Podcast: Holly Schreiber: Watershed Parent Coaching

In today’s episode, I sit down with my dear friend and colleague, Holly Schreiber, from Watershed Parent Coaching. Together, we delve into strategies for reducing stress during the college application journey—for both your child and yourself! Tune in for practical tips and heartfelt insights that will transform your parenting approach and help your family thrive during this pivotal life stage.

TRANSCRIPT

Holly Schreiber: 

It was a many parents were confused, they were grappling with really conflicting messages about how much they should be doing, should they be doing less than trusting their kid more. But that didn’t feel quite right didn’t make them feel like they were being a good parent compared to other people who are all in and doing all of this work. So this really prompted me to want to work more closely with parents, as their children are becoming adults. And to understand what the challenges are in that process, and really help them through it. That journey is going to look different for different parents and for different students. But I’m really confident that being reflective, being open and honest and being open to improvement are really fundamental to helping your kid successfully launch.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hello, and welcome back to the podcast, everybody, it is somehow already May. And if your head is spinning about that you’re not the only one. Today, I am happy to welcome back Holly. To the podcast. Holly is a colleague of mine here at Signal education. Old friend of mine, we were in grad school together, I asked her to come back to the podcast to talk to us about the parent coaching work that she has started doing. And parent coaching sits in this kind of in between space between, let me help you solve your problems. And let me help you reflect on why these things are problems in the first place. And Holly is really uniquely positioned because of her expertise in guiding students through the college admissions process. She can help parents when their anxiety is taking over. And it’s it’s causing tension in the relationship, it’s maybe getting in the way of their student actually getting things done that they need to get done. Because she can really answer the parents questions about what matters, what’s the strategy, you know, all these sort of tactical things. But even more than that she’s trained as a coach, and knows how to help people clarify their goals, clarify their roles, simplify communication, set up meeting rhythms, so that there is a container for all of this activity and anxiety and questions. And she just has, you know, an amazing temperament for it and so much compassion for people you’ll hear when we’re talking. So I was really excited to have her back in, especially right around this time of year as seniors have just committed or about to commit to where they’re going to college. All the underclass parents, and all the underclassmen are watching this process unfold and starting to get really worried about what it’s going to be like for them, right. I know my juniors are kicking it into high gear, thinking about all of this stuff. But even sophomores may be starting to think about this and starting to put a plan in place for standardized testing. And in that way, really embarking on the college process in in a different way than they’ve already been thinking about it. So this can be a great time to think about what are your goals? And what’s your role as a parent? How does that have to change as your child grows in their independence and you know, their own kind of autonomy. So let’s take a listen to Holly, and I’ll see you on the other side. Holly, thanks so much for coming back to the podcast.

Holly Schreiber: 

Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Of course, I’m really excited to talk about this area that you’re moving into, because I think it is so needed. And just not to keep everybody in suspense. Holly, in addition to doing her amazing work as a admissions consultant, a graduate admissions assaulted a executive function coach, and a test prep tutor. And sometimes the subject tutor is also taking on some parent coaching work and moving in that direction. And I’m wondering if we can kind of pick up from where we left off at the last podcast, and talk about how you saw this as a real need and a place where you could help people. Tell us about that?

Holly Schreiber: 

