“Parents feel a lot of pressure to be able to brag about their kid. They think ‘my child is a reflection of me.’ I think that the more successful the parent is, the more that is an issue,” says Elsie Echevarria LMFT, a therapist who helps parents and teenagers navigate college admissions with better communication, more respect, and deeper self-understanding.
- How parents should manage the pressure to brag about their kids’ achievements
- What to do when parents and their teens disagree on college and career goals
- The essential and effective skill she teaches teenagers for great communication with their parents
Elsie, can you tell us a bit about your background as a therapist for teens and parents?
I was a high school drama and English teacher right after I graduated from college, and I went back to my own high school. So high school/college is my favorite phase of life because it was such an awesome phase for me and I’m very connected to it. Over time, I started working at a children’s clinic and now have my own practice. Working with teenagers and young adults is my very favorite. I really have a heart for their parents. Forget when you were lacking sleep when they were infants. That’s not actually the hardest time. This is actually the hardest time because they’re up at two o’clock in the morning, but there isn’t anything you can do to soothe them and they don’t want to see you. And you’re mad. And so it’s a really hard time for parents.
Can you share some of the stressors that parents are experiencing now?
We don’t have other adults to take the edge off of our children’s rough spots. When our kids are in high school, they are surrounded by adults, and most of the cool teachers and administrators will treat them as respectful peers, not parental figures. Their kids are used to pushing back, confronting this adult relationship with their teachers, so they can tone it down a little bit with their parents. But now, their parents are the adult 24/7, and we are not wired to be with our children 24/7. It’s not natural. Our village is missing.
How are parents responding to needing to be with their kids 24/7?
Parents have become hyper aware of every little thing about their kid that they didn’t know before, and that they really didn’t know they didn’t want to know. Everyone is just a little bit bothered with having to have so much accountability and interaction day to day. So I find that rejiggering the parenting becomes even more necessary at this point. Because on top of the stressors of preparing your kid to leave the nest, now they’re in the nest 24/7.
And guess what, they might not be leaving, so yay, you. And you by the time they’re seniors, parents are like, please God, let them go away to school, please God. Because we want them to have that experience. But now they’re home more than ever, which is not natural. This is the time when you let them go out more. You let them have more independence and you let them spend the night with friends and family. So it’s really testing the parent-child relationship in a way that is unprecedented.
How is the increased interaction affecting the parent-child relationship in positive ways?
In a positive sense it’s really giving families a sense of knowing each other and knowing the kids’ friends. A lot of the families I work with are letting their teenagers socialize in a limited way. Kids are either in their backyard, so they’re getting to know their kids better, they’re getting to observe their kids around their friends, and sometimes be horrified and sometimes be delighted, depends on the day. So I think that parents and kids are getting to know each other better, which can be very heartwarming and feel good and be the thing that takes the edge off of the tension.
How’s the pandemic affecting the parent-child relationship in negative ways?
Parents are feeling more responsible for if their kid is getting good grades, if their kid is turning on the camera during class, if their kid is showing up for the Zoom internship when they’re burnt out and don’t want to be on Zoom anymore.
And now the parents don’t have other adults to spread the responsibility of the kids’ success. So the stakes for a lot of parents feel really high and the parents are burnt out about their own life.
What types of parents do you typically help?
I work with a lot of doctors because I contract with Kaiser. Poor doctors’ kids. I really try to help parents get over themselves. This is not about you. This is not your life. You already did your stint and made your decisions. A medical school degree did not ensure that you would give birth to brain surgeons. That was not in the contract.
How do you help these successful and smart parents with their relationship with their children?
I try to help them kind of work through all the pressure that parents feel. Parents feel a lot of pressure to be able to brag about their kid. They think “my child is a reflection of me.” I think that the more successful the parent is, the more that is an issue. When there’s tension or helicoptering or anger, the parent has decided what their kids are going to be. And sometimes they have trouble releasing. They don’t need to take Chinese. If they want to learn Chinese, they’re going to learn it. If that’s going to turn their tide of their fortunes and they care about money, they will learn Chinese.
What is causing the gap between what parents want for their kids and what their kids aspire for?
A lot of people worked hard and struggled to have the things that they have. And their kids have always had the things that they’ve had. So their little brains are free to contemplate being an artist or being a skateboarder or being a vlogger or being a farmer. They have lived in comfort their whole life and their aspirations do not often lean in the direction that their parents did. That’s actually the price if your kids inherit your genetic drive to succeed and make money and their idea of success is to help homeless people. Yeah, they’re not going to make money like you. Depending on what the value differences are between parent and child. Where the values are aligned, then it’s just getting them to back off. When the values are not aligned, that’s where things can get tricky.