It’s not fair. It was a brutal, challenging winter, and now, it’s a chilly, erratic spring.
Today’s warm air left me longing for more. A warmth infused with sunshine. I imagine a late morning in July when the birds have quieted down; everything is sun-soaked, and the green lawns and trees are lush. Remember that feeling when the coolness of the night-air lingers and mixes with the new heat of the day? That would be nice. Is that too much to ask?
That July morning not only delivers the pleasure of warmth but also the comfort of knowing that the next day will offer similar comfort. While all seasons present transitions and unpredictability, spring’s whip-lash turns, and unfulfilled promises are especially harsh.
Uncertainty is unsettling, and clinging to expectations is a source of pain. So there’s the rub.
What do we do with the uncertainty of life? Some things we have no more control over than we do the weather – like our children for example! Children, by nature, are ever-changing and therefore, always surprising us. Our unspoken or even unconscious plans for them are typically foiled by reality. Usually, with a little time and reflection, we accept, adjust and we love them just the same, if not more for the unexpectedness that they bring to our lives.
This spring my phone has been ringing off the hook. The presenting problem: students with anxiety. While fall is full of the promise of new academic beginnings, spring ushers in the harsh realities of GPA’s, ACT’s, having a life plan and subsequently, the perceived self-worth of each student. It’s brutal in its uncertainty, and it prompts us to cling to false promises. We all buy-in and promote the notion that a certain number, a certain school, a certain test score will guarantee life success. Not only is this promise damaging to our children, but it’s simply not true.
Even for those students who get into the “school of their choice,” what will they experience next fall? More uncertainty and more social and academic challenges. This is the truth. We should be honest with our children, and ensure that they have the emotional skills to manage the uneasiness of uncertainty. It is a part of life, and it always will be.
For today’s high school seniors and juniors, uncertainty equals failure. Since the majority of 17-year-olds simply don’t yet know their life’s passion, they do what we did at their age, they develop a shell of a plan, and wing it. Yet the dysfunctional climate that we’ve created does not allow them to admit to this uncertainty, not even to themselves. This possibly flawed plan becomes a reality, we choose a school, and we all pretend that success will be guaranteed. There is a reluctance to alter the plan, even if it is clear that this is not the best path, because uncertainty equals failure. So the student (and parents, and college advisors, and teachers) cling to the plan.
It is a brave student who admits that they do not know what they want to do with their life. It takes strength as a parent to allow your child to continue to explore, to take a non-traditional path or shift gears mid-point if needed. It is our job as parents to show our children that they can manage the truth about life. The truth is that sometimes the most cherished things in our lives arise from challenges and unexpected realities. The truth is that when life surprises us, with a little time to reflect, we can accept, adjust, and learn to appreciate and perhaps even love our new reality.
Then there is the social pressure of what to say to grandma, the neighbors and to book club about our kid’s life plan. What will people think? Just as the shame of public scrutiny forces some adults to stay in lousy marriages and jobs, it can also keep a student locked in a prescribed plan that no longer is right for them. We could do our children a huge service by showing them how to endure, deflect or ignore this type of social pressure, and to instead to look inward for approval.
College-prep messages claim that there is one perfect path, based on the best scores that will propel a student on the path of guaranteed success. This recent article in Bloomberg is yet another piece dispelling the myth linking success to top universities. Yet, we see parents misbehave in shameful ways to get their children into the “best” schools. Aside from the public college admittance scandal, we have to face our own temptations to “help” our children with college essays, homework, emails to teachers, coaches, etc. To prepare our children for college, sometimes they need us to step away, and allow life to happen.
Life includes endless twists of fate and false starts, for those with the best test scores and for those with the mediocre grades, for those in Big Ten schools and those who are in a school you’ve never heard of. There is something to be gained from each path. In my opinion, it is more important to prepare them to face the messiness of life, and to teach them that they can, with a little reflection, accept, admit, adjust and recognize, in time, the treasure in this unexpected journey.