Helping Your Teen To Choose Their Own Unique Path in an Academically Competitive World with guest Cindy Muchnick, M.A.

About this Episode

Community college? Gap year? Four-year private university? Today’s teens are facing overwhelming pressure to follow a traditional path from high school to college, often with little regard for their readiness, motivation, or interest. Cindy Muchnick, co-author of “The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness & Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World” joined Dr. Amy and Sandy on the Brainy Moms podcast to share some advice on how to preserve your relationship with your teen while navigating a competitive academic environment. If you’re looking for insights on how to foster grit, resilience, and independence in your teen while also learning to listen to their feelings and fears, this episode will hit the spot! Combining her years of experience as a college admissions expert, high school teacher, and mother of four, Cindy offered some concrete strategies to help you navigate these crucial years and help guide your teen to THEIR preferred experience after high school.

About Cindy Muchnick

Cynthia Muchnick, MA, is a graduate of Stanford University and has been working in education for more than 25 years as a former Assistant Director of College Admission, high school teacher, educational consultant, and author. She is also an experienced and always-learning mother of three sons and a daughter, ranging in age from 16-24. Cindy speaks to parents, students, teachers, and business groups on topics such as study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and now the parent compass movement. She’s the co-author of the book, “The Parent Compass; Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness & Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World.”

Connect with Cynthia

Twitter: @ParentCompass1

Instagram: @ParentCompass

Facebook: @TheParentCompass



Book: “The Parent Compass; Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World” at

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Amy Moore:  Hi, and welcome to this episode of Rainy Moms brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I am joined by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis, coming to us from Stanton, Virginia. Sandy and I are super excited to bring you a conversation with our guest today, Cindy Muchnick. Cindy is a graduate of Stanford University and has been working in education for more than 25 years as a former assistant director of college admissions, a high school teacher, education consultant, and an author. She’s also an experienced and always learning mother of three sons and a daughter ranging in age from 16 to 24. Cindy speaks to parents, students, teachers, and business groups on topics such as study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and now the Parent Compass movement. She’s the co-author of the book, The Parent Compass; Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World. Welcome, Cindy.

Cindy Muchnick: Thank you for having me, ladies. What a nice introduction.

We are so glad you’re here. Cindy. We’re gonna just jump right in. What is a parent compass and how did you come up with the idea to write this book?

Cindy Muchnick: Well, that’s the perfect way to start. So, “The Parent Compass” actually is a term that is coined by me and my co-author, Jen Curtis. We both are out in California and we have been for the last, uh, almost 30 years combined working as educational consultants, also known as private college counselors. Those people who are sometimes hired to help guide kids through middle school and high school, culminating in the college admission process. But something really crazy happened in March of 2019 that hit the headlines: Operation Varsity Blues, also called the College Admission Scandal. And my first phone call was to my colleague and friend Jen, and the two of us spent about 90 minutes on the phone. I kind of harken it to what it felt like watching the OJ car chase. Just, you know, I think we all know where we were then just watching that white car drive and drive, this was a few days of just shock and terror because the most extreme version of, you know, college—I don’t even know—wrongdoing was happening in front of our eyes, and it was at the fault of parents who had kind of jumped in and broke the law and worked with a crooked college counselor and not the kind of college counselor Jen and I have been all those years. So we pride ourselves on being ethical, on being cheerleaders for our students, on appreciating our students at whatever level they might be academically and whatever their goals might be for any kind of college, of which there are 4,000 in the United States, so there’s plenty to choose from. That being said, the two of us were just in shock and said, “This is crazy.” And we started realizing that in this conversation we’d worked with kids through the years who seemed to be parented in ways that were really supportive and took kind of a backseat to their kids and let their kids kind of drive the ride. And then parents who really were taking over and being, you know, combative and speaking for their kids and really navigating their kids’ lives and controlling their kids’ lives in a way. And we started seeing some signs of that playing out in our own consulting practices. No, you know, no parents breaking the laws, but parents were really kind of crossing lines that we hadn’t seen in the past. And we realized we needed to do something about this. And originally we set out to write an etiquette book. To teach parents the right etiquette during the tween and teen years of how to parent. And what it evolved into was really what we now call kind of a movement and our mission, which was The Parent Compass. And that term came from the idea of using a parent compass as kind of a tangible reminder, almost like, you know, a way to remember to check yourself as a parent, a way to remember when it’s time to pull back, when it’s time to let our kids, you know, be in the driver’s seat. And it’s a very difficult thing to follow because our nature and parenting is to want to fix and manage and love and pore over our kids. Right? But what science and data have told us, and probably Amy, you can kind of attest to this in some of your own research, is that over-involved parents really do more damage than good. And it’s proven that kids are, you know, suffering depression, anxiety, you know, a lot of new stressors in this generation, and parents strangely, are making it worse as opposed to making it better. So we are trying to kind of—we’re trying to break the helicopter parent. We are trying to undo the parent that you see on the sidelines that just is an embarrassment or at back-to-school night that’s barking on and on about their kids. And we’re really trying to kind of pull back and reexamine what our role can be as parents, how to best serve our children and preserve their mental health and how to also really keep that parenting relationship intact, which we think is the most important in all of this—that the mental health of the teens and the parenting relationship and beyond that, the rest is just figuring this out as we go. So we put together this book. We interviewed deans of admission, heads of schools, college counselors that were inside schools, teachers, even students. And we collected the data to kind of support this message that we carry through the book about following your parent compass. And we’re really proud of kind of the way that it’s taken off and the way it’s been received. And that’s a little bit of background to the story.

Amy Moore: So I want you to spend a little bit of time for our listeners who might not understand the idea or the concept of helicopter parenting. And I think you mentioned some other names for that too; snowplow and tiger. Can you talk a little bit about that and what the dangers of parenting like that can be, in addition to what we saw, the extreme version of that in the college admissions scandal, but in also in general.

