A very sticky, tricky, situation

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: A very sticky, tricky, situation
By Windersea (Windersea) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:51 am: Edit

Am hoping that someone else has dealth with this situation and come up with some creative problem solving. My eldest D was a brillant student, accepted at an Ivy, and was completely self motiviated. She was, and is, a natural leader, and basically dominated any area that interested her. Her younger sister (by 15 months) is a good student, but, not great. She is naturally shy and tends to be a follower. Even worse, she is a horrible test taker. She is quite upset about everything and I need help with how to handle all of this. At this point, it looks like she may be going to a community college - which will devestate her self-esteem even more. Incidentally, she's a really sweet kid - just not a book genius. Thank you for any advice. I'm stumped on how to proceed.

By Alexandre (Alexandre) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:40 am: Edit

I only hope that the eldest is not better looking too! But seriously, as long as you (the parents) do not praise the eldest too often and do not try to compare the two, I think the young one will be ok. But I don't understand why the younger one, if she is a "good student", should go to community college. There are many respected universities that will accept a good student. What are her credentials like? GPA, class rank, types of classes, ECs etc...?

One more point. I do not know your daughters, but there is a difference between being a follower and being a neutral. Many neutrals emerge as leaders as they get older. It is a common OB principle. Most young people who exhibit extreme drive and leadership when they are young tend to collapse when the time comes for them to take the reigns.

In short, your younger D may simply be a late bloomer. Just be supportive, do not push her too hard (she will think you are trying to turn her into a close of her older sister) and guide her from a distance.

By Sybbie719 (Sybbie719) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 08:21 am: Edit

It can be very hard for a younger sibling to live in the shadow of their successful older sibling. Take the time with your Daughter ask her what she is truly interested in and help her to find her niche.

You state that she is a horrible test taker, and it looks as if she ill be going to community college.

First of all, if she wants to go to community college for whatever the reason, support her choice to do so and let her know that it really is no reflection on the person she is on the inside (that s what really matters) and that many routes will take you to the same destination.

If she doesn't want to go to community college, don't count her out as there are literally thousands of schools in this country and she will find more than a few which will give her what she needs. I would suggest that you look into books such as Beyond the Ivy League, and Colleges that Change lives.

In addition, you can check out the following link at Fairtest.org, for schools that deemphasize testing in the admission process and there are many schools that are SAT optionals.


Like Alex statee, maybe she is a late bloomer, when she get to a place that she can truly call her own where her light can shine, she will surely blossom.

All the best

By Frazzled_One (Frazzled_One) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 08:30 am: Edit

"She is quite upset about everything and I need help with how to handle all of this."

By "everything," do you mean the college admissions process, or is it dealing with her sister? It can be really tough having an older sib who sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

If you're primarily concerned about college, you still have time to help your younger daughter find a school where she'll be happy and can come into her own. It's a great opportunity for you to show her (as I'm sure you've done many times before) that you value her individual strengths.

If she's a B student, you can find many 4-year colleges that will happily admit her. After having overseen one through the super-elite search, it's understandable to feel discouraged. But if you ignore the US News top tier or two, you'll find that being a poor test taker isn't an impediment to admission at many, many colleges.

If you post again with areas of interest, geographic limitations, and more specific stats, I'm sure the well-informed folks on this board will help you come up with a list.

By Thumper1 (Thumper1) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:34 am: Edit

My DD is very different than DS. The types of schools she is looking at are not at all what her brother sought (he is majoring in music...his college search process was VERY easy compared to hers). We just can't compare their searches, needs, schools, criteria for choices and subsequently their decisions. DD often speaks of her brother's search and we have to remind her that hers is not the same....and it shouldn't be. I know you are already doing this...but focus on your younger daughter's interests and needs. She needs to find a place where she will be able to take courses that are of interest to HER and will move her forward in some way. Also, just curious...why would she not be able to attend a four year school? Even in this "high powered" state, there are four year colleges (both public and private) where students with more modest scores can study and thrive.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 10:13 am: Edit

Google "Colleges that Change Lives" - that is a good place to start, these schools are supportive and have a range of selectivies, with the emphasis on support. "Colleges that Build Character" by the ?Thompson Foundation is another list of very supportive colleges (not that she needs character building, these are schools, some with religious tones, some not, that are very supportive to average kids). Finally, while looking for safeties, we found a book of Good COlleges for the Average person, something like that, that had a detailed list of schools of various sizes with SAT ranges much closer to what is truly average in this country - what I particularly liked about this book was it emphasized the graduation rate of these schools and the % of kids living on campus, 2 stats that the author felt important in identifying a school with stronger academics, and serious, though regular students. Maybe someone else knows this book, and can give us the author?- Good luck

