Leaning into Parenthood and Trusting the Journey of College Admissions

Today I leaned in.  I mean, I really leaned in. 

As a college admissions expert, my life revolves around guiding and supporting students through the complex college application process. But recently, an unexpected adventure taught me a valuable lesson – one that exemplifies how challenging parenting is through college admissions.

I am not a traveler; I like to be home in my routine, the consistency makes me feel grounded.  My family, on the other hand, all love to travel. So as long as they tell me where to go and when to be there, I show up.

On this most recent trip, one of my daughters wanted to go horseback riding, and she did not want to go alone. My husband and other daughter are both allergic to horses, so guess what? 

Yup, I was “voluntold” to be her co-rider.

As much as I don’t like traveling, I also don’t like being on or in things that move fast, but I knew my going would make my daughter happy, so I leaned into my discomfort and set out on Gingy, my mode of transportation for the next hour or so.

After brief instructions on how to hold his reins, move the horse to the left and right, and, most importantly, stop Gingy if he was going too fast, we were off.  

The first few minutes were fine.  We slowly (I mean slowly, our pet tortoise, Boris, would have beat us in a race) strolled out of the ring and onto the trail. As we entered the trail, Danielle, our guide (wearing no helmet, I might add – where is her mother?, but I digress), shouted out that we were going to be going downhill (WHAT – I did not sign up for this) and to remember to lean back and loosen the reins. Ending with a “don’t worry if your horse looks down, they know what they are doing – they don’t want to fall either.  

Great. Not much I could do at this point, so I leaned back and let Gingy take the lead.

It wasn’t so bad; we made it down the rocky hill with no problem; Gingy did know what he was doing. 

But we now had to go back up the trail.

After a short stop to take pictures overlooking the beautiful landscape (okay, maybe this isn’t so bad after all), Danielle matter-of-factly said, “As we go up the hill, lean forward, loosen your grip so that you don’t direct your horse to stop. Once the horse moves uphill, they don’t want to stop, as it will be hard for them to get moving again. And remember, they will set the pace.

WAIT A SECOND!  Was Danielle talking about how I should ride my horse, which, to be honest, I have now grown attached to, or offering me gentle reminders on how I should parent my teen and young adult children?

Lean back, loosen the reins; lean forward, let them set the pace. 

Umm, that sounds like advice I might give a parent of a child entering the college admissions process. Perhaps she was on to something.

Our teens need exactly what Gingy needs: a sense of control and autonomy to set their own pace. It is a natural part of their development. Still, even those of us (like me) who study child development and work with adolescents often forget it – especially when our children are making major life decisions like applying to and choosing a college.

We say we want what is best for our children, that we only want them to be happy, but sometimes without us knowing, our actions counter that.  A small nudge to consider a school they have already stated they don’t want to look at, a “BUT” or a “SHOULD” thrown into the conversation instead of using an “AND” or “COULD,” a “I scheduled tours for us, on these dates, at these schools,” or “I signed you up for such and such” without a discussion takes away what our teens need most to be their best.

Some students are ready to enter their college admissions process earlier than others, sometimes even earlier than we are! Other students move slowly, and others stall until the last possible moment. 

Our teens need to have a seat at the table, set their own pace, and mostly feel as if they are gaining the autonomy they so desperately crave.

If we recognize and lean into their pace, as uncomfortable as it might make us, our ride will be much smoother, going uphill or down.

Yet, as I dismounted Gingy and said our goodbyes, I was reminded that as much as I let him lead the way, I was there to give him a slight nudge when he wandered off track distracted by the patch of grass or to swat away the fly that was hovering around him. I was there to safely guide him to slow down if he was getting close to the horse in front of him in his race to finish our walk.

So on August 1, when my son opens up his Common Application, I will remind myself to lean in and loosen the reins.   I will trust that he will work on his application and essays when he feels ready to tackle the uphill climb of the college admissions process.

It won’t be easy, but parenting, like horseback riding, demands flexibility, patience, and a willingness to let go.

Let’s remember to support each other as we lean into our children’s journey and allow them to forge their own paths. We may not have all the answers, but by supporting their autonomy and respecting their pace, we can make this ride smoother, going uphill or down.

So saddle up and embrace the adventure – we’re in for a ride of a lifetime!

Grab the Official Guide to Talking About College with Your Teenager

This guide is full of tips and the approach I believe we ALL need when it comes to talking about college as a family. Trust me, when I say I know because I’ve been right where you are, it comes straight from my experiences!