Q: My husband and I are first generation South Asian immigrants who grew up in the United States and are now raising kids here. The looming prospect of the college application process is causing more stress than I expected, with the added layer of pressure that comes from within our community. While we come from a highly educated family, we are not overly concerned with shallow prestige. We just want our child to find the best fit for him.
I usually have a healthy disregard for what others think, but it took time to get to this mental place. But now that my own child is about to launch into the world, I am fraught with anxiety. The process itself is daunting and where he will land is uncertain. Some of this is simply the emotional angst any parent feels about their first child leaving the nest.
Our oldest child is thoughtful, capable and smart, but even with this confidence, we harbor no illusions about how challenging it will be. Yes, each child will find their own path, but we do not want our child to suffer unnecessarily, as there will always be unavoidable challenges.
We are grateful for the strength of communication that we have with him, and we have managed to stay calm because push has not come to shove - yet. Added to this are younger siblings who are watching and absorbing our every move.
How do we preserve our strong and close relationship with our child while having no regrets in the future about how we handled the college application process? I’m not looking for perfection here, just a plan to manage the next year.
-- Concerned Desi Mom
A: You have your own internalized narratives about school, work and success and these are impacting your perspective of this process and your concern for your son. Historically, Asian immigrants have had to prove themselves as valuable to the U.S. economy to be accepted, and, for many immigrants, making safer decisions that ensure survival and security is important. These are valid experiences, but it’s important to interrogate them because it may not be your son’s reality today. For instance, your son may have more options than you and your husband did as newer immigrants in this country. By challenging your beliefs, you can allow yourself to consider more possibilities of the future.
Your son is navigating his own feelings about this process. Right now, home should be a safe space for him to explore questions without judgment or pressure. Be encouraging and celebrate every win during this process; also be mindful that you are not imposing your anxieties onto your son.
It’s not about eliminating worry altogether. It’s about learning to manage your worry so you can be present and connected with your son. Consider reaching out to other parents in your community who are in the same situation to give you an outlet separate to the relationship you have with your son. Schedule time in your calendar where you can take 15 minutes to let yourself worry. This will help you acknowledge not avoid it, but it will also ensure a time cap so your “what ifs” and anxiety don’t take over your life. Create a tool kit of coping skills - like deep breathing and mindfulness - to manage anxiety as it arises. Remind yourself of your own ability to get through hard times. Ask yourself: What are difficult things you have overcome? How did you do it? Who supported you?
Of course no parent wants their kid to suffer unnecessarily, but no matter how much you want to protect your child from all “unavoidable challenges,” you can’t. Your son is at an age where he is learning how to be accountable for himself and his choices. Where appropriate, you want to encourage this autonomy and critical thinking while being a guiding light for him. You can practice and learn how to support your kid without imposing yourself onto him by trusting that you have provided him with the values and skills he needs to go out into the world.
You are worried because you care. You are worried because you want the best for your son. But here’s the thing: Worry provides a false sense of control. You can only solve the future’s problems in the future. Focus on what you can actually control right now - like how you manage your stress or setting up a plan to tour colleges or tackle deadlines with your son.
This is an important year to connect with and enjoy your son before he goes off on this new stage of his life - and possibly leaves your home. You don’t want to worry so much about what can go wrong that you miss it.