Cindy Muchnick: Yes, yes. So a helicopter parent, I mean, the term came from parents who, you know, hover too closely and who are just constantly in their kids’ business all the time. And it’s, there’s also the term militaristic parents, snowplow parents who smooth away the snow. There’s even another one they’re using called what’s the, —I’m blanking on the sport, the Olympic sport—the curling parents even that are clearing the way of the ice for the, for the, you know, for the puck to go down, whatever that’s called. So all of those terms are really similar and really what they mean are parents who are just too involved in the day-to-day moments and decisions in their kids’ lives and who really are managing their kids as if their kids are their trophies or an extension of them in some way that they feel is a direct reflection of who they are. So parents, you know, have, I sort of described it as, you don’t wanna be that parent. That parent would be the helicopter parent, the one that’s meddling with the teachers, the one that’s making all the appointments for their kids, the one that’s speaking over their kids. When an adult asks their kids a question, the one who is checking on the school grade site every day to see if homework assignments are turned in. I mean, there’s just, there’s so many examples of, it’s kind of the parent we don’t really want to say we are or have never been. But chances are most of us have been in some way, shape, or form in our years of parenting. And in The Parent Compass, Jen and I both confessed mistakes we made in our own lives and ways we learned from the students we worked with, and from the experts that we turned to and from the real practice of trying to continue to follow our own parent compass. Because it is hard what we’re asking parents to do, you know, it requires bravery, it requires a village, it requires, you know, a commitment that you’re gonna make sort of to yourself and your child for the betterment of everybody. And Lord knows we all just want to, you know, kind of be the best parent we can be to our kids, but sometimes, all that love comes out in a way that is really not helpful to our kids. It’s really actually harmful and doesn’t allow them to have a voice to learn to self-advocate, to learn the grit and resilience, to learn from failure; all the things we’re learning from, you know, experts out there who are, who are doing all the research on it. So, you know, that’s what we’re kind of trying to, to take away. And it could start pretty young, right? Like we focus on tween and teen years, but, you know, it’s the parent who we sort of know this sometimes happens with our first children. Your child falls down at the park, the parent goes sprinting over, wipes them off, wipes their nose, you know, kind of has a panic, gives ’em a big hug and kiss and “don’t cry, don’t cry,” you know, whatever it is. And then you can sometimes tell who’s the parent who’s had another child, because the first child falls and they’re like, “Ah, you okay? Hey bud, wipe off your knees. Come on over. You’re fine. You’re good.” You know? So it is, it changes almost child to child as you gain more experience as a parent. But, my co-author Jen, has younger kids. They’re not teenagers yet, so I think she’s gonna be amazing at this whole, you know, parent compass thing. She’s already laying the groundwork and planting the seeds. I wish I had followed some of my own advice sooner as well, so …

Sandy Zamalis: Where do you think that comes from—that need to hover or to over-parent, especially in the teen years? I mean, when kids are young it’s safety, but where do you, because you, in your book, you even say, these are well-intentioned parents. They’re just some, you know, maybe some poor choices along the way that are meant to help but hurt instead. So where do you think the root is and why we do this?

Cindy Muchnick: Well, the, yeah, the root is a couple areas. I mean, I think the first root is love. I mean, the root is like, this is a way we think as parents, we are, we are showing our love, we are demonstrating our love by fixing, advising, managing, doing, you know, being so involved. So that’s maybe the, the easy answer. It might sound a little bit soft, but I think that’s where it starts. The other thing is our own upbringings. So we finished writing The Parent Compass and we realized once we reread the whole galley and, and saw the book, and it was kind of close to getting ready to go to press, which was right before Covid began, we realized we were missing a really important chapter, which was the chapter about looking backwards. And we created a new chapter. It’s a little bit of the physician-heal-thyself concept that you can’t really parent well unless you’ve sort of done a deep dive into who you are and investigated what biases and baggage you’re bringing to the table based on your own upbringing, based on the way your parents parented you based on your own academic experience or the kind of student you might have been, or maybe even whether you went to college or didn’t go to college, and what your wishes and desires might be for your child based on your own upbringing. So in order to best address that, we created a questionnaire. We tried it out on hundreds of people, and it’s a questionnaire where you and your partner, or if you’re a single parent, you can do it alone with another parent who’s like supporting you. But basically, it’s this questionnaire asking you to kind of deep dive and reinvestigate your own history. And by sharing that with your partner, you also can start some pretty good conversations about your parenting styles and your goals. And you know, we all think there’s certain things we wanna retain, maybe that our parents did for us, but other things we might want to let go or do differently. And then ironically, we somehow find ourselves with the things we wanted to let go sometimes doing those things ourselves and repeating the, you know, the ways our parents did it for us. Because that’s familiar or maybe that’s somehow ingrained in us. So, we created this questionnaire. Then, the only time we asked for teens to get involved in the book was we created a teen questionnaire and we advised parents in the book to say, find a good moment where you can grab your teen away from social media, preferably with some food in hand, and say to them the words, “I wanna be a better parent and would you mind spending five minutes answering these questions for me so that we can have a better relationship and I can do a better job?” And something about admitting that to our teens and tweens just stops them in their—they look up from their phones, they look up from, they’re like in shock. They can’t believe usually, “What my mom or dad is saying, they wanna do better? Like, okay, yeah, I’m in.” So this questionnaire for teens allows them to voice back. What is it that you want your parent to do differently? What it allows them to give some constructive feed feedback and criticism to us and to examine the way they feel they’re being parented. And it’s in that conversation that the change or that the parent compass process can then begin. So it’s sort of this precursor to putting it into play and putting it into practice. I mean, you can jump ahead and kind of skip over that too and just read the chapters that might appeal to you about technology or afterschool activities or the college admission process and kind of what your role is as a parent. But that one exercise tends to sort of—now it’s not, you know, Amy, it’s not super scientific. I know you are a, you know, you, you study the brain and all of that. This is a very, I don’t know, familial and familiar kind of group of questions. So maybe we could do a study on it later and you could write about it. Who knows? But the point is, it seems to work and it seems to open up that dialogue that’s pretty essential. And it also kind of puts you a little bit more on an even playing field with your kids so that they don’t feel that you feel you are the expert in everything.