Well, I believe where we left off at the last podcast was a bit about my career journey and finding a lot of success and satisfaction and working one on one with students as they really embark upon their adult academic journey. I think when working with teens, I saw them really start making these major life decisions and understanding their own minds and how they work and where they’re going to thrive. It was just so exciting and looking sort of they can tell Extra realized what I’d already known about. And what I saw when I was a college professor, that these kinds of qualities of knowing yourself reflecting deeply having this deep internal motivation, and knowing how to ask, help and seek out mentors, well, these things really set people up to succeed in college. And what I was seeing in my work with Cigna, and in high school, and particularly through the application process was that students were, were learning how to do this through this really difficult and daunting process, that this was in many ways a training ground to help teach them the skills that they would need in adulthood. So the other thing I often noticed was that parents didn’t always know what their role should be in this process, we had a lot to say about how we were helping students, you know, what relationships would help them thrive, you know, as a mentor, what you know, what I can help guide them through. But I didn’t feel like I had a strong philosophy on what, what the parent is doing, this student spending so much more time interacting with their parents as one of the most important relationships in their life. And it felt like there just wasn’t that much guidance. And I felt that parents felt that too. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know, it was that many parents were confused, they were grappling with really conflicting messages about how much they should be doing, should they be doing less than trusting their kid more, but that didn’t feel quite right didn’t make them feel like they were being a good parent, compared to other people who are all in and doing all of this work. So this really prompted me to want to work more closely with parents, as their children are becoming adults. And to understand what the challenges are in that process, and really help them through it. That journey is gonna look different for different parents and for different students. But I’m really confident that being reflective, being open and honest, and being open to improvement are really fundamental to helping your kids successfully launch.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, I love that so much when you’re describing that confusion that parents felt that you noticed. I mean, that’s very familiar to me, having worked with so many different families. And I think that confusion doesn’t always show up as confusion. I think if a parent comes to us and say, I’m confused about what I should be doing here, I think that’s a very self aware parent. I think a lot of people are like, I don’t know, fearful of letting go of control. They’re overly anxious about every step of the process and making sure we’re doing the most possible strategic thing. There. Of course, worried about the results. This may come out, as, you know, nagging a student or being overly How do I say this nicely, being overly overly curious about every little thing that they’re doing and writing in a way that is not always helpful to the student, nobody likes feeling like someone is looking over their shoulder at every moment. You know, micromanaging, a lot of comparing a lot of shame, a lot of maybe infighting between two parents, because they have a different approach to how they’re going to deal with this confusion. So I think, you know, you hit it right on the head that that that is sort of a root cause of a lot of the stress we see coming up in the family around college admissions. And what you were saying also made me think of another thing, when we think about students who might have a learning difference, or executive function challenges, they often get accommodations in school around extra time, or they get the a copy of the teacher’s notes or something just to help them accommodate the way their mind works differently. But a lot of people don’t also think about what kind of accommodations need to be in the home, where the student spends the rest of their time, because of their neurodiversity. And I feel like there’s something similar to that here with, you know, college coaching for a student, but parent coaching for a parent, you and I can only do so much. And we were spending maybe an hour a week with our students over the course of the the application cycle. The other however many hours in the week that are happening, they are in their school and hearing messages from peers and other people, even the media, and then they’re in their home and hearing other kinds of messages and getting messages that tell them other things are the priority besides, you know, the thing that we’ve helped them identify as, as their current priorities. So I think bringing the whole family into the conversation, maybe it’s a separate conversation, but But bringing them into the process, I think is a really, really important piece of moving through this with as little stress as possible. partially on those family relationships?

Holly Schreiber: 

Yes, I think that that’s an amazing point. And I like to think of it in some ways as a, you know, an ecosystem. So the student is getting information and ideas from all sorts of places, some of it is direct, people will tell them do this or do that. And some of it is indirect, you know, just assumptions and attitudes people may have around college that they soak up. And, as a consultant, we’re about one little piece of this, that you know, this ecosystem, and we might be a very influential one and a calming influence, and you know, sort of a stabilizing influence in that. But ultimately, a student is gonna see the best results, if other parts of the ecosystem are on the same page, I’d say, you know, are have a similar philosophy. And I would say that parents are the number one influencer of a student’s ecosystem, because they, you know, they set the tone for the home, and the home environment that a student is coming from, right, it’s always, you know, a place of grounding, that they can get perspective. But also parents influence all the other types of, I’d say like factors that may affect a student’s attitude towards college admissions. So I really think as well as like moving beyond what a consultant can do, or, you know, a great college counselor, or, you know, one really amazing mentor, when you start bringing parents into this, like broader picture of all the things that the admissions process can do in all of its positive elements, you’re actually going to create a lot more substantial change a lot more quickly, than if it’s just confined to a single relationship.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s so that’s so insightful. And when parents are embarking on this process, as you sort of mentioned already, a lot of times they’re like, either I have to run it, I have to drive this process, or I have to get completely out of it. Where do you actually think they should fall in the process? What what is their role?

