When I became a mom for the first time, I felt like I was blessed with a gorgeous and perfect human being. What followed was a sense of wonder and pure amazement. Since I wasn’t around many other moms with babies, outside of occasional visits to family friends, all of this was new to me. Upon arrival at home, with my c-section being my first surgery ever, my amazement started to turn to panic. “How would we be able to take care of this human being all on our own? How would we not screw our beautiful baby up?”
There were long sleepless nights, breastfeeding challenges that were not as simple as I had read in the books, and most of all, I could hear phantom baby cries the one time I managed to take a shower. I felt utterly unprepared and unqualified. From all the things I had to study and pass a test for, this test was never given to me. This was not a course I had mastered. I’ve heard a lot of parents share these feelings.
Here on The Mom Forum, most of us have understood that feeling of pure joy and pure panic at the same time. Now that I have reminded you and you may even feel some of that anxiety in your belly, I want to remind you that your kid is probably feeling a very similar level of anxiety about this next phase of their life. So, there are three key things I want you to remember as you and your kid embark on this college admissions process:
- This is not about you (the parent). This is not your dream. Whatever you have sacrificed was your choice so that your child can HAVE A CHOICE. You do NOT get the right to guilt trip your child over your sacrifices by telling your child what to do. You made choices you think are best. Trust in your parenting ability that you raised your child to similar choices. Communicate this clearly to your child. Communicate your trust in their ability and that there is NO WRONG CHOICE.
- Most teenagers are insecure. Even if you are NOT competitive (want them to be #1) or comparative (ask them about their peers), your teenager may wear those lenses together. They may wonder “how can I stand out?”, “how can I be #1?” or “what else can I do to get my score/grades up?” They may see friends or their parents who are very competitive and start to want the same things. This is when you remind your child that she/he are the sheroes/heroes of their own stories. My life is about Aleks, not about Jane. I have no business trying to be like Jane. I need to be the best original Aleks I can be and follow my own intuition. They are the only expert on themselves. Empower them!
- Discuss coping skills for life. I love to emphasize how the college admissions process is meant to teach our kids something other than anxiety. It is meant to teach them to celebrate themselves and life long success skills: interviewing, writing effective essays or resumes, preparation and organization skills, etc. I believe that to be true. But, for a teenager that may be already overwhelmed, mentioning the big picture may not be where you should start. Whether your relationships is strong or strained, I recommend you give your teenager an opportunity to speak with someone in an objective and unbiased way. Most insurances cover behavioral health, yet, unless we see warning signs, we don’t take advantage of those services. Seeing a therapist for good mental health should be as acceptable as teeth cleaning every 6 month, otherwise it’s like waiting for a toothache (from cavity to root canal) to see a dentist.
- Let go of all assumptions. There is no one way to be successful. Make yourself available to discuss their real concerns and there is absolutely no harm in opening the door for them to develop good coping skills for life.
I am thinking back again to the time when I brought my first baby home and wondered “what am I supposed to do now?” I had spoken with a therapist who said: “Those feelings and questions are perfectly normal. The only things your child needs for you to be responsive to their cries (generally about dirty diapers), to feed them, and to love them.” Silly as it is, that helped me cope better with every new parenting phase. Don’t you think it be awesome if you and/or someone unbiased told your teenager, “your feelings are perfectly normal…let’s talk about how to cope with those thoughts/feelings.”
Aleksandra (Aleks) Stefanovska is a management consultant, admissions coach and a mom of two kids. Aleks is also a little annoyed that we as society stress our kids instead of give them tools to succeed while CELEBRATING their accomplishments and learning from failures, hence her website www.PainFreeToCollege.com. While a 4-year university may not be for everyone, the skills the college admissions teaches are life skills she wants everyone to know. She shares those tips on her website and in her upcoming book: “Pain Free To College: A step-by-step guide for life and admissions success”. Follow her on Facebook or talk to her on Twitter.