You can be anything you want to be.
You can go to college out of state.
You have what it takes to go far.
Do you say these things to your children? Well, I certainly do. I want all the greatest things for them. I believe in them and see their talents and strong character traits. And I don’t ever want to limit them or crush their dreams. I won’t be the mom that keeps them from going far away to college if that is really the way to pursue doing what they love. I want them to live up to all of their potential.
I have two high-schoolers rapidly approaching their launch from home. I see things through their wide and sometimes panicked eyes now. Their hearts and minds are processing so much. And I believe those words that I’ve spoken and that our culture is speaking to them have become too important. I find myself wondering what struggles I’ve created inside of my children. Because the pressure is on and they may feel the need to dream bigger dreams than what they really have. I don’t want them to choose my ideas or concoct an exciting college plan simply because they think it’s what you do at this stage of life. This will lead to misery and feelings of failure when they are not successful.
Our culture is really big on telling high school graduates about this perfect little path they should follow and how to really spread their wings and fly correctly.
As a parent, I sometimes leave school meetings or conversations with other parents feeling like I am certainly not on track in this area because I am never doing all the things. There are so many options and ways to help prepare for college that you could never be doing all the things. But we are all made to feel that we aren’t doing enough.
We can make our kids feel like failures when we insist that they can be or do anything if they don’t really know what they want yet. There is so much more than their academic intelligence that should be used to determine their plans after graduation. The SAT score or the achievements they can list may be amazing. They may have the academic potential to head off to an Ivy League. But that doesn’t mean they should.
I don’t want my kids to feel like they are “settling” by going to school nearby and living at home if there are very good reasons to do so. This may be the absolute best and most responsible decision when considering all factors. I mean factors like their personality, the financial benefits or their emotional maturity. This type of decision should be celebrated as a best option rather than treated like a lesser choice or a fallback plan. We should get rid of the stigma and line of questioning and reasoning that creates expectations and pressure to follow this cookie-cutter path right out of high school.
So as we approach this impasse, I am cushioning these well-meaning phrases with more words of explanation and qualifiers. Words that I hope will give my children permission to embrace what they really want to do and feel ready to choose.
Sure, you can be anything you want to be. (And if you don’t know what you want to be yet, that’s totally normal.)
Sure, you can go far off to college. (You can also choose to stay here or choose the less expensive college to save money for your future.)
Sure, you have what it takes to go far. (You can also find meaning and purpose in a career that the culture might consider the lowest of aspirations.)
I want my kids to know that they can pursue whatever career they wish at whatever college is best. That I think they are talented, smart and driven enough to make big things happen. That I support their dreams and aspirations with all my heart. But they are strictly that. My child’s dreams and aspirations, and not my own or that of the culture.