Parenting gone wrong

The recent headlines outlining the college admission scandal involving elite universities and wealthy families aren’t surprising. The wealthiest of families have often yielded their riches as collateral for college admission in a slue of legal ways, often in the form of donations or gifts to the universities of their choosing. So, while the headlines don’t necessarily shock me, what makes me wonder is why these specific families chose to go about it illegally? Why not play by the same unfair, unethical, but legal ways, that other wealthy families use to benefit their children?

Since these parents had the means to bribe testing administrators, university coaches and those with connections to college admissions personnel — why not just gift the university the same amount of money with the understanding that these gifts come with strings attached? Why not buy your way in, in a way that wouldn’t land you behind bars or in a courtroom?

I do not personally know the families involved in the scandal. I have no true understanding of the privilege that comes with the elite rich class in America. However, I am a parent of a soon-to-be university student. While her college admissions experience was nothing like the children involved in this scandalous affair with higher education, I can attest it still wasn’t easy. Every time she submitted a college application, we knew there was a risk that the answer could be no. She did hear no from one specific college, but she also heard some yeses. In all honesty, she didn’t even apply to one of her top universities because she was certain the application would be denied. She gave up before they could possibly give up on her.

Our oldest girl posing with her college shirt. She has plans to attend the University of Arkansas in the fall.

Could it be that these parents, didn’t want to be known as “those kinds of parents” — the kind who pave their children’s way to success by intentionally removing all kinds of obstacles from their way? It’s no longer the helicopter parents we talk about in teachers’ lounges or school hallways; we live in an age of the lawnmower parent. What the blades of the lawnmower do to tall grass, the same amount of clearing is what is done by parents to create a safe, but often unrealistic, path for their children. Forgot your homework? Let me drop it off for you. You don’t want to put forth more effort on your science project? Ok, let me add a couple of finishing touches. Don’t feel like participating in athletics tomorrow morning because you’re tired? No worries, let me email your school counselor and coach tomorrow morning so they can excuse you.

Maybe. Just maybe Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman and the long list of other parents were lawn-mower parents disguised as hard-nosed, no-nonsense parents who were trying their best to teach their Hollywood children hard work and values when the cameras were on and the world was watching.

But I suspect, that there’s more to this story. What I have seen in my 18 years as a parent, from all kinds of parents – myself included, is that we tend to pride ourselves on the good things that happen to and from our children. We take credit, sometimes all the credit, when things go right. They become our trophies that we can show off at PTA meetings, on Facebook posts and in casual conversation with other moms. Their grades become our badges of honor. Their accomplishments become our accomplishments.

But the only fallacy to this parenting philosophy is that if we expect to get patted on the back every time they do something right, then who is to blame when things go south? What happens if you get the kid who will need to attend summer school in order to graduate high school? What if your kid is the kid who brings the beer to the unsupervised party? What if it’s your precious off-spring who gets caught with the vape in his or her backpack? Are these situations always a reflection of the kind of parents we are to our children? No, of course not.

Parenting isn’t about making your kids a trophy. Good parenting doesn’t always equal children who make good choices. I’m always amazed at getting to know responsible adults who often talk about the lack of parenting they had as children. At the same time, it’s always a mystery to me when I see teenagers who come from seemingly well-to-do homes and caring parents who choose to live life the hard way.

So, the benefit to paying money illegally to get your entitled and perhaps uninterested student in the university of your choice, easy: it makes it look like they did it themselves. It’s an illusion these families wanted to create to maybe make themselves feel better about who they are, or at least who they wanted people to think they are. It was all smoke and mirrors so they could at least pretend that their parenting was the result of hard-working teenagers who made all the right choices.

But their children didn’t rightfully earn any of this. And now the whole world is privy to email exchanges and the depths of desperation some parents were willing to go through for a chance to say: “Oh, my girl is a freshman at The University of Southern California and we couldn’t be more proud of her!” This is parenting gone wrong.

I’m no expert, but I would imagine parenting done right is about not taking your children’s successes or failures too personally. A friend once told me that her parenting philosophy wasn’t so much centered on what her kids choose to do, but her reaction to the choices they make.

Hit the brakes.

This parenting philosophy wrecked my world. It was the exact opposite of how I was parented. Her parenting philosophy relieved me of the pressure of trying to make sure my kids would be perfect, or at least perfect enough. It also allowed me to reclaim my power as a parent. I found out early on that there was no way to control what my kids do. Even when I try really hard, these autonomous individuals wield their independence every chance they get. Do you know the stress that comes from expecting our imperfect children to be act and behave perfectly? INSANE. AMOUNTS. OF. STRESS.

With indictments looming and court dates being set, the world is watching. There’s no way to really know what these people are currently feeling, thinking or saying. I imagine high amounts of stress, worry and genuine concern for what the rest of their lives will look like. America loves a good come-back story, so there’s no doubt that I think these families will survive and maybe profit from this experience.

For everyone watching from the outside, let us not forget the stakes of parenting gone wrong. When we deliberately cross legal, ethical and moral boundaries we are treading dangerous waters. The privilege and responsibility of parenting is not about us; it’s about them. When our kids do great things, let us celebrate their hard work and effort. And when our kids mess up, let us love them through it and remind them of the values we model for them everyday. And when our kids are disappointed because things aren’t going the way they want, let us sit with them in disappointment but remind them that they will come out of this experience stronger. And when our kids are telling us that what we want for them is not what they want for themselves, let us trust that we’ve done our job as best as we can and support them.

Signed with love, Kat.

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