Amy Moore: Don’t you think that that reaction that you all noticed from the teens, how they were absolutely shocked that their parents said, “Hey, I wanna be a better parent,” don’t you think that that’s a, a fundamental problem with parenting in general? The fact that they would be so shocked says to us, wait a minute, why aren’t we being vulnerable and honest? Why aren’t we admitting when we’ve made a parenting mistake? Why aren’t we apologizing when we’ve said something hurtful to our own child all along? To the fact that then we get to the, you know, teen years and they’re gonna be shocked when we say, “Yeah, I want to do this better.”

Cindy Muchnick: You know, Amy, the point you just made is so interesting because recently I’ve been, I’ve been talking about this with like friends and other mothers and you know, I have friends who say, you know, “My kids haven’t seen me cry in front of them before.” Or, “I have trouble apologizing to my kids because it shows that I’m not in control or something.” And, and you sort of hear these things and you go, “Really?” Like, I think it’s in that vulnerability and in the apology and in the desire to say, I wanna do better. That that’s when the real depth to the relationship can come in. Right? Because we are saying, “You know, look, there’s a lot of books out there. There’s a lot of movies out there. There’s a lot of experts out there weighing in. There’s therapists, there’s doctors studying the brain. We know a lot of the scientific stuff, but we, when it comes down to it, it is so important.” You’re absolutely right to kind of take away that feeling of shock. Right? Because our teenagers, you know, I think that Dr. Mike Riera, he’s the head of a school in L.A. and he’s written a few parenting books and he says something very wise about how up until about middle school, your kids, you do manage everything because you are driving them everywhere and feeding them and clothing them and you know, you’re helping them grow, but you’re also kind of in charge of their schedule in their calendar because you just are, you’re their caretaker. But come late, middle school, usually at some point you get fired by your kids. As the manager, they just are like, “Nope, you know, I’m picking out my clothes, I’m choosing my friends. I’m quitting this activity.” You know, you get that sort of what we look at as almost rebellion, but I think it’s really just finding your independent voice. And it hurts like, “Oh my God. Wait, what? You know, you don’t need me anymore. You don’t want me anymore.” All of that. And suddenly you realize that if you’ve done a good job kind of leading up to that, and you have that trust in your relationship, that you get hired back as a consultant. And I love his terminology. Some parents use driver’s seat and passenger seat, you know, different, different ways. But we quote him because he’s the one I think who really originally coined it. And we think it makes so much sense because that’s sort of what you should go on to be as a parent almost for the rest of their lives. Just to be the consultant at some point. You know, if we don’t let go and we don’t let them figure this stuff out and make, have the failures and make the mistakes, it doesn’t mean we can’t help them brainstorm or prepare. I have had kids say, you know, “I’m nervous to go talk to my teacher. You know, I’m afraid about what they’re gonna say.” There’s like, they’re in a control situation where the teacher gives the grade and they are trying to get information or whatever it is, and that’s a great place for a parent to say, “Do you wanna … do you wanna roleplay? Do you wanna brainstorm so you feel comfortable when you’re gonna go have that conversation? I can, I can help you with that if you want.” And that’s when I also advise parents to pull out an index card, old school and hand it to their kid and say, “You know, jot down the things that you wanna talk about because when you get to that environment, where you’re nervous, you forget sometimes, or you get nervous and you don’t know what you’re gonna say. And so you can just refer to your card and tell the teacher you wrote down the things you wanted to talk about.” You know, I say that to do that in interviews too. Cause I think we try to memorize so much held in our head that’s too hard. So, those kinds of ways are the ways that we can, you know, can guide them that I think are healthy and that are helpful and not harmful. If they want it, if they want your advice, you know, in those ways.

Sandy Zamalis: Most parents are really afraid to let their kids fail. And I love how you just kind of pulled out some really tangible steps that you use to kind of help walk through. Do you have more steps like that, that you talk about in your book for parents? Recover from failure.

Cindy Muchnick: Yeah, that’s really good. So first of all, the failure, again, the data from, you know, everyone from Carol Dweck to you know, the Pew Research Institute will tell you. You know, we didn’t invent this. I mean, you have to. You have to watch your kids fail and make these mistakes, and that is where the greatest amount of growth occurs, right? We know as adults how many failures and mistakes we’ve made, which I encourage parents to share them with your kids. Tell them, “I remember when this happened to me.” This just recently happened to me. I mean, come home and share your failures of that day so that it normalizes that that’s okay. Like of course this stuff kind of stuff’s gonna happen. Of course, we’re gonna feel dejected or rejected or broken in some way. And it’s, it is. We know it’s what you do as a result of that, that is where the growth happens and where the learning happens. And so, it’s, it starts to me as early as when our kids are, you know, getting themselves dressed or tying their shoes, right? Like we could tie the shoes really quick, we could pop the clothes on them, but if they put their arm in the wrong sleeve and button it funny and they, you know, tie their shoes in knots, eventually they’re gonna be able to get dressed. I mean, we’re gonna be impatiently waiting at the door to. Right?

