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Life Isn’t Fair: The College Bribery Scandal

My mother used to tell me life isn’t fair. As a child, that was horrifying to me. Life should be fair. But by the time we are adults, we know that it isn’t. The college bribery scandal, which has pulled celebrities and CEOs into its vortex, isn’t fair. Less qualified, wealthy kids took places in universities they did not deserve. It’s cheating and gaming the system.

When I look at the entitled mess, I feel sorry for the kids involved. Their parents have taken something very important away from them, even as they handed them the world. They took away their ability to face disappointment.

I’m a mama bear and I would do anything for my kids. I’ll drive to two different stores to find the right kind of Thai noodles for my son’s favorite dinner. Once I suffered through a musically challenged boy band concert with shrieking girls all around me.

Right now, I am killing myself as a middle-class mom helping to put my third kid (with one more to go) through college. That means no dinners out. No extras, not with those massive tuition bills. Meanwhile, my kids took out loans, live on ramen, work their way through college. We sacrifice together. So while I say I would do “anything”—air quotes intended—it doesn’t mean I will do anything. Such as shielding them from life disappointments.

When it came time for my kids to apply to colleges, all three of them received rejections as well as acceptances. One was waitlisted to his top choice school and had to wait six months for a slot to open. It would never have dawned on me to try to change the outcome, even as I was offering consoling hugs when certain envelopes arrived in the mail.

Perhaps it’s a moot point. I don’t have $500,000 for a bribe. I might be able to scrape some change from under the couch cushion, but a bribe? A look at my checking account will tell you how laughable that is.

But even if I had that kind of money, I want my kids to learn that we sometimes don’t get what our heart desires.

And that we get over it, eventually. When we can’t put it behind us, we need to do the hard internal work of making our peace with it so the disappointments don’t destroy our self-esteem or otherwise put us emotionally off-track. Protecting our children from disappointment harms more than helps. It stunts that important step.

I will be the very first to admit that watching my child suffer through disappointment is wrenching. Who doesn’t remember not making the team, not being asked to prom or not getting into your first-choice college? I have felt the pain of my children’s heartaches and I have cried myself to sleep over them. But to prepare them for life, they have to experience disappointments, so they can learn how to regroup and overcome them.

Sometimes dreams are broken.

You either get back up and pursue that dream again with everything you’ve got, or you create new dreams!

The kids whose parents cheated to get them into their choice schools have learned nothing about themselves. They have been stripped of the opportunity to discover that not everything in life can be bought (even though their parents sure tried) and that disappointment is part of life. They haven’t been given the chance to dig down deep and discover within themselves a steely will to overcome disappointment.

Yes, I will do almost anything for my kids. But what I won’t do is shield them from the fact that life isn’t fair. Somewhere my late mother is laughing at me as I repeat those words.

Erica Orloff

Erica Orloff is freelance writer and novelist based in Virginia. She is mom of four, a fanatical Yankees fan, and a collector of Buddha statues. Follow her on Twitter: @ericaorloff.