By Pattykk (Pattykk) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 10:55 am: Edit

This post reminded me of a dear friend from high school. Her older sister "sucked all the oxygen" from the room too. She was pretty, a brilliant mathematician, and married a doctor. Her parents were totally enthralled with her, which is often the case with a first born. My friend was a gentle person with a tremendous talent for fashion design. She made many dresses for friends, although she never went to the dances.I always thought of her as a Cinderella. Her parents did not openly compare her to her sister or put her down, but I think she picked up on the fact that they found their first born so enthralling and that they felt her fashion design was inferior to the math. I always wanted to find a way to help her boost her self-confidence. She had so much talent and so many good qualities. I think it is good to focus on the things that make each child special and to guide them towards the schooling that will help them develop their strengths. I think it would be an excellent idea to pick up Loren Pope's books, Beyond the Ivy League, and Colleges That Change Lives. The schools he describes are not the only nurturing schools, but his books make a good starting point. It is good of you to look for ways to help your daughter realize her potential. This is not a bad situation, just an opportunity to be creative and supportive.It is no disgrace that she is not a fit for the Ivies. Good luck in your search!

By Ndbisme5 (Ndbisme5) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:26 pm: Edit

Maybe have the older sister help her out a little?

By Mstee (Mstee) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:33 pm: Edit

Like the others, curious as to why you think she is "headed to community college." I don't think community college is a bad idea, and even know one girl who dropped out of a UC (hated it) and is now attending community college which she says is way better. But there are many good four year schools that would be happy to enroll a good but not great student, so not sure why that isn't an option?

By Celebrian23 (Celebrian23) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:42 pm: Edit

Maybe I can give some personal experience. I know what it's like when you always feel second best, not becuase of anybody else, but just circumstances. I am the second of four children, and my older sister was everyone's favorite. Not becuase they don't like me, but she's the first born, and the world was enthralled with her. I always felt like I was running to catch up with her, but I never could. Now, academically I'm stornger than her, but she's a better athlete, artist and I felt suffocated by her presence very often. It's hard when the first born is getting all this attention, and you're being overshadowed. It's important to find your own way in the world, without comparing yourself to anybody else. I compared myself to my sister for too long, and now I see were different people, valuable in our own right. Hope that helps.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:00 pm: Edit

Celebrian, what a great post. Kudos to you, sir.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:02 pm: Edit

Ditto what TheDad said, except that I know Celebrian is female

By Tabby (Tabby) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:50 pm: Edit

Pattyk, what became of your friend???????????????

By Pattykk (Pattykk) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:57 pm: Edit

She went to a small teaching college in Virginia and became a home economics teacher (I think they call it life skills now). The last time I heard from her she was single and enjoying teaching. She was a doting aunt to her older sister's child.

By Cheers (Cheers) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:43 pm: Edit

I too had a brilliant, nearly perfect brother--only he was a middle child. He was the kind of child who would wake up each morning and ask my mother if there was anything he could do to help. On top of his natural leadership and academic brilliance, he had a genuine angelic heart. Still does.

It was like growing up with a Sun God. The rest of us couldn't possibly live up to his standard. He was the parent's and the neighbor's and the school's favorite, slam dunk.

Being JC has it's downsides, however. So much praise so early on distorted his adult perspective.

Even he couldn't maintain that perfectionism. He's struggling to cope with middle age--more so than the rest of us--because we accepted imperfection and shades of grey from the get go?

Hard to know. He's no longer the paren'ts favorite, partly because his parenting skills are weak, another by-product of his surreal existence. They worry about him constantly.

You've gotten great advice about seeking a college that will be a good fit for your younger daughter. Community college can be such a minefield, I hope you accept the advice and find her a college experience that will thrill her.

I think there is a college out there for her, one that is well worth the investment.

By Alongfortheride (Alongfortheride) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:41 pm: Edit

Windersea, I agree with everyone else that thinks there are lots of schools out there for your daughter. Community college is fine if that's what she wants, but there are so many schools out there that take students with average SAT scores, which if I'm not mistaken which are around a 1030.