It’s like, “Oh my God, please get this on.” So there are times when we need to help, but let them start to make those mistakes and go, “Oh, this is funny. I had to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t unzip.” Oh, maybe because your shirt was stuck and you’re like “Okay, well next time that’s not gonna happen.” I mean, it can start so much earlier than these tween and teen years and I don’t know. I just think, you know, if you look at Jessica Lahey’s, The Gift of Failure, if you look at Wendy Mogel’s, Blessing of a Skinned Knee, I mean, all of these wonderful psychologists and experts out there who are telling us time and again, as hard as it is, like, let them fail. You know, how many times have we dropped them off at school and you see the homework on the seat in the car next to you? Do you run it in? When you get halfway home, do you turn around? Do you go back? Do you text them that you have their homework? Do you bring it to the front desk and say, “Sorry, they left this behind. Can you get it to them?” Or do you wait for the text or the call or the angry when they got home about what a bummer was that they got the zero on the paper, right? Or on the 10-point homework assignment. So that one’s hard. I mean, that one is apparent. “Oh my gosh. They did the homework. They brought it with them, but they left it on the seat. Like they were rushing to get out.” It could be your fault ‘cause you were not like getting along so great at that moment, whatever it is. But we’re advised to leave it on the front seat because it’ll never happen again. The homework will go in the folder, the homework will go in the backpack. The homework will be in their hand, not on the front seat because that’s the first time.  And hopefully the last that it’ll happen. Or maybe it’ll happen a few times until they get the message. But those are the kinds of hard parenting things. And, and you can ask me, my first kids, I delivered the homework. I definitely did. I just, I took the blame. I would go up to the front desk, say, so sorry, my bad. We took the wrong car and this ended up in the, you know, whatever. I would take the excuse and my son would come home from school so relieved and happy. But, then my next kids didn’t like me as much ‘cause I didn’t bring the homework. So it takes bravery. We have to be brave. We have to be strong for the betterment of, you know, of their growth in it. And, you know, it doesn’t mean, I mean, I don’t know, there’s certain times when I’m sure there’s exceptions and there’s a lot of gray areas, as we know, in parenting. But, you know, see how it works. Try it once and see if you can survive it.

Amy Moore: Yeah. So I think, um, that kinda leads us into the next thing I really like about your work. It’s that you want to challenge the idea and definition of success. And so as you think about running your kids’ homework back to school, if you asked a mom, “Why did you do that?” Nine times outta 10, they’re gonna say, “Well, I want him to succeed, or I don’t want him to fail. I want him to be successful, so I’m gonna provide this, you know, extra help.

Cindy Muchnick: Right. Scaffolding. Scaffolding.

Amy Moore: Exactly. And so you talk about lots of ways that we should be defining success, not related to this perfection, but living a life with purpose. Being confident and secure in your capabilities. Talk a little bit about some of your favorites.

Cindy Muchnick: Yeah, thank you so much, Amy, for asking about that. Not, not many people ask about that, so I like that you brought that up. And I love talking about that because … So first of all, we were really fortunate, as we were writing the book to partner with an amazing organization called Challenge Success, and in the title of the organization, they’re kind of sort of a think tank. It’s co-founded by a Stanford University professor and a San Francisco-based author and therapist, you know, that marriage family teen therapist. And together they created this organization that’s been around at least probably, 10 years, probably a decade. And the goal of Challenge Success is to redefine success and kind of turn the notion of, you know, grades, test scores and where you went to college as these defining factors that somehow quantify our kids as being successful. And so what Challenge Success does is, and I highly recommend you guys look into them or bring them to your schools, they go into schools, high schools, all over the country, and they survey hundreds of thousands of teachers, faculty, students, and parents to try to kind of rebuild high schools, the culture of the high schools to allow later start times, longer passing times between classes. They create challenge success committees within the school where the students can voice their feelings of you know, adequacy or inadequacy based on the way the school handles grading. And you know, they try to take away the concept of like, rankings in school and, and they just do a lot of really good things, boots on the ground. And there’s like 400,000 high schools in the country, so they have barely scratched the surface, but they’re, you know, they’re a lot where they, a lot of places that they still need to go. But anyway, Challenge Success, Denise Pope, the co-founder, actually wrote the forward for The Parent Compass because we are speaking the same language as Challenge Success. We are trying to teach parents that wherever your kid winds up is the right place for them, whether it’s college or not. Whether it’s college, trade, school, the military, you know, a gap year, the workforce, beauty school, trade school, tech school. You know, there’s a lot of different choices, and the road is very curvy to get there. It’s not necessarily A to B, to C to E to D to E, whatever. And so we really like the idea that success can really be measured about how good our kids feel in their own skin doing whatever it is that they enjoy doing.

I mean, if we just—if that was the definition of success, right there? Don’t we all want kids to be happy? Like happy children, you know, happy young adults contributing to the world in some way that brings them joy and that are kind to other people and that, know how to communicate and know how to self-advocate and ask for what they need, know how to be a good friend and support others. I mean, if colleges measured on kindness and on, you know, all of these other qualities that aren’t just grades test scores and numbers. Obviously, there’s college essays and recommendations and all those other things, but it’s a very flawed process. We all sort of know that. And yes, it’s holistic, but parents are caught up in the frenzy of schools that are on a magic list that, you know, I hate to even say the word US News and World Report, but that, you know, created a terrible, you know, measurement, a point of measure that added so much stress and so much unnecessary anxiety to kids and their families because it just became, “Oh, if you’re not at a school on this list, you know you’re not gonna be successful. You’re not gonna be happy. You’re not gonna be a good contributing member of the world.” And we know as adults, I mean some of the greatest people in my own life, my closest circle, have gone to some colleges I’ve never heard of or didn’t finish college. And some of the most miserable, unhappy people I might have met have gone to colleges I’ve heard of. So again, you know, without generalizing, I guess the main thing is that if we can just really look at success differently and, the way I like to define it is just to wear the t-shirt that says college or says trade school. It doesn’t even have to have the name. It’s just college or beauty school or whatever it is, you know, community college. It could say whatever it is. So I do think that, you know, if we can challenge that notion and we can redefine it and Challenge Success really does that. So go look at their white papers. They’ve written one recently on that it matters more what you do in college than where you go to college. They have pages and pages of data to support that. They surveyed college students all over the country and they pull this fabulous data together that holds up and holds up a mirror to all of us saying it doesn’t matter really. I mean, yes, doors might open a little easier from here or there, whatever it might be. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna be successful and you’re not gonna be happy and live a life of purpose.

