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Dear Adina

How Do I Avoid Comparing Sibling Paths to College?

Adina Glickman

Dear Adina,

I have a high school sophomore who has two older siblings in college. How do I avoid comparing their paths to college? Unfortunately for my third child, his high school career has been upended by the pandemic.

Dear Parent,

You don’t avoid comparing their paths to college. This year IS different. But you can normalize the fact that every path is unique.

Recall the zillions of ways your three children have different lives to begin with. Everyone — I Mean Everyone — walks a unique path because they have unique feet, and therefore a unique gait, and what happens to be growing on that path at the time they’re walking influences that walk.

While your two older children may have had similar paths, they were not identical. Notice those differences to normalize the fact that differences between your third child’s experience and theirs is simply a new set of influences.

To be fair, a global pandemic is not just a “new set of influences.” That’s like saying that train wreck over there is a bit of a fender bender. The pandemic is unique in ways that other challenges are not.

Even though there were variations between the paths your first two traveled, there was at least a somewhat predictable process and a clear-ish set of expectations. This is not the case for your third, and there is surely a sense of grief and loss along with the confusion and uncertainty that is growing on your third child’s path.

The grownups have to show the way on this. We have to acknowledge how different and weird life is, and also how “different and weird” are ingredients for novelty and transformation. We have to keep showing ourselves and our kids how we are adapting and learning and making sense of all that is different and weird. It’s not easy to do that, but it will get easier.

Part of what makes it so hard to see how we’ve adapted and made sense of this pandemic is because it’s not over yet. This has not been an acute crisis like 9/11 or the hurricane disasters in recent years. The pandemic has been and continues to be an evolving and protracted tragedy that is still not over. When 9/11 happened, the shock was immediate, and we began processing that shock and the scope of the tragedy immediately. But COVID is still dictating how we live, so we can’t process it or get perspective yet. We are still in it.

Grief has been a predominant experience during the pandemic. Grieving takes time and patience, but it does eventually become less heavy on us. Young people have lost so much this year, and they must be given ample support in grieving those many losses.

But it is not a lost year. It is a life-changing, trajectory-altering year. There is still a future for your third child, and the muscles they will develop in navigating all of this uncertainty and loss will become cornerstones of their adult selves. Keep reminding them of that, and keep showing them how, every day, they move towards that future, and you see them doing it tirelessly and imperfectly.

Your third child needs extra support because of the extra challenges of pandemic high school and the extra wild and confusing ride his college application process will be. Don’t shy away from how different this is for him than for his siblings. It just is. Those differences matter.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at

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