Interview with Shannon Evans: Setting Your Athlete Up for College

Today’s Topic: Setting Your Athlete Up for College

Hi everyone!  Welcome to the Perform Happy podcast with Coach Rebecca.  We have a very special guest today, Ms. Shannon Evans.  Ms. Evans is known as the Scholar Coach.  She holds a master’s degree in education, has over 17 years of coaching experience, and has been an admissions counselor for multiple colleges including University of Maryland, University of Oklahoma, Mississippi State University, East Mississippi Community College, and Utica College.

She’s coached young athletes all the way through college level, so she is essentially an expert on college recruiting for athletes, which is something that I get talked to about a lot.  I have kids as young as 10 years old telling me they want to compete in gymnastics at a specific college.  This is crazy to me because when I was 9, 10, 11, 12, I had no concept of college.

Today, it’s as if you need a sport to get even into college.  So how do you get into the college you want with the financial situation that works for your parents?  I’m going to be picking Shannon’s brain today to hopefully learn a little bit for myself, and allow you to learn a little bit about how to set your kid up for success in college.  If you’re listening as an athlete, there will be tips on what you can do at different ages along the way to set yourself up for success.

Coach Rebecca (CR):  Welcome, Shannon.  Thank you so much for joining me today.

Shannon Evans (SE):  Well, thank you so much for having me as your guest.  I’m really excited to be here, and I’ve read tons about you and the work you do.  And I’m really kind of excited to have someone in my world to talk to, it’s exciting.

CR:  It is.  I love nerding out when I find someone who likes to talk about mindset for success and adolescent athletes. I’m like, me too! No kidding!

SE: Yeah, mindset tools, oh my God!  Content for children, yeah, I know. It’s fun.

CR: It comes from this place of what we do seems like it’s just helping these athletes for years of their lives.  It’s life skills.  We are changing the trajectory of people’s lives for the better if we are doing our jobs well.

SE: Exactly.  That’s part of why I shifted out of the classroom and out of admissions, besides moving, was because what I saw was that with the advent of the internet. We no longer have a state college, let’s just say they have 900 seats for incoming freshmen.  They are now having 10, sometimes 20, depends on the college, 1,000 qualified applicants applying for those 900 seats.

What I decided is kids need to learn how to network and how to position themselves, how to communicate, and how to make better decisions before they start the college search.  I always like that so that they can get into the best college for them with the best financial package possible.

CR: Sounds great.

SE: It’s really critical if they can’t get past the gatekeepers (who are the admissions staff) who literally sit down with all these stacks and stacks and stacks of applications sitting around the table.  They have to open each and every one of them, they read every one of those essays, and everybody in that whole stack, those 20,000 applicants, are all just as highly qualified as you are.  How do you stand out?

That was when I went, “Whoa.  Something has to change.  We can’t change the system, and we’re not going to change the number of applicants.  What can we change?

CR: Yes, what can we do?

SE: That’s how my business actually got started.

CR: Now what do you do?  What services do you currently provide for families who are looking for assistance?

SE: I help primarily athletes, and I work with lots of young female athletes, because they seem to be the most underserved population in the recruiting process.  There are not as many support mechanisms in place. What I do is I coach them through the process.  I usually start with them when they’re sophomores in high school or early in their junior year, because later than that is honestly too late.  You can’t wait until your senior year.

I not only coach them, I end up coaching their parents as well.  Then I have to kind of help their guidance counselor at school by teaching the kid the right questions to go in and ask, and the right services to demand.

I teach the students how to advocate for themselves and I teach the parents how to stop over-parenting and let some things transpire so that growth can happen so that their child is resilient and can have better success.  Not only in the recruiting process but how to deal with the heartbreak of some people will like you, some people won’t.

Sometimes you’re just not the fit that they’re looking for on their team. Then, helping them to navigate what that looks like and other opportunities.  Opening their eyes to what’s possible.  Oftentimes, there are some really difficult conversations I have to have with parents about what schools their kids can afford to apply to.  Often, they think the really expensive schools are the ones that they can’t apply to, and the really expensive state schools are the ones they should apply to, when often that’s not the truth.

