IMG_0205“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” – Lady Bird Johnson

I work with kids and need to share something from my 25-year career as a professor, teacher, coach and now college-planner/test-prep-coach/all-around-college-guy: You have great kids. Great. Kids. You really do. They show up (mostly) on time at libraries, coffee shops and the occasional DQ to spend up to two hours with me, filling their brains with ACT strategies and tips for writing knockout application essays and listening to my tales of visiting Brown or Indiana or Northwestern or whichever campus happened to remind me about something that seemed important to convey to them in the moment. And they always listen without interrupting or checking their phones. 
They are respectful, attentive, eager to learn and eager to please. I send them away with more work — and they do it. I don’t know how much you may be helping or asking for clarification or (gasp) nagging, but most parents tell me I have a way of getting kids to do the work without parental intervention. Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment. But I do have a secret weapon. Actually, I have two. 

1. My last name is not your last name.

I have never been mistakenly referred to as “dad”, and I don’t have to ask them twice to mow the yard or hang up their wet towels “because mildew kills thousands each year!” They are your kids, not mine and that makes all the difference. Your kids know what they want, and they know it takes hard work to achieve their goals, and they accept the need for someone to guide them. They also are aware that you wrote me a check, so they do the work. 

2. I believe in them as much as I possibly can.

Not every kid I work with is a valedictorian or member of National Honor Society, but each of them matters — to you, to themselves, and to me. And let’s never forget that they’re still kidsGood kids. And I want you to hear me very clearly when I say this, because I am NOT suggesting that you DON’T believe in them; I’m just saying that I get the honor and privilege of seeing their very best without all the garbage that goes on behind the scenes. (Read that again.)

One parent to another

I’m a parent, just like you, and if I’m being honest I’ve sat there at their ballgames or concerts or whatever, and said the worst prayer of all: “Please God, don’t let him screw up”. Oops…there goes my Father of the Year nomination…again. But it’s true and it’s as much my fault because when I tried to do that “Hey, Johnny, let’s go to the ballpark and toss the ball around!” thing, more often than not it ended up miserably with a net loss of skills and confidence. (And my kids are named Jack and Joe anyway.)

My job is to teach, to coach, to encourage, to lead, to inspire, to motivate…to rework a trig problem until she gets it right…to gently tell him that he comes off like a jerk in his essay but if he changes a few words…and when things get off-track, to facilitate a hard conversation with a parent about what we should expect to see on the ACT or why their chances of getting any merit aid at College X are not very likely. When I’m done working with your kids, I send them back to you, email you my notes so you’re up to date on their progress, and then I move on to someone else’s kids or my own. You get them 166 hours a week; they’re mine for 2.

The answers are right there in front of me

I generally don’t like or want advice on being a better parent. My wife reads books on parenting and asks me to read them, too. So I look up the summary on wikipedia and tell her, “Okay, I got it.” No, I don’t. If I really did get it, I wouldn’t need the following notes to myself, which are posted just above my laptop and just below the poster of the Quad at Trinity College:

Read more. Watch less.

Pray a lot. Worry less.

More of Him. Less of me.

Be quicker to love, and slower to anger.

Fear God. Shun evil.

After a less than stellar weekend as Commander-in-Chief of my kids, this week I have tried to just love them. The jury is out, and I keep hanging up wet towels. Sigh. But I’m trying to see the very best in my boys and to not only recognize their potential, but to help them envision what they see as their potential. At parent-teacher conferences this year, one of Jack’s teachers looked me straight in the eye and told me, “You son is brilliant. He’s really, really brilliant.” I didn’t know what to say but I tried not to think about wet towels. (Thank you, Kabby Hong.)

A few weeks later, Jack and I visited four college campuses and I was given a tremendous gift: the ability to see my son through the eyes of someone who knows him not better than me, but in a different manner. I have a picture of that young man, who I sometimes think I barely know, as the wallpaper on my phone. He’s standing on the campus of Miami University, still several years away from stepping onto his own college (we’re working on the list), but closer than Id care to admit to the man of 18 who will leave home. It reminds me that my view is distorted, sometimes jaded, and needs the help of others to be truly clear and accurate. And so I will now add these words to the top of that list above my laptop…

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” – Lady Bird Johnson

You have great kids. And so do I. We just need to keep reminding each other of this truth.