Parenting: Leaving it to the Pros

September 30, 2010

I'm thankful for the teachers who've taught my boys to read, write and do things like calculus and physics - subjects at which I was hopeless in school. I've relied on others to teach them guitar and piano. And when Jason was learning to drive, though I took him out for practice, I was glad to have professional driving teachers take him for his first stint on the Schuylkill or show him how to parallel park.

Now, Jason is starting the college application process. It's daunting! And one of the toughest parts is writing his application essays. Obviously, I'm a writer. I write for TV every day. I have two degrees in journalism and wrote theses and tons of papers to get them. You would think that'd be a great help as Jason approaches writing his application essays.

At first, I thought it'd be great too. I figured he'd write, I'd edit. He'd revise, I'd re-revise. But here's the rub. The purpose of these essays is to give the college admissions people an idea of who Jason is, beyond his grades, test scores and extra-curricular activity list. They're NOT supposed to be about who I think Jason is. And as a teenager, Jason has parts of his life, and his personality that I'm not a part of anymore. And that's how it should be. My job for the past nearly 18 years, has been to help him grow into an independent young man.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that my helping Jason write his essays wouldn't be a good idea. Once he gets to college, he'll be making his own decisions, looking at the world from his own perspective. And the colleges want to know what that perspective is, not what I think it should be.

Bottom line, we hired an essay coach. She's helping him decide what to write about. She's meeting the young man he is today, without the bias that comes from remembering him when he was a chubby baby in diapers. They brainstormed ideas and she'll help him develop those ideas into an essay. She'll help him make revisions. But she'll be better able than I would be to refrain from writing for him or putting things into her words, instead of his. She has a better idea than I do of what the schools are looking for. And best of all, he has set appointments with her, which means he'll go and focus on the task, and not put her off the way he does me when I nag him to get work done.

I'm hopeful I'll get to read the finished product. Maybe I won't. But wherever he gets into school, I won't be there to write his essays for him, and I don't expect to be reading what he writes for his college classes. I'm just hoping, that just as the pros taught him to read and write, and do physics and calculus, and drive and play guitar, his essay coach will encourage him to do his best.

As parents, we try to do the best we can for our kids. But as some point - and for us, with our oldest that point is getting closer and closer - it's up to them to do it for themselves.

There are some good websites that offer tips on writing college essays:

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