CR: Wonderful.  I have so many questions for you. I would love to start with the younger end of the spectrum, and what parents can do now that they have a highly talented 10, 11, 12-year-old gymnast in a sport like gymnastics or like swimming.  Or, where college is in sight, but they’re going to have to be fairly exceptional.  What can these parents be doing now that will set them up for that resilience, that will allow them to fly gracefully through this recruiting process?

SE: Well, starting early, letting them fail, which is really hard as a parent.  Not to live through the parent.  I don’t live through my kid and then I start asking them questions.  There’s so much pressure in American culture that we as parents kind of bind our children’s actions or inactions into who we are and our identity, and that’s really unhealthy.

It really undermines the autonomy and the competency of those children when they have such high expectations they have to meet.  I’ll give you an example.  I tell parents, and this is a very difficult conversation, by the way.  They don’t like this.  I tell parents, when they say something to the effect of, “Well, my child’s known since they were 10 years old that they were going to play basketball.”  I’ll go, “Your child’s 5′ 4.  Where are they going to play basketball, and for whom?”  They go, “Well, my kid’s going to go play for UCLA.”  And I’ll say, “When was the last time they had a 5′ 4″ person?”  They respond, “Well, they’ll grow in college.”  And I’ll go, “Okay, let’s look at reality.”

It comes down to the parents saying, “But everybody knows my kid’s going to go.”  And I have to respond with, “No, you’ve said this and you’ve set your kid up for a really high expectation, and now you’re living vicariously through your child.  So let’s reverse this.”  I said, “You have a parent,” and usually their parents are in their 70s or 80s.

I’ll go, “Okay, are you responsible for your parents’ self-esteem?  Are you responsible for your 80-year-old mother’s personal and professional image of themselves?”  Well, no, of course not.  “Then why are you making your 12-year-old responsible for your self-esteem and your parenting persona, and you’re in your 40s?”  And they kind of go, “Ouch.”  They don’t like it, because it makes them look at themselves.  They often deny it, but they’ll usually come back and go, “Yeah, you’re right.”

CR: I’ll own it.  I’ve got a three-year-old who I’m constantly like, “Okay, don’t make me look bad.”  I’m supposed to be accepting this.  I’m supposed to be unruffled right now.  How do I proceed?

SE: When they’re in high school, it’s hard to start thinking about it that way.  Once you do and you step back, it’s amazing what a shift that creates. It creates a shift for you, and it creates a shift for your child. One of the things I often tell parents to do is one-on-one with their child, ask them, “How can I be a better parent to you?”  You give them a few parameters.

If you listen to it, a lot of times, they will tell you things that you already knew, or they’ll tell you, “I think you do a great job at X,” and sometimes they’ll go, “Mom, I really wish when you were on the sidelines, you wouldn’t coach me.”

That’s hard to hear.  You go, “Ouch, okay.  Got it.  Why?”  They’ll say, “Well, because you confuse me” or “you upset me” or “you embarrass me”.  They’re entitled to those opinions, and that’s what they are.  You can weigh them out.  If you continue to have these conversations in a safe space, you’ll get feedback and it will honestly create such a great opportunity to grow as a parent and in your communication.  You’re going to teach them coping strategies and communication strategies by creating that moment.

I will say that the very first couple times you’ll ask, they’ll go, “I don’t know.”  That’s a favorite kid question.  If you keep asking this question at different times in different ways in a safe moment, don’t do it right after a game, because everybody’s emotions are up.

Setting Your Athlete Up for CollegeCR: Yes.

SE: Do it when you’re in the car running an errand, or those five minutes you’ve just finished watching a movie and there’s a terrible commercial on nobody’s paying attention to.

CR: Yeah.  One great game that I like to play, whenever I have both the parent and the athlete on a session together, we play keep, stop, start, which is where you ask the kid, what’s one thing Mom can keep doing that she’s doing well, mom, dad, whoever.  What can they stop doing that’s not useful or helpful?  What would you like for them to start doing?

SE: Oh, I like that.

CR: It’s just a nice little formula.  You can even pitch it at your younger kid.  Let’s play the game, keep, stop, start.  And check in periodically.  I love how you mentioned checking in periodically on it, because as they get used to it, they may have more substance.  Half the time they’re like, “I think I’m going to answer these questions wrong and get in trouble, so I’m just going to say, ‘You’re perfect, Mom.'”

