On a recent afternoon in our office, near Wyomissing, PA, a client and family arrived for an introductory interview and assessment before beginning the application process for boarding school admission. (In our world, the client is always the student, whether or not the parents have initiated contact or appear to be more committed to a school search than their daughter.) After an exchange of pleasantries, I began to ask “Lindsay” about some of her interests, to which Mom promptly responded in complete detail. When I asked Lindsay whether she had ever seen School A, Mom was again the first to respond: “I went online to get that school’s catalogue some time ago, didn’t I, Dear?” The picture was already clear.
Deeply concerned about her daughter’s academic future, Lindsay’s mother wanted to take no chances. She called for catalogues, called again to make interview appointments, asked Lindsay’s teachers for recommendations, and generally micro-managed the school search entirely out of her daughter’s hands. On several levels, this misguided initiative was hurtful and disempowering to a young woman desperately in need of investing in her own future. This was clearly Mom’s project, not Lindsay’s.
Later in the interview, when I had time to speak with this client alone, I learned that her wishes and goals were very different from those expressed earlier by her mother. Almost completely lacking in self-confidence, Lindsay wanted little to do with boarding schools, in no small part because of Mom’s overbearing manner. When Mom called for catalogues, notation was no doubt made in every admissions file that the candidate had not chosen to call on her own behalf. When Mom asked teachers for recommendations, how could they have written great recommendations for a girl so completely disengaged from the process that she would ask her mother to do her bidding? The appearance of candidate indifference will compromise Lindsay’s applications to some of those schools that Mom unwittingly overmanaged. We are starting again. This time, the real client will be in charge.
Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times by Margaret N. Nelson
The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, by Nancy Gibbs ,TIME MAgazine 11/2-/2009