Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC, is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and a parent who has recently experienced the college audition process with her son. The intersection of Erin’s experiences as both a professional and a parent provide a unique voice in the world of college auditions, which is why we are thrilled to have her onboard as a guest blogger. Look for more of Erin’s thoughts over the coming weeks!
Teenagers are difficult. A musical theatre teenager is even more difficult. A musical theatre teenager who is going through the grueling, year-long process of trying to gain acceptance into a collegiate musical theatre program? Well they can be downright IMPOSSIBLE. As a licensed clinical psychotherapist who has helped many parents and teens successfully navigate their way through difficult circumstances, I’d like to offer some advice- if I may- to help you get through this turbulent and trying time. Since my son is now a college sophomore, thriving in an MT program 8 hours away (and still sometimes spontaneously Facetimes me and his father just to chat) I think I am even *more* qualified than a therapist to offer some wisdom and hope to those of you about to begin this wild ride. The likelihood is that your child will be away at college living their best life in the not-so-distant future … but getting there can be fraught with anxiety, worry, and frustration. It can be made easier, I think, with a few simple suggestions. Here are three:
#1 Manage Your Expectations
We all think OUR baby is thee most amazing kid we’ve ever seen grace the stage. And they ARE. To US. (And Grandma, too). But the truth is that your child will now be competing against the best of the best from all over the country for a very limited number of spots at a very limited number of schools. If you have fantasies of your child receiving a full-ride to the top rated school in the country, you’d best reset those expectations. The most important thing in this process is that your child ends up happy and moving forward in their life after high school- and that can look different for every kid. Take a deep breath and imagine your child choosing one of the following alternate paths (I’ve seen all of them happen): your child decides to take a gap year instead of auditioning; they decide last minute that they want to pursue a completely different area of study; they are accepted to a top school that offers no scholarship money and though you don’t want them graduating with $200,000 in student loan debt, they insist; your child doesn’t get an acceptance to any of their top ten schools; your child is offered the chance to be in the acting program of a school where they really wanted to be an MT major. This process is long and arduous and packed with emotional thrills and disappointments. You will experience some of the highest highs and crushing lows you can imagine. But keeping the end result in perspective: having a child who becomes a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult is a smart way to keep your expectations in check as your child’s story unfolds.
#2 Allow Your Child to Struggle
If I could get parents to do just one thing it would be to allow their child to be upset, disappointed, confused or embarrassed without fixing the situation for them. So often our kids run into trouble (logistically with school deadlines, or emotionally with feeling overwhelmed by life circumstances) and parents go into a low-key panic. Watching their child feel distress or worry is almost more than they can bear- so they quickly figure out a way to rescue them from having to experience any pain. It is a huge mistake because it creates multiple problems: kids who never develop coping skills to handle struggles in life and have next to zero resiliency, kids who subconsciously feel that they cannot successfully manage as a young adult on their own, and over-involved parents who are so wrapped up in paving the way for their child that they lose a sense of their own identity. Let them be upset. Offer to listen to their upset feelings, but don’t jump in to fix them. Those experiences are money in the emotional bank for their future success.
#3 Get Organized and Get Help
I remember so clearly realizing- after just a little research- that I did not have the skill set, energy, or desire to manage the multiple rounds of nationwide auditions for my son. I knew I wanted and needed help . I viewed this year-long process as a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and I knew as a business owner that I simply wouldn’t have the time or knowledge base to help him have his very best chance of success. We asked around, then interviewed a couple coaches to help us. It was the best decision we could have made. I often say that Mitchell’s coach saved his life more than once that year when I had absolutely had it with him. It was great to be able to focus on which songs he was choosing instead of logistical details like which school needed what paper on which app by what deadline. If you are organized and great at these types of ventures and have the time, then by all means, do it yourself. I know families who have been very successful with helping their students get through the process successfully. Regardless of whether or not you use the services of a coach, have a central location for all your information, and keep lists with deadlines of all the tasks you need to be working on. It pays to put time into creating a space in your home for all the paperwork, finances, brochures and music you’ll need to be reviewing.
In the end,
this is the last bit of time you’ll be spending with that amazing kid of yours before they move off to college. Try and enjoy the process rather than spending all your time focused on the end goal. The best piece of advice I got was from my son’s coach Tim Evanicki who told me to trust the process. He reminded me repeatedly that Mitchell would one day be at the perfect school for him regardless of what was happening during the audition year. So I slowed down enough to watch him prepare his wild card video, and work on choreography, and delight in a new audition song. So often during that year I couldn’t imagine how we would figure out which school was perfect for him, and yet, like everyone else, somehow in the end we did! It happens. And it will happen for you, too. And then off they go. So try and enjoy it. I hope you will allow me to do what us MT parents do so well, and quote a musical to wrap up our time together. You might know this one, from Bring It On…