On this blog I usually focus on the lives of mothers of young children. But for parents of prospective high school students, this time of year in New York City can be markedly stressful.
Middle school kids are likely doing 3 hours and up of homework a night, plus extracurricular and community service activities, all while working on applications and essays to their high schools of choice. Often they apply to eight or more schools. Then, lest the parents think they can delegate all this to their kids, there are “parent essays.” It may be harder with kids this age because, unlike littler children, they are acutely aware of being assessed. This can lead to stress and anxiety for every member of the family system. As one friend, who is supremely sane and balanced, explained, “There is no life outside of my children’s school applications and homework right now. It’s what we do all week long, sometimes until midnight, and on the weekends too.”
It seems an apt time for a chat with Lacy Crawford, mother of two and author of Early Decision. The novel draws heavily on Lacy’s experience as a college application tutor working with the offspring of Manhattan’s elite tribe to get them into the Best Colleges Ever. Lacy is both compassionate and canny about the pressures to achieve in Manhattan–and what it does to parents and kids alike. We started out with her insights about parenting Manhattan style, and moved on from there….
Can you comment on Manhattan as a very specific and particular niche when it comes to academic pressure, privileged parenting, competition for schools and more?
I have had students in just about every major US city and several European capitals, all of them the children of highly educated, hugely successful parents, and nowhere was the anxiety attendant to the process worse than it was in New York City. No surprise, of course—a city that attracts talented people will mean elevated competition, and that competition comes to its sharpest point when it’s a matter of advancing one’s offspring. What did surprise me, however, was how some parents fetishized a college’s brand to such an extent that they were willing to inflict real pain on their children to try to gain admission for them. A simple example is the parent who took out his checkbook and asked me, in front of his son, how much it would cost to write his son’s application essays.
If you live in a great, vibrant, legendary city, and you feel you’re at the top of that city’s food chain, then of course you want your children to lead great, vibrant, legendary lives. The fight for the Ivy League is part entitlement, yes, but it’s also fear of what the future may bring, and a desire to see a child succeed. But living in such a diverse city offers other perspectives, too—such as the million ways to make a good life, and the way opportunity sometimes comes disguised as other things (namely, failure)….