision-making involved with his college decisions. A ton of pressure, each and every day.

College Planning Racket

Like lemmings, we hired a “college planning” service without much forethought. Heck, “everyone else” does it around here, so why not us? The fact I am using the same logic an 8th grader would dodge responsibility tells you all you need to know.

Yet here we are. The college planning center promises to help the kid “find the right college and develop a plan for getting accepted into it.” Sounds great, right? What they don’t tell you is they are also creating a ton of stress for your child.  Pick a major, pick a job, pick a school, and make your school selections. And, can you do that right now Mr. Sixteen year old? And, while you’re at it, why not take some more tests to better understand your skills and interests?

My favorite conversation thus far came when we visited the center during our son’s first semester finals. The counselor said, “Let’s look ahead to your senior schedule. Now is definitely not the time to take your foot off the gas! Maybe time for some junior-college courses in addition to high school! And what do you plan to do for an internship this summer?”

I could see my son’s head was about to explode.

Pause and ask, “What are we doing?”

At this point, I had to pause and ask myself, “what are we doing here?” After all, when I was 16, I certainly wasn’t focused on college.  Instead, I was busy developing into what they called, “strong junior-college material!”  Deciding if I wanted to become an electrical engineer or computer scientist (that choice was given to our son) was out of the question. And really, what 16-year-old is ready to make that important a life decision? Yet, despite that, here we are stressing him out forcing him to make those decisions.

So, if I step back and ask myself what is really at play here? Why are we doing this? I’m not sure I’m going to like the answer. I think the answer is that we’re doing this more for us than for him. If he gets into a fantastic college, well, it follows we’re amazing parents.


But, when I think about college, and more importantly our son’s future working life, when held against the backdrop of my wife and my experience, I see that a little serendipity trumps planning every time. Hard to prepare for, by definition, serendipity. Two quick examples.

My wife went away a dance major to Cal Poly. Her dream was to be a ballerina. After a semester, however,  she realized, that was a big whoops. No money there in ballet.  So, she quickly changed her major to accounting. Now, many years later she is a happy and prosperous forensic accountant. Not because of brilliant planning, but rather, a bit of dumb luck.

Similarly, I got my first job out of college because the man who hired me did not speak good English. He thought I had attended Havard (I had attended Harbor junior college).  Ten years with that company launched my sales career that continues today. Again, unplanned, serendipity. Dumb luck.

The Lesson

So, what to do? What is the lesson?

It is the same lesson it always is, just a new day and a slightly different situation. Let go. Stop trying to manipulate and control. Love your child as he is. Trust he’ll make the right decisions. Give him space. And, hope for a bit of luck along the way. Just like it has been there for you and your wife.

Oh, and tell people to stop with College Prep centers already.

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