SE: Well, it starts giving them those conversation strategies, which will actually serve them in college with roommates, with professors, with coaches, with people they run into.  Sororities, fraternities, whatever.

We would love to have our children live in a cocoon, in a perfect world. When we micro-organize or over-organize or are over-involved in their lives, there’s no space for life to happen.  When we don’t create that space for life to happen, they don’t get to learn the lessons that happen in those spaces.

That’s where those lessons happen that actually give our kids grit.  When you create these conversations and you create these opportunities and you back off, they start to actually develop the grit that they need, the tenacity that they need in order to be successful adults.  The whole game of this is not just to get them the scholarship to play college sports.  We’re supposed to be raising them to have life skills.

CR: I will never forget the reaction I got from a mom, a swim mom, when she said, “I have to remind him to bring his goggles or he’ll forget his goggles.” And I was like-

SE: Let him swim without them!

CR: Yes!  Let him show up without goggles and see what happens.

SE: He’ll quit forgetting.

CR: Exactly.  But she looked at me like, what?  That whole idea of “let them fail”, it feels almost like biologically wrong, to let your child fail at something you could so easily fix for them.  What tips do you have for parents who particularly struggle with that?

SE: Whoa.  Well, first thing, you have to self-identify.  We’ve all micromanaged at one time.  Honest to goodness, my kids were swimmers too, and they played lacrosse and hockey and everything else.  My car never smelled good.  I had two boys and a girl, and then I had a couple of other boys that lived with us at different times.

I’m not one to go deliver lunch to them.  You forget your lunch?  Dude, I’m at work.  Good luck.  Bum from a friend, eat an apple from the pile at the lunch counter, or I guess you’ll be hungry for dinner tonight.  We kept swim goggles on every doorknob in the house, I swear.  If you forgot one, that was your own doing, because I can guarantee you going out the door, there were probably at least three or four hooked to the door.  It’s a standing joke in any swimmer’s house.  My son was in high school, there must have been a collection of them on his rearview mirror.

CR: ‘Cause he learned!

SE: He learned.

CR: He probably forgot them once.

SE: ‘Cause he forgets.  My boys would always forget mouthpieces and whatnot.  It got to the point where they would put on the grocery list – order a box of mouthpieces.  I just dumped them in their bags and they knew they’d lose them, forget them, or stick them in their helmet and lose them in transit somewhere.  So thank god for the ones that finally came out that would tie to your helmet, the tethered ones.

CR: Saved you some grocery shopping!

SE: You can’t forget your helmet, because you can’t play without the helmet.  Your mouth guard was always on your helmet. There are always tips and tricks that you can teach your kid.  The greatest gift you can teach your kid is, “Oh, well, I guess you didn’t bring your leotard.  You can sit on the sidelines at that meet.  I’m sorry.  You screwed up, not me.  I’m your mom, not your maid.”

CR: Then they get a lesson, and that’s one of my big teaching points, is that you must fail.  It’s part of the deal.  If you’re afraid of it, or you’re afraid of that rejection, which so many of these high-achieving, high-talent athletes.  They are used to succeeding, succeeding, succeeding, succeeding. Then they hit a wall and they just don’t know how to handle it.

SR: Well, what I see are these parents who I call the absolute parents.  It’s my way or the highway.  Then they do everything for their kid, so their kids never learn to make a decision.

I would tell my parents, “I’m going to swim practice.”  I’d get up at 5:00 in the morning.  Nobody got me up.  I had an alarm, and I knew that if I didn’t show up, my coach was going to make me do extra pushups the next time he did see me, and I didn’t want to get yelled at.  I wanted to excel, and I actually enjoyed being there.

I’d get up, I’d ride my bicycle to the pool before school.  Next, I’d do my workout and then I’d ride back home and I’d pack my own lunch and I’d go off and get my backpack, and off I’d go to school.  I had to be accountable for myself, and it started really early.  When I have seen kids who have absolute rules, like, “Curfew is 10:00 and I don’t care if the movie goes until 10:15 and you’ve told me where you are and who you’re with, my rule is this rule and that’s the way it is.”

When you create those absolutes like that, you’re not allowing them to make good decisions on their own.  You’re micromanaging every decision they make.

