Actress Lori Loughlin was arrested for the crime of bribing the University of Southern California to get her daughters into the school. The college admissions scandal, which also took down actress Felicity Huffman, divided Loughlin’s family and her relationship with her daughters, and shed light on the tradition of rich parents enabling their children’s education by handing over large sums of money to elite universities.
People have asked why a parent would do this, and the answer has been something like, “Wouldn’t any parent do all he could to ensure the best for his child?” But shoeing a child into circumstances to which they are ill-suited doesn’t do them any favors. What’s at issue is Loughlin’s expectations, which had less to do with who her children were than who she wanted them to be.
Inevitably, parents have ideas about what they want their kids’ lives to look like. These ideas start when the child is in utero, and the parents purchase a tiny baseball mitt or the baby’s first onesie emblazoned with the words “Future Supreme Court justice.” Parents envision for their children the lives they never had, imagining vast, untapped potential. The problem comes when these expectations have more to do with a parent’s wants than their children’s capabilities and interests.
Loughlin clearly wanted a life for her daughters that they either were not capable of achieving on their own or were not interested in achieving at all. She was accused of giving money to USC to recruit her daughters for the crew team, even though the girls didn’t play the sport.
Huffman pled guilty to her charges of bribery, but Loughlin and her husband chose to fight the charges. A source told People magazine, “From the beginning, she [Loughlin] didn’t want to take a deal, because she felt that she hadn’t done anything that any mom wouldn’t have done, if they had the means.”
There’s More Than One Path to Success
I just don’t think this is true. There’s a school of thought — Loughlin’s, apparently — that says there’s only one path to success, and it’s to check off all the right boxes on the way up the ladder. Not only is this a short-sighted view of success, but it doesn’t take into account anything but that definition.
Unearned success does not lead to happiness. If her daughters couldn’t achieve well enough in high school to earn their place at USC, what makes Loughlin think they could earn their place while attending the university? Does she think suddenly these girls who didn’t step up to the plate when they had the chance will put their best foot forward after she bought a chance for them? People don’t tend to change just because their easy way becomes easier.
Loughlin may believe she’s done what any parent would do, but what she’s done for her daughters is a shocking disservice. Instead of listening to her kids, to their expectations for themselves, to what they anticipated and wanted from life, she pushed them toward what she wanted, and when they weren’t able or willing to get there on their own, she squeezed the camel through the eye of the needle.
Children rarely become what their parents imagined for them, and it’s pointless to think they will. The problem isn’t with the children; it’s with the parents’ expectations. Parents’ main job is to make sure their kids are kind, compassionate, resilient people who are able to take care of themselves. This is the kind of expectation that will lead to happiness. A falsified degree based on fictitious claims and heaps of cash will never lead to fulfillment.
College Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Additionally, those parents that engage in bribery or putting large sums of money into a university’s coffers for the sole purpose of admitting a child who couldn’t get there on her own are not only buying into the claims the elite colleges make, but those parents are bolstering the reputation of failing institutions. This is occurring precisely as the public is beginning to catch on to just how silly so many of the universities, with their ridiculous entry fees, have become.
If there’s anything we’ve learned the hard way, it’s that college is not all that. Student loan debt that can’t be repaid with the resulting career keeps ballooning. Colleges continue to raise tuition without providing a worthwhile education. Employers that once demanded bachelors degrees now demand a masters. The more student loan money is poured into the academic system, the higher tuition goes just to eat it all up, like Hungry Hungry Hippos gobbling what they can at the expense of students and their future earnings.
Shoving kids who didn’t earn their place into a school simply because you have the means provides children with a greater education than any four-year college could. It tells them success is only monetary, that what’s most important is getting your way no matter the cost, that lying is not only acceptable but justifiable, that there are no consequences for not working hard to earn your own placement, and that more important than any education is the designer label on the degree. These lessons are anathema to kindness, compassion, and resilience. In fact, these are lessons that turn kids into jerks.
The college scandal moms were not paying any attention to who their kids are. If they had, they wouldn’t have pushed them to be something they are not and would have accepted their goals for the future. My parents pushed me really hard academically, but I was a dork, and they knew it. When I came up short, as I often did, I faulted myself more than they ever could.
I’m finding now that you have to know who your kids are and figure out what your expectations for them are about who they are and where their interests lead, not what you might want them to be. Listen to your kids, hear their goals and interests, and learn what they are good at and where their talents lie by watching and understanding. Then push them toward their goals, not your own.