Amy Moore: I love that. Absolutely love that. Yeah. So, I went to state schools and for-profit schools and okay. So is that impressive? No, but it didn’t matter. To me, it worked for my family circumstances and I learned what I wanted to learn. Yeah. And so, and I guarantee you when I submit a research study for peer review to a scientific journal, they don’t care where I went to school. They wanna know that my science is technically sound, right? And so, yes. And so I just love hearing a former college admissions officer saying, “But that’s not the most important thing, the name on your sweatshirt.”

Cindy Muchnick: Yeah. Well, you know, I, um, I always tell students, I mean, state schools, honestly, first of all, they’re the most affordable because they’re your state system, right? I mean, you’re paying taxes, so why not take advantage number one. A lot of kids choose state colleges, A, because of the affordability, but B, because they can even rise. Higher maybe than they would have and focus their save up and maybe go on to a graduate school that is, was more of a goal that they had. Or they have family circumstances as you had, whatever the reasons might be. I just, I think that call they, the other quote that, Jen and I love a lot is college. College is not a prize to be one, but a— hold on. I’m gonna have to look it up. It’s so good. It’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Not a prize to be one, but a, hold on. I found it. It’s not a prize to be won. Sorry to, sorry to hold on. College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won. Sorry, I had to. I had to read it ‘cause I had it on my phone. College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won. And the match as we know. So, okay. Everyone has, you know, thinks some people believe in a soulmate, that one person you’re gonna spend your life with. But I think we know that there could be many, there could be dozens, if not hundreds if not thousands of people. We could have ended up choosing for a partner and spending our life with, and sometimes we go through a few choices so we find the right one, right? But for college, again, making a match in college, there are so many, there are so many to choose from with so many different factors and geography, cost, programs that they offer, research opportunities, how much mentorship you get, how they place kids in the job force or what their relationship is. I mean, I have a son that is at a prestigious, fancy, whatever, Ivy League school and he was so surprised how the interviews didn’t flow at the beginning when he was looking for jobs. So, and friends at other schools were having an easier time. So the whole system is a little bit odd because our perception is that if you go to a school like this, you may get X, Y, and Z. And quite frankly, it doesn’t always work out that way. So I just think, yeah, we have to kind of shift the perception. And, you know, ladies, you probably know this, like a decade ago, if somebody said their kid was taking a gap year, we all sort of would go oh, and sort of think, “Hmm, I wonder what went wrong or that kid didn’t blossom yet, or just they need some extra time to grow or mature, whatever it is.” And now if kids aren’t taking a gap year, people are like, “Wow, you’re crazy. You’re going right into college. I mean, wow. Right out of the grind of high school?” People think they’re celebrating. What are you doing? Where are you going? What’s it gonna be? And so again, that’s an adjustment that we’ve made as a culture that I think is a positive adjustment. I think it’s one of the Covid silver linings, which is we can start to redefine for ourselves what these kids can redefine for themselves, what their futures can look like, and they can all look different. It’s just that as parents, it’s hard for us when our kid takes a different route or takes a different path, or we feel that we’re different somehow from the norm or from the environment around us. And again, that’s where you just have to look inward and say, who are the most important people to you on your planet? The people that live under your roof, and then your close family and friends. And then after that, you know everyone else is there, but they don’t get to influence how you’re gonna parent and how you’re gonna live and do your journey. And in the privacy of your own home.

Amy Moore: Sure. And on the opposite side, like you mentioned, being brave at the top of the show, it also takes a little bit of bravery to defend your choices if we wanna impact change as a culture. I mean, I think back to my early years as a curriculum specialist, and when I would hear people say they were homeschooling their kids, this is, you know, in the early nineties, I’d be like, “What is wrong with you? Your children need socialization.” Right? And look at how far we’ve come in the last few decades in our appreciation of homeschooling. Not just our acceptance, but our appreciation of the many benefits to those families and those kids, right? And so, my youngest is taking a gap year right now, and when he mentioned to his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, “Well, I’m taking a gap year,” they thought—they said to his girlfriend, “He lacks ambition.” And so it was their lack of understanding about what he was gonna be doing with a gap year. And once he was brave enough to say, “Hey, I’ve got plenty of ambition. Listen to what I’m gonna do during my gap year. I’m playing for the city’s youth symphony. I’m training for the Olympics in rock climbing, and I have a, a ministry internship.

Cindy Muchnick: Wow!

Amy Moore: Not like he—he lists all this that he’s doing with his gap year and they’re like, “Oh, ooh. Right.” People think back here, “You’re just gonna party. Right. All right.

Cindy Muchnick: A little egg on the face there. Huh? But yeah, I, you’re right. You’re right. It is, it’s cultural.

Amy Moore: You have to be brave to speak up for your choices.

Cindy Muchnick: That’s right. I mean it is, it’s sort of a cultural shift and it’s a willingness and look, it’s much easier, right, to do what everyone else is doing. I mean, just in everything to dress and to make choices that are similar, whatever. But who wants a world full of like carbon copies? Like we’ve gotta, that’s what colleges really say they’re trying to do. They’re trying to build a community and build a diverse class. That is different. That has been homeschooled, that has taken a gap year that has made different choices because if everyone’s just sort of the same, then where’s the like, I don’t know what’s interesting about that. Right? Anyway, look at the three of us. We’re gonna just fix the world together.

Sandy Zamalis: The thing that I think, you know, what you’re kind of talking about in that failure side, and kind of what Amy was sharing too, is I think what we as a society need to embrace more of is, you know, you know not every kid’s gonna have a dream or know what they wanna study. Some kids are gonna have to learn by failing. They’re gonna have to try lots of things to see what feels good and what fits. And unfortunately, we don’t always have that opportunity in our current system that we have, even in college. College is sometimes just like a copy repeat high school, right? With all the pre-reqs and all the stuff you have to do to before you can really finally do things that are interesting to you. How do you, Cindy, how do you help families navigate helping a child figure that out? Do they know what they want? Do they need to just try things? Do they need gap year?