When it comes time to go to college, they’ve never had to be accountable for themselves, and they’re out of control.  It’s like, woohoo, party time.  It might be nothing more dangerous than staying up all night and gaming. They won’t be on the team very long, and they won’t be in school very long. They have to learn these things, and it’s safer to learn them before you’re spending thousands of dollars at a college.

CR: Yeah.  You just totally told my personal story.  My mom was, “You’re going to college, I don’t care which one.  If you don’t, you’re out.  You can’t live with us.”  It was just like, “You’re going to college.  That is non-negotiable.”

I end up at this college, having been under the thumb, having had no decision making power, I went wild and I didn’t have any volition.  I didn’t have this drive, even though I knew I wanted to be a sports psychologist, I wanted to work with kids.  My vision so clear, but I showed up there and just was like, party!  Then next thing you know, I fail out and I’m just totally floundering.

SE: Yeah.  It’s called EQ.  Emotional intelligence.

CR:  Yeah, and if I had had those conversations about “Why is it important?” and “What would you like to pursue?” … there wasn’t any of that for me, and I think that could’ve been really helpful.

SE: Well, I hear parents who go, “Well, I wrote my kid’s college essay.” And I’m like, are you kidding me?  What are you teaching them?  One, there’s an ethics issue, but it’s like … are you going to write their college papers too?  Probably, ’cause they probably wrote their high school papers.

CR: Yeah.  What is the ideal parenting strategy that you’ve seen, maybe a case study of a parent who just did it right, who did it totally right?

SE: Well, none of us do it totally right.  I’ll just tell you that.

CR: Shoot, I’m hoping for that!

SE: I’m going to tell you, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and I “know” how to do this, right?  I know how humans learn, but we all get in the heat of the moment and we’re like, “Just get in the car!”  And we throw their bag in or whatever. Or, we’re swinging to McDonald’s, I know you’re supposed to have vegetables.  That’s not good parenting, but sometimes circumstances happen.

SE: There are no perfect families.  There are no perfect parents.  There’s no perfect child.  What you’re aiming for is happy, healthy, and resilient. That’s what matters, because if you don’t have those, they’re not going to be happy, healthy adults – that’s our job.  Really, that’s it.  Our job is not to get them doing gymnastics at the collegiate level.

Our job is not to get them on the Olympics. If you have a kid that is that driven, it’s gotta be on their own.  If you’re in their back pocket and doing it all for them, that’s not developing grit and tenacity.  That’s your grit and tenacity, and you’re pretty much what I call bull-whipping the kid into doing their sport.

There’s no joy in it and it ends up just being a battle.  I always tell the funny story when my eldest, who played lacrosse at the collegiate level, before he was injured, went, “You know what?  I think I’m going to be a pilot.  I’m not going to ruin my body anymore.”  Lacrosse is a pretty brutal sport.

When he was about three, three and a half, his dad had told him to go take a time out in his bed, to go sit on his bed, and that was what you were to do.  Not play with your toys, not look out the window, whatever.  Pretty soon, I look back, and he’s putting on the bed, I don’t know what he had done but it must have been egregious, because his dad was angry.  He just pulls the door too.  The kid opens the door.  He goes, “You know, you’re being defiant now.  Get on your bed.” Blah blah blah.

Then it becomes a tug of war with the door, and I looked back there, and I said, “Who is punishing whom?  What’s the consequence?  There’s no consequence!  Your only consequence was putting on the bed.  He gets up from that, he’s struggling with the door.  Now you’ve created a bigger battle.”

There was no discussion, the kid had no voice, so when they become powerless, what do they do?  They rebel.  You see it in a three-year-old.  You see it whenever we scoop up our kids and go, “Okay, we’re not doing this.”  You just break them away from whatever it is they’re doing, good, bad, or ugly.

We create these power struggles, and it’s our ego.  When you remove your ego as much as possible, it creates that opportunity for decision making by them, learning coping strategies, learning conversation strategies.  The more you can create opportunities for them to fail safely, the more likely you are to create tenacity and resilience in that child.

CR: Which will get them through their sport, through high school, and into and through college, ideally.

SE: Yeah.  I always tell these parents, “I know there’s a psychology that says at a certain age, girls quit everything.  At a certain age, boys quit everything.”  I get that.

