Several weeks ago, Ling and I attended our first college application orientation at her high school. We learned the high school’s policies and heard from 3 local college admissions reps–all very informative and helpful. And then I lay in bed that night filled with panic that I’ve failed my child by not being the Tiger Mom I should have been.
I couldn’t help feeling wooed by the lure of helping my child get into an elite college where learning can be amazing, doors can open, networks can be created. After all, what parent doesn’t want the possibilities of the world flung open for her child?
But that orientation made it clear that it’s going to be pretty challenging to fulfill that dream. So I felt tormented that I should have:
- Pressured her more.
- Stood over her while she was doing homework so she couldn’t procrastinate.
- Given her more tutors
- Put her in sleep away camp, or music camp, or literature camps or forced her to compete in writing competitions so she could stand out.
- Sent her to Russian math in the afternoons or made her do math papers each day of the summer
- Engaged in screaming yelling fights I used to have with my mother about how I was shaming the family through my long string of B+ grades or (gasp) the B- in 5th grade spelling.
Now Ling’s an excellent student. She’s been diligent and self-motivated. She just took the SATs for the first time and hit the scores it took me 3 tries to get. She’s awesome and I’m so proud of her.
Yet the college application environment has become so competitive that getting into any highly selective school is like playing the lottery. To prove how bad it is, her school has a program called Naviance which plots her grades and SAT scores against those of all other Winchester high school graduates who applied to certain schools. Here’s what a scattergram looks like:
As Ling and I have created scattergrams for various schools, even when Ling’s plot falls within the green squares, there are plenty of red crosses underneath the green. All this information, all these resources, all showing just what a crapshoot it’ll be to get into any college with a big name.
Hence the panic attack.
As a minister of the gospel who has followed Jesus since age 3, I know that my panic reflects an un-centered bad spiritual place. I know that God’s love of my child isn’t determined by whether she gets into an Ivy League or Ivy League wannabe school. I know that the college she attends may have little correlation to her ultimate happiness or service to the world. I know that privilege, elitism and power can be very destructive, indeed that it may be harder for someone laden with those things to get in the Kingdom of God than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
I know all those things and yet. . .
Just about every voice in my world says something different:
- The chat of fellow parents in my elite Boston town who complain about our very excellent school system and worry about whether they’ve enriched their kids environments enough
- The mores I’ve absorbed from attending and then ministering to elite private universities over the past 30 years
- The ways my Chinese parents imbedded obsession with achievement and academics within me
- Even the college stickers stuck on the rear windows of cars and SUVs
It’s sure hard to hear God’s gracious voice when so many other voices blast so loud.
I wish I had a neat ending for this blog but I don’t. I know God loves Ling. I know that He’s got her back far more than I ever will, even if I had been the perfect Tiger Mom. But I still feel a little anxious. . .
Pray for me.
Read my past reflections on Tiger Momming