While my parents were always vocal about wanting me to follow my dreams and find my own path in life, one expectation was always clear, whether they said it out loud or not: I would be going to college. They both taught at the large midwestern university located in our town — my father as a professor in the kinesiology department, where he studied and taught exercise science, my mother as an instructor in the education school, where she taught future special education teachers. They both had advanced degrees, and they both, along with my equally well-educated grandparents and aunts and uncles, talked about the importance of education ad nauseam.
Luckily, through nature or nurture, I also loved school. I still count my college and graduate school years as some of the happiest of my life. I was doing what I loved — learning about my chosen field of journalism — with plenty of freedom to socialize, make my own schedule, and basically transition to adulthood.
Despite their academic expertise, I can't remember my parents ever micromanaging a single aspect of my college life. Beyond a basic overview of my schedule, I'm not sure they even knew what specific classes I was taking each semester. I'm sure they didn't know my professors' names, with the exception of a few who made a real impact, and I'm certain they didn't have their email addresses.
Had I not been bringing home good grades, maybe some of that would have changed, but I doubt they would have been overly involved even if I'd struggled. College was my time to learn to sink or swim, and they were going to let me do so all on my own. All of my peers and best friends, many of whom went weeks without calling home, seemed to be in the same boat. Few of us had cell phones and we were all living in a different city than our parents; how overbearing could they really be?!
But, somewhere along the cultural lines, things changed. My parents stopped complaining about conversations they'd had with immature or irresponsible students and started talking more about the frustrating communication they were getting from parents. "You mean the parents are emailing you about their kids' assignments and grades?" I asked them, amazed. "All. The. Time," was the response. Apparently, at some point, lawnmower parents became the norm, and they weren't going to stop cutting down obstacles for their kids — even when those obstacles were self created — just because those "children" were now over 18 and out of their homes.
So I was less than shocked when news of the college admission scandal broke, and we all learned that some wealthy parents had been paying to falsify their children's SAT and ACT scores and lie about their athletic abilities, all to get them into college. If parents are willing to harass a professor to get their child a higher grade in one class, of course they'll go even further to get that child a place at their dream college.
My only hope now is that the parenting pendulum will start swinging back in the other direction. My kids are now 5 and almost 8. In less than a decade, we will begin the process of looking at colleges, schools my husband and I will most likely pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for our children to attend, assuming they get in. And they'll have to do that on their own merit. Whatever success they have there will also be on their shoulders because, in my mind, that's what college is really about: finding a path to independence and adulthood. If I'm calling their teachers to get them better grades, am I not also interfering with that journey? Sending my kids to college is an investment in their future, and it's up to them, not me, to figure out what that future will be.