When you have a kid who’s giving you all kinds of signs that they really don’t want to compete at that level, that they’re only doing it for you or your expectations, you’ve created a problem that’s your ego.  That is one of the hardest things as a parent, is to let them have autonomy and create competency without us creating these walls and barriers for them.

CR: Yeah, and it makes me think of a couple of athletes who I’ve known, gymnasts specifically, who have had these big heartbreaks.  They are on track, they’re the right age, they’re the right level, they’re the right gym. Everything’s kind of right.  They’re not winning nationals.

They’re just a little bit below where they need to be to get into that number one school choice.  Then they talk to, maybe somebody like you, or they talk to somebody who kind of gives them the reality check that’s, yes, you have done everything yet.  Yes, you have busted your butt for the last 12 years.  Yes, you have.  That might not be the best school for you.  The heartbreak runs so deep that they just fall out of love with their sport.

SE: I have a process that I take my students through, and the first thing I do is I actually go, “What do you want to study?  What do you want to be? ‘Cause you’re one injury away from not being able to play your sport again. If you don’t have your sport, let’s just take that out of the picture first. What are you passionate about, what do you think you want to do, and what are some things that you excel at?  What brings you joy?”

Now, a lot of kids don’t know what brings them joy.  It blows my mind. They go, “Well, my mom says …”  I’m like, no.

CR: They say, “Well, my sport is all I do, so that must be it.”

SE: Yeah.  And so I’m like, “Do you go to school to play your sport, or do you go to your sport to go to school?”  I always tell them, “Look.  Let’s pretend you blow out your ACL, MCL, and you tear your meniscus, all at the same time.  God forbid that happens.  I don’t want it to happen, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.  But let’s pretend that happens,” they go, “Oh, that’s never going to happen to me.”  I say, “Okay, but let’s pretend. We’re playing pretend here. Okay.”

“What would you want to study and what would you want to do with your life, because one day, your sport will end.  All of us, it ends for all of us.”  Then, I have a girl who right now wants to study engineering.  I go, “Great! Let’s find a great engineering school that also has your sport, and let’s look at what they’re looking for in players.”  My kids aren’t just creating a short list of schools.  We’re talking a significant list that they apply to.

There’s a whole process that by the time they’ve got schools that I call a reach, either for athletic reasons, academic reasons, or both, it might be a stretch for them, because they haven’t done the nationals or whatever.

Then we have the one that’s a really good fit, and we’ll have two or three of those.  We’ll have some that I call shoo-ins, that they could get in, they could play their sport there, and there’s a high likelihood they’re actually overqualified for the school.

Next, we start going to the school and we start talking to those coaches. When the rubber meets the road is when I go, “So, is that coach recruiting you, and what does that look like?  Because if that coach isn’t recruiting you, then why are you wasting your time, unless you’re there for the academics?”  And that’s another conversation.  “If you want to go there and study engineering, and not play your sport, that’s great.  That’s awesome.  Let’s find the best way to get you in there and leverage your sport, and leverage your skill set, to get you into a pile of money that you will qualify for to apply to to get scholarships.”

CR: Right.

SE: It’s a complete process.  What ends up happening is, I’ll have some kids when they find out the realities of what it takes to compete at the Division I collegiate level for certain teams in their sport.  Let’s say they want to study nursing, and they find out that they can’t take any laboratory courses in season, and they can’t take any laboratory courses out of season on Thursdays or Fridays or after 12:00, any day of the week.  They’re like, “Wait a minute.  That’s not why I’m going to college.”  It’s very interesting to see the psychology of what happens.

Some of them elect not to play.  Some select to go to Division II, which is a full-time job, but it’s a little bit of a different schedule of what is expected of you from the coach.  Or they go to Division III, where sometimes they go there because that’s the money they need.  They’re not going to get much, because quite honestly, the average college scholarship in sports, outside of the headcount sports, is about $8,000.  It’s not guaranteed to be renewed because you’re not getting a full scholarship from a school.  You’re getting a partial athletic scholarship.  Coaches split up their scholarships so they can acquire more assets for their teams.

It then becomes a numbers game, and a lot of times the parents will go, “Ooh, I thought they’d get a full scholarship,” and I’ll go, “You might get a full scholarship, but it won’t be based on sports.”  It might be a financial package that’s an interesting mix.