Cindy Muchnick: Yeah. No, that’s really interesting. I mean, I think that some of it is, you know, hooking into your kid and what it is that they think they might want. And if they don’t know yet, I mean, how can we all know? Like some kids by 18 are like, I know X, Y, and Z and I wanna study this and then I wanna go there. And then you know, you’re like, “Wow, that’s like a lot to have already figured out.” I didn’t know what political science was until I got to college, or anthropology was, or sociology was. So we didn’t have classes named that in high school. So my big advice that I give to kids going off to college is to take as many survey courses as you can. To get exposed to an economics class and an art history class and things that you haven’t seen before, to understand a little bit just in a, you know, in a very broad way, what, what different fields look like. I knew very quickly after my first economics class that not only did I have to switch to pass fail because it was so far over my head, but I know that I loved when the teacher explained it, but I couldn’t explain it. My brain didn’t work with axes and, you know, ups and downs, curves and, and supply and demand. It just didn’t, it still doesn’t, but it’s interesting. I’d listen to it, but if I was asked a question that, adjusted the axes for my test. I mean, forget it, it wasn’t even an option. But then I took a political science class from a professor that, you know, had been around for 50 years. He was as old as my grandfather, and it was so interesting. I didn’t understand, I didn’t even know what that field was and I wasn’t particularly interested in politics, but I was interested in learning about the government and learning about the ways other countries do things, and that was just interesting to me. So I think one way is that, and another way is there really are there if you can believe it. I mean there are career coaches and, and people who you can, your kids can go and take kind of personality and surveys and tests that probably Amy, you know, a little bit more about even this too, but where you see, “Wow, you have these interests and these creative side and this skill side. You might be well suited for X, Y, or Z. Pretty much every college campus also has a career center where they do those kinds of things where students can go in and learn about different careers, learn about what kind of coursework you would need to go into those careers. I mean, to me, if kids are like, “Well, I know I wanna go to law school because I wanna be a lawyer someday,” whatever, a litigation lawyer, a corporate business lawyer, whatever it might be, I personally think like, you could still be an art history major or an English major or whatever and go on to law school because you’re gonna have a lot more time to learn more about the law in law school. So you don’t even necessarily have to have a pre-law major. In fact, that may be more interesting not to have a pre-law major. So I think a lot of it is really self-discovery; continuing to expose and encourage our kids. Sometimes it’s shadowing and mentoring. So you might have a friend who says, “Listen, your kid can come tag along with me for a couple days, or we can go to lunch and I can tell ’em about what it is I do. And, and you can, you know, they can see if that’s something like, that interests them.” That’s a great way to use your parent network that you have to be able to help each other’s kids out in, in your fields. So, you know, if, you know, that would be another way to kind of expose them. And sometimes it’s their teachers that are, that are inspiring them and you know, if they mention that they’re really close with a teacher or close with a coach, you know, encourage them to cultivate that relationship ‘cause that can often lead to conversations about career. I got into college admissions because I was a tour guide in college. I walked backwards and I brought people around campus and pointed out all the facts and figures and stats and stories about the college campus. I loved it. And then, I wrote a letter to the Dean of Admission and I said, “I really think the tour guide program could be improved and here are the ways it could be better.” And he called me into his office. This was my senior year and I’d been a tour guide for like three years. And he said, “I was really interested with by your letter and your improvements, but I was gonna ask you what career you think you’re gonna go into.” And I said, “Ah, I don’t really know. I’m an art history and Poly Sci major and I don’t know, I’m not sure. Maybe something with museums or maybe something in like the political sphere.” And he said, have you ever thought about college admissions? And I said—these were my famous last words. No one’s really, I haven’t thought of this during, in a long time. I said, “Oh, no offense, but I’m kind of a people person and I can’t see myself sitting in a room reading, reading all day, reading applications all day. And he said, “Oh, Cindy, that’s just like three months of our job. Like we, we travel, we go to schools, we go to college fairs, we go to conferences, all this stuff.” He said, “I think you should check it out.” And, he did like a program for seniors to introduce you to the career. We spent a week volunteering in the admissions office and he said if I could get a few friends to join, he would put on this program. And then, he wrote me a letter of recommendation when I was moving to Chicago. And that started off my first career. And I loved it. I think I would still be doing it today if I hadn’t left the city. It was just fulfilling and gratifying and, and I loved working with kind of the teens. So how do we all find what it is we find. Sometimes it’s just, I don’t know, a door opens, a door closes, a window opens. Sometimes it’s, you know, just random synergies we have. And sometimes it’s just fate that brings us into these different careers. So, and I think you can, you know, kids don’t have to worry so much. And I think as we also know, you can have lots of careers in a lifetime. You can change your mind, you can change your course of study, you can change your job and move into different areas, and that is what makes life interesting. Unless you, you know, wanna stay with the same thing and, and continue to grow in that.

Amy Moore: Okay, so let’s say that you’ve got parents who have managed the lives and careers of their kids. And when I say careers, I mean their, you know, school careers, academic careers, and their listening, right? They’re listening and they’re saying, “Okay, Cindy, I hear what you’re saying, but what do I do? If I go hands off, how do I affect my kid to all of a sudden know how to manage their own lives? What do those conversations look like? What are those baby steps or what is the first step that you would do so you can begin to understand what your kid wants and not what you want?