I'm willing to bet that your introverted daughter just hasn't found her niche yet. She may be very creative and sometimes, creative people learn differently because they see things so differently. I have a 10 foot tall soap box I tend to pull out and climb on from time to time. Yes, there are differences in IQ, but I believe that often the difference is not as pronounced as standardized testing would have us believe. What the real difference is is the way people learn. How can you effectively measure people using the same academic yardstick when they learn so differently? I think the suggestion that Cangel gave about "College that Change Lives" and the other reading are excellent suggestions. The right kind of atmosphere for her to bloom may not be present at her high school, but may exist at just such a school.

I think my daughter may be one of those students that would benefit from such a school as well. Big brother was all academics and racked up the academic honors. He is attending a school with extreme academics and loves it, but I don't know if such a school is for her. She tests fairly well. Her last two Iowa's were in the 98th and 96th percentiles. Her grades, however, are probably in the top quartile of her class. She is a creative kid who tends to daydream and is somewhat of a challenge to keep focused. She is accomplished on the clarinet, took dance for years, and is currently the only freshman on the rifle and sabre line in her HS band's colorguard. She is extremely social and never really meets a stranger and is probably the most loving, compassionate person I have ever known. My point here being that she has her talents, they're just very different from my son's. There's got to be a school that can make the most of her strong points. I will be purchasing a copy of "Colleges that Change Lives" and start rethinking the college process with her.

By Digmedia (Digmedia) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:50 pm: Edit

You don't need a 1030 or higher, or even be a B student. A close relative of mine was about a C- student and went to a college where she had a great college experience. This board is so focused on the off-the-scale student that it seems like the other end of the spectrum won't get in anywhere. But there are lots of schools that would give a great college environment and be good for her.

If you are a US News person, take their list online and sort it by SAT scores (click on the column header). Just scroll down to where your daughter would fit right in an look at those schools.

By Digmedia (Digmedia) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:52 pm: Edit

One more thing - once the oldest is away at school, I think the situation will get better.

By Twotimer (Twotimer) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 06:00 pm: Edit

Windersa, as a parent, I empathize with your desire as a parent to help your daughter feel better, regardless of where she goes. As a psychologist who works with adolescents, I'd like to suggest that you and your daughter consider some counseling sessions. A great many kids as they are approaching leaving home, go through a difficult time for a wide variety of reasons. Because they are in the process of separating, it is often hard for them and not necessarily helpful to try to talk things out with their parents. It can be extremely helpful to have a neutral person help them gain some perspective, understand themselves better and get a handle on what they want to do. I strongly believe that some preventive steps at this point goes a long way to making the transition a much smoother one.

By Thumper1 (Thumper1) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 06:09 pm: Edit

Windersea, another option you may want to consider is an independent guidance counselor to guide your younger daughter through the college admissions process. It will cost some money, but this person will be someone who NEVER knew her older sister, and will give her advice based on her needs, stats, interests, etc. We are considering this just because our DD will more likely take the advice of an "impartial party". Also these independent counselors are in the business of finding the right school for the kids so they WILL get accepted. They do interest surveys and many other info getting things to help make a match. Just a thought.

By Helicoptermom (Helicoptermom) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 07:11 pm: Edit

I sympathize with both you and your daughter, especially since the situation reminds me of the one in my house (though there's more of an age difference here). My older daughter, who was always at the top of her class in school and had a lot of high-profile activities, has just started at an Ivy, while her sister, four years younger, has struggled with academics and is much lower key and less competitive. I've always felt her sister was a tough act to follow and have worried about her self-esteem.

My current thinking is that it's too soon to tell how things will ultimately turn out. I come from a family that's pretty obsessed with academics, and I keep remembering my cousins, where the obvious "problem child" was the girl who was a cheerleader and never worried all that much about school. Now that my cousins are grown up, that problem child is well adjusted and successful--with a great job, a good marriage, and three kids--while her brother, a brilliant computer scientist and musician, has a decent career but has struggled with depression and has never had a lasting relationship.

Like other posters here, I'm wondering what's upsetting your younger daughter most--the test-taking, the prospect of community college, the sense that she's not as successful as her sister? It seems important to try to pinpoint the problem, and I think others have sugested some good ideas about ways to help. I'm also wondering if your older daughter has left home at this point. I'm finding my younger daughter seems to be blossoming in her sister's absence, and has in fact just been elected president of her class at school.

I think all we can do is try to recognize our kids' individual strengths, and keep remembering that life is long. (There's an interesting new TV show, "Jack and Bobby," about two brothers--not Kennedys--one of whom will grow up to be president, and it isn't the one who's an obvious superstar in high school.)

I know it's hard, though; sometimes it seems as if we're impossibly torn, and every time we celebrate our older daughter's triumphs, we're sticking a knife in our younger child. But the extra attention she's likely to get as the older child moves away may help your younger girl find her place in the world.