CR: The question that a member of the Perform Happy community asked when I told them I was going to talk to you.  She was asking about finances, and she said, “If a family finds it financially tough to pay for gym, travel, competitions, other things involved. Are you familiar with the NCAA rules around personal fundraising or things that are allowed in those situations where the money just isn’t quite there?”

SE: Okay.  Are you talking about money to go to college on, or money to stay in your sport at the high school level?

CR: Money to stay in their sport, it sounds like at the college level. Different fundraising for donated goods, fundraising parties, GoFundMe, different things.

SE: NCAA’s pretty strict.  If I were a parent, if their child’s already in a college, I would contact the compliance officer at the university and I would be very specific in my questions.  The compliance officer can be your best friend.

CR: Okay.  And this one, she’s younger.

SE: Not even in college yet?

CR: Not in college yet.  No, I don’t even think she’s in high school yet.

SE: Well, the rules change every year.  Right now, that’d be a big no-no. But it depends on the division you play at too.

CR: Okay.  All of those questions for compliance, things to keep track of

SE: Their compliance rules are very clearly written, fortunately.

CR: When in the year are they finalized?  When do the rules each year change, do you know?

SE: Usually they come out in June, July.  They come out right when schools are pretty much out of session, the sports teams are not-

CR: That’s the time to check in.

SE: I would check in their junior year of high school.  Then just keep checking from then on.  I will tell you, that wouldn’t be an issue.  If their student is playing college sports, if done correctly, and they go through the process, they should know financially what they can afford, they should know their EFC.

There are certain types of schools.  If you qualify for financial aid, it depends on what your combined family income is and whether you have other kids in college, and there’s a big formula.  But state schools are sometimes 100% of need met.  Sometimes they’re 80% of need met.

Let’s say that you apply and your EFC is X.  That’s your estimated family contribution.  They say you can afford to give $8,000 a year for your kid to go to school.  The school costs $38,000 a year, and that’s low balling. That’s a very inexpensive in-state tuition at Illinois.  Let’s say you’re going to Urbana in Chicago.

Then the school says, “Okay, our tuition’s $38,000.  You’ve paid $8,000,” and let’s say you’re not getting any other money.  That’s just what you can afford to give.  Then there’s a $30,000 deficit that needs to be met.  Well, if they’re a 100% need met college, they will write it off.  They essentially are giving you a $30,000 scholarship.  They don’t call it a scholarship, ’cause it’s a needs-based grant.  If they do, some colleges only meet 100% of need the freshman year.  Then the rest of your years, it’s like 80% of need met.  Some schools don’t.

It’s understanding how they do this, and whether they’re a merit school, a needs-based school, or a hybrid of the two.  That’s why I tell people your family will get more money if they go to a really nice, exclusive Division III school.  You get a name education, the level of competition may not be what you thought you would get, but your kid’s getting a great education, and you’re not paying out the nose for it, because state schools have very little money to give.  Their money goes to need.  Merit money’s very seldom or very frugally given at state colleges.  Private colleges have more money to give away for merit.

CR: That’s another reason why not to say, “My daughter will play basketball at UCLA, hell or high water.”

SE: Well, let’s put it this way.  It’s $68,000 a year to go to UCLA.  $62,000 to $68,000, depending.  They don’t give academic scholarships.  They give some academic money, not a whole lot.  I don’t have $68,000 to shovel out of my pocket every year for my kid to go to college, and they can get a great education elsewhere.  And by the way, gymnastics?  On average, how much money do gymnasts get for a scholarship at a Division I school?  Maybe $8,000-10,000.  That leaves you with a $50,000 a year tuition fee.

Now, you can take out loans.  Why would you saddle your child with that kind of loan getting out of school, because it gains interest while you’re still in school, before you even start paying.  You’re still amassing interest on that loan.  They’re saddled with this huge student loan.  Yet they’ve had this great experience at UCLA, and they may or may not graduate from there.  You’ve got, how much did you just pay for that mom and dad sweatshirt you wanted from UCLA?  Is it really worth $200,000?

I think that is one of the most irresponsible things a parent can do, is to saddle their kid with that kind of debt.

