Friday, September 4, 2009

Generaton Me

I guess the Junior year of high school is supposed to ease us overprotective, helicopter Moms into the approaching reality that in just a few short years our precious children are, as my husband says, "out the door." School started a little over a week ago, and I think I have seen my son for probably 1 full hour in all that time. Between classes, homework, facebook time, texting, and extra curricular activities I just don't see him. He still gives me a kiss when he passes me in the kitchen as goes for a snack. We still have five minute dinners together. He still insists I come in and say good night, even if it is way past my bedtime. And I cherish these small moments, fully aware that they won't last forever.

And then there is test prep to worry about. How is he going to fit that into his already bulging schedule? Does he need a tutor for the SAT or ACT? And which service does one use? Names like Ivy West, Compass, and Kaplan circulate around my older friends that have been through this process before. And then there will be SAT subject tests, AP tests, and who knows what else. And all of this is for him to have choices. That has been the plight of all us helicopter Moms from the time we had our babies. If he or she wants to go back East to an Ivy League college, we want him or her to have the choice. If they want to study music, we want them to be able to consider Julliard or the Berklee School of Music, if they want science or math, MIT might be their top pick.

But now I am desperate for Kyle not to get caught up on this road I have led him down and think for himself what he wants. Does he want to stay in California so he is a little closer to home? Does he want to return to his native New York because at heart he is a true New Yorker? Out of all of this, I think I now realize that college isn't some intangible goal to strive for just to give our kids options. College is different for everybody. For some, it's the time of their lives, for others, it is filled with anxiety and heart ache. I want my children to be happy. Who knows if he would be happier at Brown than at city college down the street. And what about a gap year? Wouldn't he love to travel the world for a year and give me more grey hair as he truly discovers who he is and what he might want?

I am so very worried that our children are so pushed to find the perfect college that we have lost sight of what "a perfect college" might be for our kids. I asked Kyle recently why he was so fixated on going to a "good" college. He told me it was because with a good education he can get a good job. He continued explaining that if two candidates are being considered for the same job, but come from different colleges, the one from the college with the better reputation will surely win out and get the job. I was amazed at this. When will these kids catch their breath and figure out who they are and what they really want to do? I feel responsible for Kyle's mindset. My best intention, wanting him to have choices, has rubbed off on him. Now I think sometimes not having a choice can be as good if not better for the soul than having all the choices in the world.

Perhaps some of my thinking comes from being part of the X generation. We came of age when anything was possible thanks to the babyboom generation before us. We have taken our "we can do anything if we believe in ourselves" and infected our kids with it. Now they are part of generation Me. In " The Narcissism Epidemic," Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell write that "we’ve built up the confidence of our kids, but in that process, we’ve created a generation of hot-house flowers puffed with a disproportionate sense of self-worth (the definition of narcissism) and without the resiliency skills they need when Mommy and Daddy can’t fix something.”

So, as I get ready to pay tutors to help Kyle score his absolutely best on his ACT or SAT, as I meet with college counselors and make arrangements for college tours, I can't help but wonder if all the choice I have given him is really strangling him. I know he is a kind, compassionate, funny kid. But will I ever really be able to let go and let the harsh realities of life hit him in the face? Or will I be there, not to pick up the pieces, but to forever try and not let the pieces fall in the first place? As they get older, it seems letting them fail is so much harder.

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