Look ahead to look back

Last week, my wife and I had to put our dog, Lola, down, the first pet I’d ever owned. And like fellow and past dog owners can attest to their dogs doing, she’d become a part of our family.

This won’t be a post about my dog, or death. In fact, in college admissions circles, “pet death” is one of those essays that’s so common it’s become an ineffective cliché.

But one part of dog ownership that I got right was that every night before I’d head upstairs to bed, I’d give Lola a quick scratch behind the ears and say, “Goodnight, sweet puppy.” Maybe it was maudlin to think this way, but no matter how tired I was or how strong the call of the comfy bed was proving to be, I’d remind myself that Lola wasn’t going to live in our house forever. I didn’t want to look back on her time here wishing I’d focused a little more on just how great it was to have her around. I made the decision once that I was going to end each night on a good Lola note. And I’m glad I did.

Parents of high school kids have so many wonderful things to look forward to as their kids move on from the teenage years. Watching them grow into adults, forge their lives, start their own families–that’s the good stuff. The relationship you’ll enjoy, the joy you’ll find in watching all of it happen, unlike Lola ending her run in our house last week, even when they’re no longer in the house to say goodnight to–all the best parts are still to come for you.

But there are still a limited number of days that your kid will be a full-time resident in your house. No matter how far in the future it may be, their departure date will eventually arrive.

How do you want to say you spent that limited time until then?

My guess is that when you look back, you won’t wish you’d spent more time talking about SAT scores, or arguing about homework, or fixating on perceived weaknesses to be fixed before it’s time for college applications.

I always try to remind Collegewise families that they’re only going to get to do this (watch their kid apply to college) once. Don’t ruin it by injecting all kinds of unnecessary stress or attaching lifelong significance to temporary outcomes like grades, test scores, or an admissions decision from a dream college. Sure, treat their future education with the attention it deserves. But find a way to see it for the exciting time it is, and to appreciate the joy in watching your student find their place for the next four years.

Your perspective changes when you remember that what’s happening right now, both good and stressful, won’t be happening forever. Look ahead to how you want to look back. And make the decision to make the most of this time.

We miss you, Lo. Goodnight, sweet puppy.