Cindy Muchnick: Yeah, I mean I think that, I mean, it definitely requires some communication with your teen because if you’re gonna kind of go cold turkey and try to, you know, make a shift, then you have to obviously alert them. And the best way to alert them is say I read a book called The Parent Compass and I listened to some podcasts on parenting. I need to make some changes. I’ve, I’ve made some mistakes that might have, you know, harmed you along the way, that were unintentional and came from love, but here’s what I need to do. You know, I mean, a lot of times parents cram this in right before they go to college. Like you give them the laundry lesson, you give them the how to manage your finances lesson, how to be careful on a date, how to ask for consent, like all the stuff you’re trying to cram in to like the summer before they go away to college, when you could be doing it all along. Right? One of my favorite books is by Catherine Newman. It’s called How to Be a Person. It’s this adorable book that’s like written really for like middle schoolers and high schoolers, but even my college kids read it and I’ve even read it and learned from it as an adult that teaches you all these basics, like how to, how to cook a chicken, how to write a thank you. How to open a bank account, you know, like basic life skills that you kind of want your kids to have before they’re launched. And it, and they’re written in like with comic strips and cute graphics and, and it’s really lovely. How to apologize, how to ask permission, how to get consent. All these different things, all the things we’re talking about. So you can start that a lot sooner, but I think really with your kids is saying, I might not have done the best job by taking over a lot of things. So let’s start with this. You know, you need a doctor’s appointment next month at the eye doctor. You said, here’s the number, make your appointment. And your kid’s like, “What?” And put on your calendar and let me know if you need a ride. You know, if they don’t drive already, whatever. You have an, you know, or so starting with something, you know, basic things. You know, oh, you mentioned you have a project next week that you need materials for. I mean, usually I would go to Staples and pick ’em up, but here’s the credit card. Go get what you need. Just make sure you get it in time, you know, before Staples closes the night before at midnight, which, how many of us have been to Staples at those weird hours? Or Office Depot, getting the project stuff that we didn’t know was due tomorrow. Okay, so handing over some authority to them to start to, you know, email, you know, email and make your appointments. Like, I mean, maybe you have a, a tutor or a counselor or someone you work with. They should be making their own appointments for that. You know, issues that come up with teachers, you know, you wanna talk to them about, you know, do they feel comfortable or how can you help them so that they can take over? If you’ve been having communication with their teachers, but you know that they should be doing that communication with their teachers, and again, starting in middle school when you’re there with them to kind of guide them through that, you can start to sprinkle that the college admissions process too. I mean, that is their process. We have a whole chapter on that. So by the time it’s the end of junior year, you know, they can plan what schools—if you have the budget—to go visit. If you don’t, tell them get online and start taking the virtual tours. You know, see what appeals to you with colleges. Do you wanna be—are you okay with being somewhere cold? Do you wanna be near a big city? Is the Greek system important to you in college? Do you want, you know, to be in an all-gender, one-gender college? You know, what might be of interest to you? And all of those things, you know, are giving them permission, but not just permission—guidance to kind of take it over and take ownership. So, laundry, you know, we feel bad, like they don’t have time. They’re piles up on the floor, honestly, once they run out of underwear and it hasn’t been done, they’re gonna wanna know how to do their laundry, right? Like we wanna teach ’em to do that instead of buying more underwear, right? Although maybe that’ll be their solution. So I think those kinds of things, you know, if they, if they drive, gassing up the car themselves, you know, earning money to pay for gas, like having a part-time job, these kids, you know, a lot of us feel, “Oh, I don’t want them to work because it’ll take away from their homework or from their activities and, you know, let me give them the money to go to pizza and to do this or do that.” And what we’re kind of doing is we’re enabling that. But you know, my son turned 18 last week and he became a Postmates driver. Okay? He couldn’t wait to turn 18 so he could just, whenever he had free time, deliver. And I am, this is the first podcast I’ve ever said this on, but he’s only been working for Postmates for four days and he has made $800. $800! He goes at dinnertime and he sometimes gets up early and does a breakfast run. Like then he went, worked on the weekends and it’s the greatest thing you have. It’s like he’s, this is a child who’s like always mumbled when he talks to me. He’s like my quietest and just not a super big communicator. So I haven’t had as tight of a connection with him, I guess. But he has talked more to me in the last four days about delivering food and where he picks up and he got two orders from here. And if you sit here and wait, you’ll get pinged and it’ll send you a thing. It is like, it’s so empowering and it feels so good to me as a parent to see him excited about his first job. Like, you know, he’s had other little part-time things, but this is like his first real job. So all of those ways, we can begin equipping, and it doesn’t have to be all at once cold turkey. It can be little by little and ease into it and, and follow the steps of the book. Pick one thing you’re willing to work on in the book and start there and then, okay, that kind of worked or didn’t work. Let me try another one. That one worked. Let’s keep going with that. So those would maybe be some, some tidbits.

Amy Moore; Awesome. Okay, so we need to, uh, take a break and let Sandy read a word from our sponsor, and when we come back, we wanna know just a little bit more about who the book is for, what age group it’s appropriate for, things like that when we come back.

Sandy Zamalis: Are you concerned about your child’s reading or spelling performance? Are you worried your child’s reading curriculum isn’t thorough? Well, most learning struggles aren’t the result of poor curriculum or instruction. They’re typically caused by having cognitive skills that need to be strengthened. Skills like auditory processing, memory and processing speed. LearningRx one-on-one brain training programs are designed to target and strengthen the skills that we rely on for reading, spelling, writing, and learning. LearningRx can help you identify which skills may be keeping your child from performing. In fact, LearningRx has worked with more than 116,000 children and adults who wanted to think and perform better. The team at LearningRx would like to help you get your child on the path to our brighter and more confident future. Give LearningRx a call at 866-BRAIN-01 or visit That’s

Amy Moore: And we’re back talking with Cindy Mutchnick about The Parent Compass. And so, Cindy, talk to us a little bit about who this book is best for, how parents should use this book. I think you even mentioned it could be used as a Book Club book. Talk to us a little bit more about that.

