On parent-counselling through the university application process

Yesterday my son fired me. As his admissions counsellor, I am devastated—no one likes to lose a client. As his mother, I think he did the right thing. I had pushed too hard, tightened the grip a little too much. I think I may even have been rude.

Now, I can finally stop hounding him about how he is not doing enough to prepare for his application to the highly selective (or rejective) university of his choice and start being more of an emotional support in this very stressful phase of his life.

As his counsellor, I know he needn’t be stressed if he is putting in the work necessary to become the highly academic student his chosen university is looking for. I even told him exactly what he needs to be doing. As his mother, I know he will eventually find his path, regardless of his choices and his options. I know him like that. As his counsellor-mother, however, things got a little confusing. I made it a point to remind him daily that what he was doing was not enough, yet.

A few weeks ago I published an article about how to parent during this stressful application period. Over the years, and with two children already tucked at university, I had figured out how to parent through the process. What I hadn’t learnt was how to be mother-counsellor. It was my first time.

The role of a mother during the application process is to lend a non-judgmental ear, offer emotional support and make sure her child has their minimum food and security needs fulfilled in order to thrive. It is a role that is highly subjective and fraught with emotion. The role of a counsellor, on the other hand, is to be objective, offer the best of their knowledge and advice and guide the student and their parent through the process. You can see where the problem lies: I was emotionally invested in a process I am meant to be scientific about.

My experience had taught me to recognize when a student is not yet ready to apply to a high-achievement/high-expectations university such as that chosen by my son. As a mother, I never allowed myself to say it—I did not want to deflate my child’s confidence and kill his drive. As a counsellor, I would also never allow myself to tell a student they have no chance of making it. Firstly because I don’t know that for a fact, I am only intuiting, and secondly, I actually believe in aiming high—if you can handle the potential rejection—because aiming high allows you to put your best foot forward and give your application your best shot. I am a great believer in the shoot for the moon, land on the stars plan.

What I never ever did, until just before I got fired, was to blurt out: “You are never going to make it if you continue like this.” As I said, as mother-counsellor, things got a bit confusing. I like to believe that I am a good mother and my testimonials tell me that I am a good counsellor. But a mother-counsellor combination takes on a life of its own, a hybrid model bringing out the worst in both. So while I am devastated to have lost a client, I am delighted to regain my son. I wish him the best of luck, I believe in him and I know that he can do it, and I am by his side for whatever emotional and logistical support he needs. As for him, I think he’s just happy to have his mother back.