Holly Schreiber: 

I would say it’s somewhere in between, that it does not have to be an either or thing. Often, I feel like it seems easier to make a decision to say I’m going to be all in, I know everything, or I’m going to kind of manage my stress, but it’s not, you know, being in this and being involved. But I think one thing you can do is is ask them, you know, how can I help you? What is most supportive of you right now? And what can I do? That when it shows a lot of trust, that the student knows what’s going to be beneficial for them? And they might not know. And if they say that, then it’s an opening for a conversation about hey, you know, when when do you perform best when you’re reflecting or writing essays? Who do you feel like talking to you about these ideas, you know, kind of really being there to listen to what they need, rather than come in with what you think they need. And I think the more students get used to that is, is realizing that they’re the expert on their own learning, on their own motivation. And they’re the leaders in this process, the more invested they’re going to be, and ultimately, the more trustworthy they’re going to be. You have to feel that someone trust you honestly, to become trustworthy. And you know, this is a self enriching cycle. And I think it’s when when parents show that, like, they’ll ask a question that they don’t know the answer to, like what, you know, without being like, I think you should write your college essay on this topic. It’s the most interesting thing you do, period. What, what do you want the college admissions committee to know about you, you know, start asking questions you don’t know the answer to. And that’s a way of finding that middle ground and giving up that little bit of power and knowledge that you might be holding on to.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and what strikes me is that as much as this is a growth process for the student, this is also a growth process for the parent. And I mean, I know you’re also a parent, and we are always learning something new about parenting. What right when we think we got it figured out, they go and change on us. Or we’re embarking on a new process that is like, oh, boy, I really know nothing. So you know, our kids are triggers for a lot of things, let’s be honest with him triggers for our own growth, as well, especially in this process. Because as the student is preparing to embark on their newly independent life, and they may have been seeking more and more independence over their years of high school, but they’re about to leave the house and go off and live on their own and really be in charge of themselves for the first time for most students. Parents are growing into a phase of no longer having to do everything for their kid telling their kid exactly how to spend their time or or even driving them to their various activities, kids are driving themselves. And parents are preparing for their kid to leave the house and for their relationship to really change. And there’s another coaching group that I often talk to you about this and they’ve got this whole model of the parent has to go from, like a coordinator and a director to a champion, and a supporter. And that’s a really hard shift. I think that just number one, parents were always just completely exhausted. And the thought of having to learn to do something new was like a really one more thing I can’t possibly. But also, when you’ve spent, you know, 1415 years being the director and the coordinator, it’s going to take a while for you to unlearn that, and to learn how to do something new. So what are the ways that parents can get started with that?

Holly Schreiber: 

That’s a great question. I think one of the first, the first thing that came into my head was a whole heap of, of self compassion and compassion towards the kid, because you are learning a new role, you know, you may still have the same values, you may still, like, so much of your relationship is still there, and it’s still strong. And what what comes will come out of that, it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. But as you learn these new things, it may be a little messy, you may mess up. Same with your your team as they are moving into becoming an adulthood, it may be that you have to embrace a little more mediocrity than than you’re used to, when you’re handing the reins over to someone who’s taking charge for the first time. And I think that, understanding that, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, and it doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong. It means that you’re learning. And I know that especially for our high performing parents, and for students that are high performing, that can be something that’s really deeply uncomfortable, and can feel like if like, This isn’t me, I don’t, I don’t get a B or I don’t miss a deadline, I don’t these these things just don’t happen. But I think really knowing that it’s like the scope of a transition, you’re going toward, like going through together, that you may see some of these, these bumps and to, the more work you do to avoid that. And always stay in a state of high performance or perfection, is really going to stunt the transition, and keep you from fully realizing what this the possibilities of this new relationship. So I would say don’t be afraid to let some things fall apart, they’ll be put back together in in a way that reflects your values and the things you care about, right, you’re still listening people, it’s just going to be a different construction.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s really great. It’s sort of like embrace the mess, it’s gonna be messy. And let’s just call it like it is. And it’s also a completely safe time for it to be messy. Your kids still at home, right? You know, tomorrow’s a new day, you can work to repair whatever it is that you made a mistake around, or they can rely on some safety nets, if they’re running their admissions process, and they miss, you know, asking for a recommendation by certain date, like, you know, we’ll work it out, right, no one’s gonna really abandon your kid and let them fail in this way. So it’s a great time to practice. And, you know, practice is a process of learning and nobody does anything right the first time. So I think that’s a really great first tip here. So as you coach parents on their new role, as their student is working on developing this sort of new role for themselves as well, what other major milestones can we kind of expect so messiness at the beginning, but But what happens, as you know, we start to get comfortable in our roles, and we move through the process, and then we’re eventually getting getting ready for our kids to watch.

