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Family Life

Why I Worry Less Where My Youngest Goes to College

Marlene Kern Fischer

According to Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000 rule, you need to do something for 10,000 hours before becoming world-class at it. Not just good, phenomenal.

If that theory holds true, I am pretty much unparalleled at telling a child to go do his homework.

In fact, I have stated that I want the phrase “Is your homework done?” etched on my tombstone.

However, although I am still consistently on top of my youngest son in terms of his schoolwork, there are many ways in which my parenting has changed (or evolved, as I prefer to think of it) over the years.

With three sons and a 10-year age gap between my oldest and youngest, I’ve had time to consider my parenting successes and failures. While my oldest son had the benefit of having younger parents, my last son, who is 16, has the advantage of wiser ones.

The first time around what we lacked in experience we made up for with enthusiasm. As all parents of more than one child know, the first go-round everything is novel. It doesn’t mean we aren’t happy to see subsequent children learn to walk or ride a bicycle or graduate, it’s just that those milestones aren’t viewed quite as miraculously.

But that’s okay because we also don’t put as much ridiculous weight or pressure on any particular accomplishment. We have learned that, with most things, they all get there eventually.

One of the most pronounced ways in which my parenting has changed is the way in which I view college. With my oldest son, I admit I focused largely on prestige and rankings. I viewed his high school performance as merely a means to an elite end. However, I have learned that getting to college is not the end of the story; in fact, in many ways it is merely the beginning of the journey and I now understand that what you do in college is more important than the college you attend.

Because I have seen my older sons and their friends struggle with a multitude of issues in college, ranging from mental health to difficulties with their studies, I am working on teaching my youngest son the things I think will help him succeed when he gets to college. I’m trying to cover as many bases as I can before he leaves home, although I recognize I can’t prepare him for everything.

We work on life skills, such as money management and independence, as well as lessons that relate to academics. As a sophomore last year, he hit a snag — the work got much harder and he could no longer excel solely on innate intelligence. He did not know how to proceed and just sort of stopped in his tracks.

Rather than solely focusing on his grades, the year became largely about teaching him how to be a student. We concentrated on helping him learn to advocate for himself and communicate with teachers, time management and learning to work through tough situations. Although he hasn’t yet mastered all these skills, he has made huge progress and the year ended successfully. Where 10 years prior I might have only looked at the grades he got (and, in all honesty, that was my first impulse when the first marking period grades came out), I understood that his grades were not the only measure of his success and was able to chart his progress in so many other ways.

As we plunge into the notoriously difficult junior year — the year of SATs, ACTs, SAT subject tests and the grades that will largely decide which colleges are “reach,” “safety” and such — I am much more prepared than I was a decade ago to accept that, whatever the results of the year, my son will be just fine and that the focus should be on him and his progress and not how he compares to his brothers, his classmates and the general population of students who will be applying to college the same year he does. I sometimes find it difficult to be with his classmates’ parents where the classmate is the oldest in their family although I have known and been friends with many of them for most of his life. I’ve been down this road twice before and have a different perspective, while they are traveling it for the first time.

There’s a recurring dialogue in my favorite movie, Shakespeare in Love, where one character says, “Strangely enough, it all turns out well.” To which another character responds, “How?” and is told, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery.” That’s sort of how it is with children. I’ve discovered that somehow they will get to where they need to be. Our job is to guide, teach and love, and have faith that, in the end, it will all turn out well.

Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons and a newly gained daughter, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor. She recently published her first book, “Gained a Daughter But Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic.” A founding contributor at Collegiate Parent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Grown & Flown, The New York Times (Modern Love), Kveller, Her View From Home and The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Find her on Facebook at “Thoughts From Aisle 4.”
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Evelyn Krieger
4 years ago

Great insight, Marlene. Our children not only need to get into college, but they also need to survive and thrive once there. This requires skills and emotional resilience that are not tested on the SAT or necessarily even learned in high school. Bravo for you on giving your son a Life 101 home study course.

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