What if there were one simple solution to all of your parenting problems? What if there were one guaranteed, money back, straightforward, infallible answer? What if by following an effortless formula, you were assured of being happy with your children and your children were guaranteed to be successful, top of the class, amazing scholars, first round pick athletes? What if there were a way to ensure that your children would be admitted to Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Duke, MIT, and every where else they applied before going on to marry the person whom YOU chose and giving you exactly the number of grandchildren that you want?
Well there isn’t. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that a paragraph as silly as the one above found its way into this blog, a publication known for its sophistication and mature advice.
One simple solution to being admitted to “top” colleges? Please. Don’t make me laugh. If it were that simple, everyone would do it. Harvard would have eight million undergrads rather than the eight thousand that actually attend. Lose weight while you sleep! Rub cream in your thighs! Play Mozart for your unborn child! Oh, c’mon. If it sounds too good to be true, someone is out there salivating, waiting to cash your check. "Psst! Hey, you dere! You looks like a smart guy. Take a look at dis bridge, huh? It's a bahgin!"
So let’s get over ourselves shall we? There are no simple answers. Investments don't return 18% for ten years. Parenting remains a work in progress. College admissions retains a random aspect. Sure hiking and Parcheesi impress me as part of the answer. But I would be exaggerating and you would be naïve to believe that spending glorious time with your kids is all it takes to avoid perfectly ghastly outcomes. We improve our odds; we don't control the result. Process addictions are everywhere, even in the best families. Good outcomes are not perfectly correlated with mindful parenting.
There is however a perfect way of ensuring that your children and your family end up miserable. The following suggestions will guarantee that your child is unhappy no matter where she applies or enrolls. Irrevocable damage to the parent-child dyad is a bonus. Here is the sad secret.
- Focus on your children’s achievement. Pay attention to place value rather than effort. Praise your children only when they are first. Berate them when they fall short. Even when they do well, compare them to someone else who did better. Communicate consistently that “second place is first place for losers.”
- Have your kids skip school to work on their college applications. Wake up! It’s time for your sleeping pill! Rather than go to school where they might actually learn skills necessary for subsequent success in college classrooms, have your high school seniors stay home obsessing over their applications.
- Focus on where your children go to college rather than your children’s abilities.
- Pay a criminal hundreds of thousands of dollars to “help” your children be admitted to USC. Get arrested. Go to jail. (From what I understand, this “do not pass go” strategy is popular with some well-known folks.)
- Insist that your child play trombone or play water polo whether or not your child has any interest in trombone or water polo on the misguided assumption that “top” colleges admit disproportionate numbers of trombone and water polo players.
- Ignore every conceivable opportunity to actually interact with your children about any subject other than the process of applying to college. “Hey, Dad. Wanna go toss a ball” “Sure, Son. Just as soon as you are graduated from medical school!”
Stated simply and without irony: admissions at highly selective colleges has a random—think “casino”—aspect to it. Encourage your kids to do the best they can, then leave it alone. Focus on actual learning rather than the appearance thereof.
And for goodness sake, enjoy time with your beloved children. These precious years will not come again. There are no Mulligans. Your 15-year-old will only be 15 years old for exactly one year, not a minute more. You don’t get any extra time. Of all the correlations, of all the predictive variables, that brutal limitation--365 opportunities to hang out with your 15-year-old--is indeed the one that is unequivocally, 100%, guaranteed.