Through College Admissions, Mom and Teen Celebrate Each Other

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There is nothing like it. Parenting a teenager. It’s the grey area between independence and dependence. It’s the reality of the upcoming “letting go” phase that all your friends, teachers, counselors, and family members talk about, and the buzz gets annoying. It begins as loud noise until the exhaustion transforms into white noise, softly buzzing in the background of my thoughts. Just when I am ready to smother the noise altogether, it just suddenly happens.

My daughter never changed when it came to her character and personality. Since a toddler, she remained centered, confident, aware, courageous, balanced. I was amazed at how she selected her friends and life experiences at such a young age. She studied through careful observation before deciding if people, places, and things were worth her time. Her decisions were always so purposeful. She didn’t sway from her center when she had to move eleven times, and never lost her cool during her first days of new schools, which included 8th grade by the way. Winning trophies was never her priority. Reaching “the top” never drove her to fight or work harder. Life was under her terms. She chose to live at a steady pace because life was not a race to her. Why on earth would I have wanted more, expected more, and hoped for more when this incredible human being became a teen?

Most of us raising teens do it. I have engaged with parents raising teens through their most vulnerable and exciting time — college planning. It’s been 20 years on the other side of the desk where I have listened, facilitated, advocated, moderated, and educated. I have seen it all. Dominating parents, attachment parents, protective parents, insecure and fearful parents, disconnected parents. Preparing for the time I would raise my own teen, I made sure to take mental notes during those meetings where teens showed a disconnection to their parents. Never say this, check. Never do that, check. I also collected the things I heard or witnessed that motivated teens. Definitely do these things, check. All these notes, tips, and hints, I felt fully prepared raising my own. However, I was everything but prepared.

College admissions is just a process. It’s paperwork and choices. It should never take over the emotional health of a family unit. That’s silly, right? Yet, the planning and baggage of this time frame barges in like a tidal wave, and it has nothing to do with the paperwork.

When it was time to support my daughter through her college planning, I changed. The lists of do’s and don’ts flew out the window. Like a tiger mother, I felt a surge of desperation and wanted her to fight for her options, work harder in her classes, engage in her community more than ever before (even though this was never her thing). Yet, she remained still. She observed me. She listened. She stayed her course. I tried every strategy that I learned from other tiger parents to convince her to feel enough worry that she would make those last-ditch efforts to create as many opportunities as she could. I huffed and puffed until I face planted. This human being would not succumb to her panicked mother. She would teach me something about the human condition.

There’s nothing like learning to be so still with your child that everything happens in slow motion. I sensed every sound, motion, and movement. Through my daughter’s sense of being, which didn’t change since she was a toddler, I had to decide to join her. Otherwise, I would damage or lose my connection with her for our lifetime. I quieted myself. I meditated. I began to see and embrace everything that she is. Stopping my anxiousness and sprinting mindset revealed my role in her life. She’s going places, and these places will not include me manipulating how she gets there. She will not accept my panic. She will continue to listen to her own voice.

Her college process became just that — me listening to her plans, sharing suggestions only with her permission, and supporting her through the paperwork. That’s it. I transformed from micromanager to mentor as her parent. She wasn’t the highest achiever (because she didn’t care about the race), and proudly claimed her 3.5 GPA and 22 ACT score on her applications. I am what I am. She submitted eight applications by October of her senior year and was accepted to seven (half with scholarships) by January. Discussions about college planning were minimal, targeted, and scheduled. She had childhood to take care of and I had limited time to experience my child living with me. My goal was to embrace her presence as long as I could, celebrating every moment where she invited me in. Turns out that she invites me in quite often these days. Turns out that both of us are in this phase of letting go.

Through college admissions, I have come to understand how hard it is to raise a teen, to fight against your parental instincts to take over in the name of protecting and defending. As she lived through her senior year, we did a weekly podcast called Angst that captured the transition of letting go in our lives, engaging in unrehearsed conversation between a mom and her teen. We are thinking, wondering, questioning, and celebrating.

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With 20 years’ experience, Sonja's students are more than engineers, business leaders, teachers, and doctors. They are innovators, creators, and investigators.

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