writer | college essay coach

Be the Parent Your Child Needs

Yes, I have fallen into the labeling trap, helicopter, snowplow, psycho. After so many years of teaching high school and college and coaching teenagers in writing the college admission essay my only suggestion, never advice, is to be the kind of parent your child, teenager, young adult needs. If your offspring is able to make friends easily, advocate for him or herself-give me back that bucket-does not welcome your problem solving, then back off. My son was a climber, a skateboarder, and a talker. He had the confidence of a professional party guest, could chat up a potted plant, and was giving advice to grown-ups on home buying at three. Few were strangers especially if they were young and pretty girls or young men with something he coveted. Instead of crying when we left the house he frequently opened the door and pushed us out. He talked to anyone foolish enough to make eye contact. Emotionally you needed to break him before he would cry. Remorse and guilt were present but unexpressed and often needed to be activated with a harsh reprimand to be sure he wasn’t a sociopath. He wasn’t. He was empathetic, emotionally intelligent and very smart. Sometimes I resented how independent he was which goes to show how mature I am. 

Photo by Ben White

Photo by Ben White

Many children find the world overwhelming. They need quiet, a blanket or a stuffed animal, prolonged lap sitting and cuddling and if you push them they react with fear and shame. These people need support, encouragement and you to leave after they have signaled they can handle day care or school or a social event that doesn’t require your presence. Do not, I repeat, throw these individuals in a pool or a wave or force them to immediately welcome a stranger. They need gradual transitions, to look back and see you waving and smiling, not walking away. However, you are the inspiration for their learning to separate and separate they must. Stay relentlessly cheerful, upbeat, hopeful and model delight in meeting new people, starting conversations, taking small risks. After I was divorced and before I remarried I briefly experienced dating and sometimes dated other single parents. Another father and me met at a playground with a jungle gym, which my son immediately scaled to the top. His son remained closer to the ground, choosing secure places to put his hands and feet. This father found his lack of ambition unacceptable and urged him to go higher. Knowing my son had great balance and also that it would be useless to force him lower I suggested his son was a much wiser boy. This comment was met with silence until later, over breakfast, this dad started firing math problems at the two boys.

“Mom,” my son said from the back seat on our way home. “That guy was a jerk.”                                   

I keep hearing about the trauma of sending your child away to college. How is it your trauma? They need to navigate new peer groups, unfamiliar buildings and geography, live with a total stranger, eat from a new menu, actually study because if they don’t, they will fail, unlike high school where half-assing was possible. Get a grip! Stop crying into their old onesies, stuffed animals, baby blankets and find a way to accept this is not a tragedy or a loss rather it’s a new life for your student and an opportunity for parents to discover having a ‘best friend’ who is twenty plus years younger than you isn’t a great idea. Think about who your child was so many years ago; a cuddly, go-with-the-flow person, a tense, fearful, shy person, something in the middle? Act accordingly.


Molly Moynahan