Good luck.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 08:42 pm: Edit

We had not returned the book to the library:
"Finding the College That's Right for You" by John Palladino. It has a long list of schools, only about 10-12 of which are in some of the other books.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:13 pm: Edit

I think the Jack and Bobby situation bears out the comment of my wise mother-in-law, who taught HS math for 15 years.."The C student will hire the A student."

A friend was in a situation like yours 2 years ago- but more complex in that the sisters were fraternal twins. Not only was one twin the stronger student, but the girls did mostly the same activities and sports and the more academic twin was the more successful there as well. The less academic of the two girls was perceived as more attractive, Alexandre will be happy to note!!

Now that the girls are in college, the previously less successful twin has really blossomed. She has been agressive in school about work and internship opportunities. The other sister, no longer top of the heap, has had readjusting to do, but has also been fine.

I think it is important to dwell on the attributes and interests and strengths of this child and be as enthusiastic and aggressive about this college search as you might have been with your other child who was looking for Ivy. The books mentioned are a great place to start.

I would acknowledge to your daughter the reality she has lived with, tell her how great you think it is that she no longer has to be in her sister's shadow, and help her to see that college is a place that will be filled with people who don't even know that her sister exists! Ask her how she wants to be seen by the new people she will meet in college, and try to help her find the place where that will be a reality.

I also would second Thumper1's idea of using a private counselor- especially if you cannot in your heart of hearts get past feeling sorry for this child. I am completely sympathetic with the sentiment, but I also think it will not serve you or your daughter well in the search..

By Coureur (Coureur) on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 10:48 pm: Edit


>>Ditto what TheDad said, except that I know Celebrian is female<<

Yes, fans of Tolkien will recognize that Celebrian in a feminine name. Celebrian was a minor character who is referred to but never actually appears, having already sailed away to the Elf homeland. She was Galadriel's daughter, Elrond's wife, and Arwen's mother.

By Celebrian23 (Celebrian23) on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 07:37 pm: Edit

I'm glad someone else is informed about my favorite book/movie

On your situation, I think it's important for your daughter to become involved in activities the older one wasn't in. I know for me it helped me to find my own identity. If your oldest was on student council, maybe your other daughter could dance, if there not in the same activities, you won't compare, like you might accidently be doing otherwise.

By Hayden (Hayden) on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 08:06 pm: Edit

If your daughter is somewhat overwhelmed by the level of other students she's run into, including her own sister (and probably all her sister's friends, too), I agree with previous posters that you could investigate one the other 4-year schools in the less competitive tiers.

You could encourage her to go to the campuses, sit in on a couple of classes, even do one of those stay-overs with a student. She may perk up when she's around other students that are not Ivy league, and she hopefully might realize that college isn't all about test taking, and that she could fit in well at a solid 3rd or 4th tier school with residential students who share her interests and academic abilities. Then she could perhaps let the sweetness of her nature really shine.

Best of luck to you and both your kids

By Thedad (Thedad) on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 10:46 pm: Edit

Celebrian/Coureur/Marite: I'm actually a fairly big Tolkien fan but I missed it. I guess I need an...

...wait for it...

...elf-help book.

By Windersea (Windersea) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:57 am: Edit

Thanks to everyone for taking the time and trouble to answer my post. I will definitely get copies of the books you recommended. One of the painful additional problems we face is a lack of funds. Her father is disabled and we live on an extremely limited income. Many of the colleges which would probably be a good fit for her are off limits because of financial considerations. We have always tried to do our best for our children and, God willing, shall continue. Thanks again for everything.

By Achat (Achat) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 08:25 am: Edit

I have a friend who has 2 sons, just 11 months apart. One is my son's age and is the slacker. The other one is like Cheers's brother, can't go wrong. He was the type who got 1600 SATs at age 13. I love my friend dearly but I can see that the parents haven't helped the situation either. Is it possible to "train" to be a parent?

Anyway, the older kid is now in Colgate and away from the situation. The younger one with the 1600 SAT and 1st in class is gearing up to go to Harvard or Princeton. I think this is the chance for the older one to get out of his brother's shadow now that he is far away from the family.

Just my 2 cents...

By Ohio_Mom (Ohio_Mom) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 12:29 pm: Edit

Another word about community colleges ... there are some very good ones out there. Some offer work-study programs that actually get their students into career situtations more effectively than a lot of the 4-years. For example, Lakeland Community College in the Cleveland area is very good. A lot of kids take this route to save money - even if they were admitted to a 4 year institution.