Holly Schreiber: 

I think after the messiness, you may hit your stride a little, like an increased understanding of, oh, this is what they need for me right now. This is what they need right now is maybe, you know, time on their own to brainstorm to check in with other people, and then a weekly or bi weekly check in for me about, you know, just logistics at or chance to chat. Whatever format it takes, it’s like, you know, you may be getting in a groove and you may feel good. And then often there’s like some introduction of kind of an outside idea or an event that precipitates a little panic. And I think sometimes it’s, oh, I just talked with, you know, this family, their kid goes to, to dream school number one, they did X, Y, and Z. They were at this summer camp, their their captain of this team, I have to do that way where we have been messing up I need to course correct. A little bit of just this, like, the low makes you a little vulnerable to panic and comparison. And I think the important thing then is to know that that’s natural to feel that way. That admissions processes. It’s just right with a sense of comparison and competition, and as much as we want to double down and resist that, it’s really hard. So I think what’s most helpful there is to, you know, if you really have laid out what your values are and what your goals are, in this process as a parent, so not just the goal you want to see your child achieve, which is, you know, get into this college, which will then lead to this career and all of those things. But really, as a parent, is your goal to foster independence, as they complete their applications is it to increase their confidence that they can do things like this, is it to see them take a risk that they normally wouldn’t be willing to take? It all depends on on your relationship and the student. But I really believe parents should have write down and reflect on a specific parenting goal or goals that are separate from admissions results, then you can return to your goals and say, just rushing to sign up for three different summer programs and pushing for another leadership position, or even creating a club so that my team can get a leadership position, fit my parenting goals right now. And that will help get you back on track and brush off some of these feelings that you can be really confident, you’re not going to be swayed by what other people are doing. And what other people say good parenting is, because you’ve already really deeply checked in and you know what being a good parent is in this process, because that’s that decision that you’ve made based on your values.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love that so much for so many reasons. And let me tell you all of them. First is, the idea of having your own definition of success is so central to what we do with teenagers, often the first time they’ve ever heard that they can have their own definition of success, like, oh, success is not just getting into Harvard, it’s not getting a 1600 on the LSAT, I can have my own version of that, that actually fits my values and my goals and my needs and my Personality. It’s revolutionary, right. But for a parent to also have their own goals, that parallels a process that a student would be having a student wanting to stay grounded in their goals and their sense of identity, for a parent to have a parallel process, I think is just brilliant, because it works, number one and number two, because they can then hold each other accountable to those values into those goals. Right. And I mean, it may be hard parents who you’re listening to imagine the teenager being like, Oh, Mom, that’s really our Tiger values there. Why are you doing this? As you know, especially if your students working with us, that kind of language will actually become more common, because they’ll realize how valuable it is to have you know that that firm sense of identity. But that also brings me to the idea of accountability in general, right? And so if if you have a partner, then your partner can be your accountability partner for some of these goals. Maybe hopefully, you’ve discussed these goals together, and you can hold each other accountable to them. But where else can parents turn for that kind of support and accountability?

Holly Schreiber: 

