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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
I doubt the concept of wealthy parents paying to help their children achieve greatness (or so they hope) really comes as a shock to anyone. Let’s face it, celebrities are this country’s royalty. Many people (including my own children) obsess over the rich and famous, wanting to look like them and following their every move on social media.
So in a culture where everyone is judging these stars, watching and emulating their every move, is it any wonder they feel the need for perfection in every aspect of their lives?
Glitz, glamour, perfect skin, perfect bodies, mansions, fancy cars...need I go on? Sign me up, right? Sounds like a fabulous life, but to quote The Notorious B.I.G., “It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.”
There’s still no excuse for what Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and others caught up in the Varsity Blues college admission scandal did. How about using your riches to help those in need instead of to bribe people? Hmmm. Today I’ll buy a pair of shoes, some groceries and, oh yeah, my kid’s college education. There are so many reasons why this whole incident is simply not okay. I sound like I’m talking to one of my teens when I say it like that, but it’s true.
I can hear my daughter’s voice in my head now. “Mom, you’re SO embarrassing.” Maybe, but this mom isn’t spending her hard-earned money buying your college degree. That, my friend, has to be earned.
There’s always something to be learned from negative behavior. I’ve been using this scandal as a way to reach and teach my kids and of course reflect on my own parenting journey. Some of these lessons may seem obvious but wealth and glitter can cloud rational thinking. Here are some discussions this news story has sparked in my home.
Does money make life easier? Yes. Is there a money tree? Ask my kids, as I have given them the “money doesn’t grow on trees” speech more times than any of us can remember. There’s no doubt actors like Loughlin and Huffman work hard for their money but to believe life’s challenges can be solved with cash is foolish, unrealistic and greedy.
The behavior of Rick Singer and his clients sends messages that are concerning for both the children who were given special consideration and those who didn’t get into their school of choice, even though they were more qualified. These are the questions I went over with my teens to discover their perspective and then deliver mine: Do kids not have to work hard to get ahead in life? If money is the answer to everything, what's the point in trying?
Money is nice, but it doesn’t buy happiness, solve every problem or fix emotional damage, such as hurt feelings and broken trust. I love my kids, but would money make them listen, get better grades, have better manners and be kinder to others? Okay, don’t answer that. You know what I mean. Sure, money may be an incentive to do all of those things but what kind of kids would I be raising?
Once my daughter borrowed a necklace of mine without asking and lost it. The necklace was very special; my mother gave it to me before she passed away. In that case, money could not replace the necklace, or diminish the disappointment I felt in my daughter or the hurt I experienced.
While it was a painful time, it was a good lesson for her to learn. She wanted to save up and buy me a new necklace and while I appreciated her efforts, it was something that simply could not be replaced. We talked about respecting each other’s belongings, taking accountability and accepting consequences.
Doesn’t everyone deserve the same opportunities, regardless of how much money is in their bank accounts? Yes, but sadly we know it doesn’t play out that way. Life isn’t fair but this is not about fair — it’s about right versus wrong. I don’t want my kids ever thinking they can buy their way through life by bribing, lying and cheating. These actions hurt people and the truth always comes out.
Newsflash! Your kids aren’t perfect beings. Sorry, but it’s true. There’s no such thing as perfect and if people continue to attempt to invent perfect, it will blow up in their face every time. I teach my kids about progression, not perfection.
I know I can’t protect my kids from every mistake or failure they’ll make. I always think of the movie, Finding Nemo, where Marlin, Nemo’s dad, tells his friend Dory that he promised he’d never let anything happen to Nemo. Dory tells him that’s a silly thing to promise: “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” Kids have to be able to choose their own adventures, learn and grow from them. This wasn’t, isn’t and won’t be easy for me, but it’s necessary for my kids to thrive.
I can’t buy a path for my kids to ensure they know the outcome. How can I teach them to be tolerant of others who are different than them if they think they’re perfect?
My kids know they aren’t perfect. They know my husband and I aren’t perfect. Often parents want for their kids what they didn’t have themselves and that’s understandable. However, at what cost? Perfection doesn’t exist. If we teach our kids that flawlessness is attainable, they’ll do anything to achieve it.
Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and the other Varsity Blues parents were not good role models and it’s quite sad. Perhaps they hoped the right brand of college degree would mean a a perfect, easy launch for their kids into independent, successful adulthood, but in reality, they valued perception over substance and an acceptance of who their kids actually are.
Which leads to…
My kids are all very different and my husband and I accept them for who they are. We strive to raise human beings, not robots. Different is what makes the world go round.
Our imperfections as people make us beautiful. I can’t predict who my children will turn out to be or where they’ll go to college. Yes, I have instilled certain beliefs, raised them to be good people (we can only hope), and put a large emphasis on studies. However, at the end of the day, I won’t tell my kids who they should be. These are their lives, not mine.
I remember when my youngest was having an issue with math. My husband and I both loved math in school, but our son is not programed that way. Would it be fair for me to force him to be an accountant and join generations of our family who’ve followed that path? No, it would not. Would we love for him to follow this path? Of course, but he would resent us, constantly feel like he was failing, and be miserable.
That said, you better believe we taught our son not to give up on math. “I’m just not good at it,” is not a reason for us to say, “Okay.” Nope, if he received an F on an exam, we expected him to work with the teacher, spend the extra hours soaking it in, and try again. We didn’t go to his teacher and argue that he didn’t deserve the F (because he did), but we supported him. We were present with him.
If my husband and I constantly bail out our children and take advantage of the system to do that, how would our kids find their own paths — making confident strides as well as missteps? How would they learn about consequences? No, I don’t want my children to fail, but sometimes failures lead to the greatest successes.
Having money is nice of course, but it can’t solve everything that is wrong in the world. It’s so important to teach our kids this concept, so they’ll understand the value and personal satisfaction of working hard and absorb the message that they can’t buy their way through life.
The college admissions scandal inspired my family to have important discussions and ensure we are all on the same page. My kids are old enough to understand what happened and why what happened was wrong. I am grateful for my kids, imperfections and all, tolerant of their mistakes and thankful for the lessons it has taught us all. I can only hope they feel the same way about me.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes of all time. “It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” – Ann Landers
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