By Dadofsam (Dadofsam) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:33 pm: Edit


1. If you haven't had enough reading recommendations, or even if you have had enough, let me add one more - the book Harvard Schmarvard by Jay Matthews, education columnist for the Washington Post. Similar to the Pope books and with some of the same recommendations, but written in a style that you can read with your D and chuckle (humor is always helpful in these situations).

2. I can relate to this situation from the opposite perspective. I am the oldest child in our family and was always the model student type (even when I wasn't such a model student), and went to the academic university. My younger sister went to the state college, and over the years is a far more accomplished person in terms of what she has done than I have been, or am likely to be.

She used to be envious of me, mad at me, and admire me. Now I admire her. She deserves it. Same thing may happen with your Ds. Let them develop and watch. Each of us has his/her own path.

By Sgiovinc (Sgiovinc) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 02:00 pm: Edit

I always find it amusing that Jay Mathews author of HArvard Schmarvard went to "Harvard" and might not be where he is today if he didn't.!! My son was interviewed by him as well when Mr. Mathews lived in Scarsdale...not too shabby.

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 04:17 pm: Edit

My kids were all over the board in ability levels and skills and talents. Right now I have 3 little boys in school that are very diverse with the 11 year old very bright with very high test scores, and athletic to boot, and very handome in a traditional sense and the 10 year old, not so quick, stutters, not athletic, and awkward looking. But the younger boy is so comfortable in his skin, and loves his life so much. Have never detected a glimmer of jealousy or animosity with brother--just sibling bicker. And he follows two others who finished at this school as top students and very high profile kids. He has several very good friend and has a wonderful life with them, and has some great interests that we encourage. Behaviourally, he has been the easiest boy.

Sometimes being happy with the child as he is and just focusing on the issues where he truly needs to improve (sloppiness, diction , posture, behaviour,etc) without comparisions is the best way to go. Internal peace is a characteristic of the child, however, as well as an environmental trait. S1 who has often been described as the kid with everything has been the one who harbors the most jealousies and self esteem issues--all in his own mind, I assure you. The 10 year old is just wired with a peace about himself and looking for the silver linings in life. His older brother is often envious of thing that he gets--trips to a summer cabin with a best friend, more sleepovers than the other one gets, the dog walking jobs he does since he does not have as heavy of an after school schedule. There are many different venues to take that are not comparative to a sibling's. I would not over-reassure, as that in itself is a reference to comparison. It sohould be a non issue unless the child brings it up and then should be dealt with very neutrally with the conversation veering to what this child wants to do.

As for colleges, there are many choices these days. What kind of stats are you talking about? Many kids who were so unimpressed with my nephew looking at Widener, Rider, Fairleigh Dickenson, are now humbled as they call him Dr., ten years later. Who would have ever guessed. Many went to top level, even Ivy schools and are not particularly happily employed or making any kind of money at any type of job that gives bragging rights. And for nephew those schools were a step up from 2 years of community colleges.

And is the eldest now at an ivy? What kind of financial aid is she getting? With two in college, by picking the second school carefully, you can get substancial aid. If you can give us some more info, we may be able to give you some suggestions about schools where your second child could expect some aid, particularly if the first one is getting financial aid.

By Chavi (Chavi) on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 05:17 pm: Edit

I remember reading a study some years ago about kid's "placement" in the family. The absolute toughest position by far is to be the younger of two girls in a row, especially when so close in age. Boys seem to cope a little better, but girls don't deal well with it, especially when the older one seems to have all the talent.

Make sure you don't exacerbate the situation. You obviously seem very proud of your older daughter, and with good reason. But take a serious look at the value system you display to your children. Try to put more emphasis on being a "good" person, a kind, loving person. Less emphasis on competition in grades and accomplishments.

The best way to help your daughter not feel too sorry for herself is to encourage her to use her talents to help others. Help her establish a good relationship with God, and help her realize he created her with her own special purpose in life. Help her realize that her sister's life may not bo so hunky dorie as she imagines. She has to work very hard to stay on top and maintain the reputation she has built for herself. Your younger daughter has more freedom to be herself, because your oldest has taken on a lot of responsibility. Much will be expected of her with her Ivy league education and proven abilities. She will always be expected to be the "best" at whatever she does.

Your youngest can follow her heart. If she doesn't have any particular dreams as to career goals, there is certainly much to value in making people and relationships central to her life. I especially like the following paraphrased quote from Mother Teresa: "God does not call us to do great things, but to do small things with great love."

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