Well, one parent coaching and a parent coach, I feel like that’s one of the the major benefits of that sort of relationship is that, you know, the goal is that a couple of the example goals I listed about what our parenting goals may feel a little wispy compared to college admissions results, which are clear, you know, if yes, no, or waitlist, and public and celebrated. And, you know, it’s easy to gravitate towards those types of goals. But when you’re crafting parenting goals that sometimes are a little more difficult to measure, we can work on creating standards for it. But often, it helps to have somebody that’s really tuned in to your progress there. And cheering you on, even if it feels like the rest of the world isn’t valuing what the path you’re on right now. Right? Like if you’re not overtly doing absolutely, as much as possible, being the best mom in the world, you still can be doing absolutely the right thing to be helping your your child become an adult, it just might not be rewarded in the same way socially. So what a parent coach could do is see that like see it and all its glory, what you’re doing, and how hard it is to be bucking some of these trends, to be sticking close to your values, and to be consistently working through a process that can be quite messy. So accountability is not only bringing up the goals, bringing up the values, all of that like keeping this continuity. It’s also celebrating because I think so much parents are the are doing so much. And sometimes it’s really easy not to notice that or to just take it for granted like Yeah, well that’s parenting but I also should be doing all these other things. Really powerful work that we can do. And the ways you can grow in your relationship have to do with actually understanding what you’re doing right first, not focusing on all the other things. But seeing where the potential for growth is there. And that involves a lot of honestly just celebrating things that are going really well. And it’s amazing how much that kind of work and that positive work can lead to major results, it can lead to problem solving, it’s not that we like turn away from problems and pretend they don’t exist. It’s really that, we know that if you only focus on the problem, you draw all that energy to that negative place, and you tie the knot even tighter, more often than not, right, you know, it’s like, if you’re bringing stress, too much attention, nagging, it, sometimes problems can get worse, and they can become chronic, or, you know, just so built up with emotion that it’s difficult to deal with. So in some ways, focusing on what’s going right, building that out, can help loosen up these knots and resolve these problems without a lot of that negative energy.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and just really, it’s very empowering, and can give you the confidence that you you can solve this problem because look how far you’ve come when you put your mind to this thing. You have been able to meet this goal and shift your role and be this, you know, calming stable presence for your, for your kid who is going through a lot, right? So the last thing I’ll ask you, I’ll let you get back to your very busy life is there are a lot of parent coaches out there. Right. And many of them focus on kids who are younger, right? Like I used a parent coach when we were sleep training. So you know, their parent coaches who work on resilience and behavioral challenges and parent coaches for differently abled kids and kids with neurodiversity, and all kinds of, you know, special blends special flavors, let’s say, of parent coaches. And your particular perspective, I think is really unique. Because you are a very successful admissions counselor who works with students, you’ve traversed this academic path, you’ve served on admissions committees, you have been a writing coach for, you know, as long as I’ve known you are longer, and so you know how to do all the things that their kid is struggling to do. And you can then provide a certain kind of perspective of how big is this problem? Really? What, you know, are you behind? Are you doing too little are you doing to what you can actually give them the answers to that, as well as hold space for them as a coach. So I just think that’s something really, really special and people should hear about, tell me how your work on on kind of that side of the admissions process influences how you work with parents in this process.

Holly Schreiber: 

Absolutely. I’ve learned in this admissions journey at Signet and elsewhere when I’ve been on graduate committees, is that often there’s just a lot of misinformation floating around myths, like assumptions, baggage that people carry into the admissions process that’s on the students part and the parents part. And I really think one of the more valuable things that I can do is be able to spot that and just, you know, be a bit of a mythbuster in a in a really informed way that I get, I get why you feel this way that you need to be loaded up with a bunch of extracurriculars, or that is the first sign of failure is like Doom to a competitive application or something like that. Many, many parents believe that, but like, they don’t want to introduce that idea, which I think is false, that these are not things that are that are serving the family, they’re not things that are serving the students application even. So what I love is that I can talk a parent through these ideas, and have them reflect on them with an authority and a confidence to say like, it is it is time to reconsider some of these ideas. If they’re not serving, you know, that they’re not necessarily grounded in in how the admissions process works. And that can be a huge help. And a process is so high stakes, and so full of such I feel like consistent assumptions about what actually how it works.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. misinformation, false sense of urgency literally about every part of this process. I think that’s such a valuable perspective that you can offer. Well, Holly, if people want to know more about your coaching process and how to get in touch with you, how can they

Holly Schreiber: 

They can visit my website at watershed parent coaching.com Or email me at Holly at Watership paired coaching.com I would love to hear from you. I mean, I’m always happy to take a free call to talk about whatever’s going on in your life and if our services would be a good match for you.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love it, I’ll make sure all those are linked in the show notes. And of course, you can always reach out to me and I will connect you to Holly too if you can’t remember that website or that email. Well, thanks, Holly. I’m sure we’ll have you back on again to talk about something else exciting soon.

Holly Schreiber: 

Thank you, Sheila. It was my pleasure.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, we’ll certainly have Holly back to talk about more of this stuff. You know, she she does a little bit of everything here at Sinet and I feel really lucky to to have someone that wise on our team. But as we head into the last month of school here, please do think about how your own limiting beliefs, your own fears, may be shaping your child’s college process in a way that maybe you don’t want it to. And I think it behooves all of us to reflect on that from time to time. And I’ll be back with more exciting episodes coming up. We’ve just recorded a bunch of them. So we will be talking about some academic wellness topics and topics for neurodiverse students. I have an exciting interview coming up on the future of work and the future of education. So I hope you’ll keep listening and we’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody.

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