CR: It sounds like the best thing that you can do as a parent of a junior high or young high school athlete is to foster that open-mindedness, and talk about what’s the big picture, and what do you want to study, and who do you want to be?

SE: What brings them joy in their life?  What are the things that they’re passionate about, and if they’re not passionate, at least they’re very invested in?

CR: Yeah, the things they want to do, not the things they feel they need to do.

SE: When you were growing up, did you know a kid who, we would now call them a feral child.  I’m going to tell you, I was a feral child.  My mother tried for me not to be, but I am the quintessential kid who was totally defiant.  I was stubborn, I’m still stubborn today as well.

A feral child is the one who’s always outside, always dirty, building ramps to run their bike over or they’re taking logs and building a hut on the beach.  They’re the kid that was kind of the free spirit, who wrote sock puppet plays and put on puppet plays for the neighborhood, and their mother didn’t care.  Their mother didn’t run around and say, “You know to pick this up and you need to be at dance class,” their mom just kind of let them free range.

What they were actually doing, whether they meant to or not, this kid was learning how to fail.  This kid was learning how to be on his own, how to entertain themselves, how to develop their own passions and interests independent of their family.  They were getting some lifelong learning experiences that served them.

CR: To those parents out there, just let go.

SE: Well, if you don’t, if you’re a helicopter parent, be prepared to keep doing it when they’re in their 20s, their 30s, and 40s.  I didn’t want my kids living in my basement playing video games ’cause they failed to launch.  If you don’t embrace beginning to let go of some things that are not that important.

We just get caught up in the moment, but if we let go of our ego, and let things happen more organically in our children’s lives, and let them control some of the decisions with input and guidance, where you say, “Okay, I see this. This is a great idea. These are some consequences. Did you think of this, did you think of that? This can happen. Tell me what some consequences you think could come out of this.” Let them invest in the experience.

When you do that, you’ll create a kid who has more to offer, because frankly, I don’t want to be parenting my 20, 30, and 40 year old.  I’m hoping that at that point, it’s okay to start shifting from parent to more of a friend.  I don’t want to be friends with a 15-year-old.

CR: I don’t want to be friends with a three-year-old.

SE: No, because you’ll be parenting them at 30 if you let them be your friend at three.

CR: Or the boss, like they really want to be.

SE: My daughter used to be called Bossy Flossy the bossy little moo cow for a reason.

CR: We had to come up with a good catchy nickname for this one.  It sounds like the best thing parents can do is let go.  Let their kids fail, ask them good questions, allow them to be involved in the decision-making process.

Help them uncover who’s in there, who’s that joyful person who isn’t just making people happy, isn’t trying to be perfect, but who’s in there?  Allow them to just blossom in whatever direction they want to go in, even if that means not their number one school choice, or things that parents maybe don’t want to hear, which is a risk that you have to take when you allow that openness in a relationship with your child, I think.

SE: Yeah.

CR: But it sounds like one worth making.

SE: It really is.  The most important job in the world, honestly, is parenting.  It’s the one we’re least trained and prepared for.

CR: Then once we figure it out, we’re grandparents, right?

SE: I don’t know.  I watch my grandchildren, and I have two little granddaughters.  I look at their mother and I’m going, “God, I wish I had known that when I was your age,” then I go, “Well, maybe I did and just kind of ignored it.”

CR: Yeah, and we’re just all doing the best we can.

SE: Absolutely.  Like I said, there are no perfect families.  here are no perfect children, there’s no perfect parent.

CR: Is there a perfect school for each kid?

SE: Actually, I think there is.  I think there’s a really good fit for the kids that doesn’t make the parents bankrupt.

CR: If they want more information on getting in touch with you to help them find their perfect school, how do they do that?

SE: Okay.  They can go on my website and they can sign up for my newsletter.  Or they can email me.

CR: Fabulous.

SE: I’m happy to.  They can get on my calendar, we can talk for 15-20 minutes and see if what I do is a good fit for them, or if they’re a good fit for me.  I’m all about fit, because what works for your child is what’s most important.

CR: Absolutely.  Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today.  I have learned so much myself, and I know a lot of parents out there have probably taken some good nuggets from our talk.  I really appreciate you taking the time.

SE: Well, thank you so much.  This was great fun, and it was a pleasure meeting you.

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