When our first child Emily was born, we were young, but not too young, and so eager to provide her with the life that we envisioned for her—no opportunity denied her, no experience beyond her reach. We would give her everything she could ever want or need.
My husband and I have compatible philosophies about childrearing, and while we planned to craft a comfortable existence for our children, we also knew that we would have high expectations for them. They would be well behaved, and we would be disciplined. They would work hard, and we would reward them. They would be good people—we would see to it. Naturally, they would attend the finest colleges and universities, and meet every measure society might place alongside them.
Fast forward nearly seventeen years… Beautiful Emily, born on a cold January evening, has exceeded our hopes and expectations. She has played sports, a musical instrument, participated in clubs, activities, even scouts, and has done well academically. She has been nominated to leadership programs, and won scholarships. We have been good parents, and she makes us exceptionally proud. Our daughter has good friends. She is invested in her community, and cares about other people. But, by the standards in this world of the uber-privileged, she is just a normal kid – a really good, normal kid. She does not get the best grades in her class, which she will willingly tell you. And she is no star athlete. Mind you, we still think she’s exceptional.
Imagine, then, the swirl of confusion as we have come to realize that all of this, this well-planned, exemplary childhood, may not be enough! This child, our beautiful, smart, hard-working child, is average, at least in the eyes of some college admissions professionals. It’s true that we know she will go to college, somewhere, and more importantly that she will grow to become a fantastic adult with a real appetite for learning and personal growth. But we can no longer promise her every door will be open for her. This is the first time in her life, and in our life with her, that we cannot offer her full access to the next steps.
What has happened is no tragedy. It is simply the realization that “really good” isn’t always good enough to get you in every door. This is never more true than when the doors they are knocking on are the prestigious colleges and universities we parents assumed our children would attend. “Naviance,” a web-based software product used by high schools to aid their upperclassmen in the college application process, tells us that the profile for the typical accepted students at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, three universities with acceptance rates of 7 or 8%, include SAT scores in the range of 2100-2400. Average GPAs hover around the 4.0+ mark. In the world where these kids live and go to school, some of their classmates will get these scores. But not many of them.
At the proverbial end of the day, when we are being really honest, I’m not sure if my anxiety is for Emily—that she will not be able to get into that first-choice school; or for me – that my own vanity will be exposed. We have wanted our daughter to achieve the highest level of success at every step of her young life. How much of this ambition has been for her, and how much for us? These are the things that make me look old from the furrow that worry leaves in my brow. So now, in the early days of spring, I make my resolutions. I resolve to leave her alone about the college process. I resolve to celebrate the really fantastic person she is, and is becoming. I resolve that I will not listen to the hushed conversations of parents along the soccer fields and concert rows during the rest of junior and senior years. And I resolve that, at least in our little world, we will make sure our really good, normal kid knows we think she is the best.
Elizabeth Frederick is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the writer’s children.