Don’t Become the Difficult Parent

The college placement office is one of the quiet, but most important support pieces of a boarding school education.

Boarding school college placement offices, and the students they support, benefit from a bounty of resources and experiences.

A boarding school college placement office works full-time; works with a very healthy (read low) officer to student ratio; and, features a seasoned faculty that brings broad perspectives and insights to students.

That last thought brings me to a piece that arrived in my ‘in box’ late last week- “Take My Own Advice” by Hector Martinez, college guidance director at The Webb Schools (CA). Martinez publishes periodically and he’s always worth reading if you’re in the kid business.

In “Take My Own Advice,” Martinez reflects on his own actions as his son applied to Webb, offering some advice for the hovering, overly conscientious parent seeking the perfect school application.

“..while I am quick to offer words of comfort and assurance that everything will work out just fine to all of you and your children, I can’t seem to do the same for myself. Worse, I seem to show signs of the ‘difficult parent’ I warn Webb parents not to become, you know the one that gets overly involved in the process and wants to take over it as if they are actually applying for admissions to school instead of the child.”(WS)

Martinez found himself standing over his son’s shoulders thinking about answers that he, as the adult professional, believed should be better- better meaning in the words, voice, and thoughts of someone more experienced than his eighth grader.

“…I wanted to make sure the admission office understood before they were tempted to label him a “slacker!” Instead of trusting my son would explain himself, and also trusting that the admission office at Webb would understand what he meant by his answer, all I wanted to do was change his answer.

So, I vowed to listen carefully, offer my advice, but ultimately trust my son to do his best as he presented his profile for admissions, even if it meant having to sit on my hands to stop myself from taking over.”(WS)

To aid parents of applicants, Martinez offers his personal top ten rules.

Of course, they apply to all of us challenged to maintain distance as our kids seek to own their experiences and they really boil down to two principles. Guide, but let your student do the work and trust the faculty.

“Top Ten Rules to Follow for Myself

  1. It’s about my son, not me!
  2. It’s my son’s responsibility to fill out the application and make sure it all gets done (on time), not mine.
  3. He needs to write his own essay and answer all the questions with his own ideas and words, not mine.
  4. I’m to support, encourage, and be a friendly reminder to him with such things as deadlines as he progresses through this admissions process but will stop myself from taking over it no matter how tempting it may be for me.
  5. I’m to trust his teachers and school administrators that will help him with recommendation letters, especially since the school he currently attends does an excellent job with all of this and has been doing it forever!
  6. I will not pretend that my child is someone other than who he really is- even if the other son I’m confusing him with has better grades, scores, and organizational skills!
  7. I will trust that the admission office will also see the many fine qualities of my imperfect son and appreciate him almost as much as I do.
  8. I will offer to proof and check his application, but will not be offended if he chooses to ask someone else to do this for him instead.
  9. I will be the first to congratulate him if he gets in, and the first to tell him that he can still have a great life should he get bad news, while making sure he knows how much I love him and how proud I am of him for doing his best.
  10. I will be so much better at all of this with my second son!” (WS)
Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

More by Brian Fisher

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