Cindy Muchnick: Thank you. Yes, so The Parent Compass was really written for the audience of parents of tweens and teens. So middle school and high schoolers. But we’ve had parents with younger kids who are over eager, very excited to also read what’s coming up ahead. And we’ve had parents of empty nesters, who say, “Oh gosh, I wish I did some more of these things when my kids were younger.” But yeah, it’s, you know, it’s become a book club read, which we think is so fascinating and interesting. We’re so proud of the parents who have said, “Okay, in my, you know, book club community, let’s pick this as a book this month and let’s talk about it and let’s share content and share stories of our own, you know, life in the battlefield.” And Jen and I will pop in on Zoom to any book club anywhere in the country or when you’re talking about the book, and we’re happy to listen and participate and answer questions as well, because it brings us a lot of joy to know that the book is spreading out there. I also just talked with a wonderful young teen who has a wonderful platform and he said he’s gonna recommend the book as a stocking stuffer, a holiday gift for teens to give their parents. And I thought that was really creative. I like it. I like how he was thinking. So teens, if there’s any teens out there listening with your parents, you know, this would make a good, a good Mother’s Day, father’s Day, birthday, holiday, whatever kind of gift to kind of help your parents get on track. And even therapists have told me that they’re, you know, they keep a copy or a few copies of their practice and have been giving them out to parents of tweens and teens who are kind of going through it. So we feel really excited that it’s reaching these different corners, you know. And, you know, we do hope that it just helps make a difference in the lives of parents and helps improve those connections, which a really wonderful psychologist that we met with Dr. Dan Peters, he quoted this from someone else, so he said it wasn’t his quote, but he’ll, I’ll quote whoever he heard it from. That when our kids leave home, the only thing that we have left behind are not the grades and the scores and you know, the accolades, but what all we have left really is the relationship. And that really stuck with me and Jen because that is true, right? I mean, we know that relationship is really important and it comes with highs and lows and pains and struggles and you know, and we, none of us are perfect. None of us are robots. None of us have the full answer to any question we’ve ever been asked. Thank goodness for the internet, ‘cause we can sometimes ask the internet when we don’t know. I always love when my kids would ask me something. I’d say, let’s go look it up together. We used to pull down the encyclopedias A to Z, and now we, you know, we have much more than that. So I really think that you know, there’s a pretty wide audience out there for it. It’s an evergreen title. We hope it just kind of continues to churn along long past Covid. And you know, and keep just getting this important message across. We have website, We have social media handles at Instagram, at Parent Compass. We have, we’re on LinkedIn under our name Cindy Muchnick and Jen Curtis, and under Facebook at The Parent Compass. And this podcast will live forever on our website because we have a tab where our podcasts go. So people can also come listen to this or share it if they’d like. And I love, I have to just say, I love your podcast. I’m such a fan. I like thinking moms, brainy moms, anything where moms are, you know, we have a lot of cognition. If I’m using that word correctly. And it’s important that we harness that and share it and support each other as we go through this because it’s not easy. And we lie at night, you know, on our pillows, wondering and worrying and, you know, trying to see if we’re doing everything right and we aren’t. We’re just doing the best that we can. And whatever help we can get along the way, we will try to incorporate.

Amy Moore: Absolutely. Is there anything you didn’t get to say today that you’d like to leave our listeners with?

Cindy Muchnick: Oh my gosh, you guys let me talk so much. I feel like I didn’t let you ladies say enough. No, I mean, I feel like, you know, we’re, you know, all trying to fight the good fight and, you know, no one wants their kid to be the bully. No one wants their kid to be the naughty kid or get in trouble. And I guess maybe one thing I will say, and I don’t wanna leave on like a negative note, but you know, all parents it’s heartbreaking when a teenager or tween makes a big mistake that goes public. It’s really hard, when your kid, you know, gets caught cheating or bullies someone or makes a really big mistake on social media and it can be so devastating for the parent who feels just so embarrassed and, you know, publicly humiliated, but it’s even worse for the kid. And what I would say is, you know, we as parents, we’ve all been there at some point. We’ve all, you know, had our kid be the one that, you know, was the biter in kindergarten, you know, or hit somebody by accident, but maybe on purpose when they were little and didn’t have the words or whatever it might be. And as they get older, the problems get different. And so I would just say to give each other grace and forgiveness and empathy, because we really do need that. And a lot of times when a kid makes a mistake, the parent community pulls away. And, parents have told me, you know, I feel like I really saw who my real friends were. And so if, you know, these are good parents trying and, and it’s really a good kid that you’ve watched grow up, but they made a mistake. Then be there to support that parent because they will never forget it. And the shoe might drop and it may be you next, you know, it might be your kid. And, and so I do say, you know, this is a tricky journey. It’s a hard journey. It’s not a perfect journey. And, you know, it’s heartbreaking, right? I mean, it hurts when our kids are hurting or when we’re hurting. So ,I would say just try to support your village and we know who those like-minded parents are, and even if it’s not someone in your village reach out and say, you know, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what you’re going through and I’m here for you, if, you know, if you need a walk or a coffee or just someone to dump on.” So that would be my, my 2 cents to parents to support each other.

Amy Moore: That’s great advice.

Sandy Zamalis: What a great way to end that.

Amy Moore: Yeah. That wasn’t negative at all.

Cindy Muchnick: Ok. I never really, yeah, I never really talked about that before. When I, you know, the more I’ve talked with you guys, I feel like, you know, we all are, we’re all in this together really. And sometimes we feel really alone. And I think it’s important to know that, you know, you aren’t, we really aren’t. We are a village, and I do think this, this world of podcasts that can help parents and this world of, you know, the positive things that come out of social media are really wonderful and connecting us in ways that we can all just try to do a little bit better.

Amy Moore: All right, so we’re out of time. This has been a phenomenal conversation. Cindy Muchnick, thank you so much for being with us today. Listeners, if you would like to find Cindy, she did mention her website is You can find her on Twitter at ParentCompass1 on Instagram at ParentCompass and Facebook at TheParentCompass Compass. We’ll put all her links and social media handles in the show notes as well as a link to purchase her book, The Parent Compass. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube and you can find us on every social media channel at TheBrainyMoms, including TikTok, where Sandy can be found at TheBrainTrainerLady along with you, and a hundred thousand other followers of Sandy. So look, until next time, we know that you, you’re busy moms. And we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Sandy Zamalis: Have a great week.