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Surviving the college application process isn't easy — just ask Mom and Dad

Tomorrow is the first of May, a date noteworthy for those of us who are parents of college-bound seniors.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Tomorrow is the first of May, a date noteworthy for those of us who are parents of college-bound seniors.

It is the long-awaited deadline for students to choose the school that will embrace them next fall. Over the last six months, I watched helplessly as my child endured the roller coaster of elation to disappointment, confusion to excitement, all the while mustering up the patience and resilience to fend off the queries and social media intrusions. I wanted to fast-forward to the celebration and revel in the fact “that it all worked out.”

But, the twists and turns of The Process got the best of me.

There must be a term for the psychological impact of that period that spans six months from the time the first application is sent and a decision is made. Something like “Post-College-Acceptance-Syndrome” would work.

Kim and Corinne FosterKim Foster

Following my daughter’s decision, for me, there was a numbness where I thought relief would be. I saw my daughter’s joy but felt like I just finished a marathon with no adrenaline to spare. Where are Malcolm Gladwell and his social scientists to explain this to me? Surely there’s data on this, or am I singularly numb?

Let me digress, as PCAS doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s a condition that occurs as you ride passenger on your child’s journey. It starts benignly. She makes a list, you visit a school or few, people are hired to do things you can actually do yourself, essays are written, forms completed, fees paid and your kid hits “send”— no postage necessary. And then, PCAS incubates.

Now, even though your child has worked for 12 years to have opportunities, it is completely out of your hands!

The wily veterans with children securely and happily at college assured me that “it will all work out.” I knew in my soul that they were right; but alas, the public-ness of the process creates an uncomfortable vulnerability. I had no context for it. Gone are the days that you fill out your college application (with a pen, mind you) to a university you may or may not have ever seen, put a stamp on it and wait until the large or small envelope appears in the mail a few months later. The process is micro-managed and every highlight and low-light is recorded and publicized. It is nearly impossible for today’s seniors to send in an application and seemingly forget about it for a few months.

It was an endurance test for both of us, but somehow, my daughter handled it better than me.

I knew I was way too vested emotionally, but all the affirmations in the world couldn’t make the outcome arrive any sooner. PCAS had me in its clutches because I didn’t trust the universe. As Marianne Williamson says in her book “Return to Love”: “Surrender to a universe that knows what it’s doing… We’re at rest while a power much greater than our own takes over, and it does a much better job than we could have done.”

Corinne Foster sports her new college colors.Kim Foster

In some ways, I didn’t put trust in my daughter either. I didn’t embrace the fact that she knew better than I what would make her happy and that the journey would end in due time.

And, so it was that when I stepped out of the way, a thoughtful decision was made. And, regretfully, over the course of six months, I had exhausted myself with nervous energy and felt outright numb while everyone else was celebrating. I let the process get the best of me instead of watching it joyfully unfold.

A few days later, I’m thawed out and sharing my daughter’s joy and relief. I’m also realizing the gifts in the journey: I watched her handle disappointment, feel pride in her accomplishments. She processed options and ultimately made an authentic decision that makes her happy. Isn’t it remarkable when our kids teach us lessons?

I get another stab at it with daughter #2. I plan to step aside and trust The Process, not fight it. Wish me luck.

Kimberly Foster lives in Bellevue, Washington, and is the author of the young adult novel The Clover Tree.