Yes, there is an upside to stressing and arguing over applying to college.

Before my kids were old enough to apply to college, I listened to parents of high school seniors lament about how exhausted they were because they stayed up late with their son or daughter who was filling out college apps. They talked about how many times they reread essays, made coffee for their teen (and themselves) and why they felt they had to stay up.

laptop-coffeThey taught me that being there to support your tired, cranky and stressed out senior elevates your parent-child relationship to another level. When my time came, I experienced this bonding phenomenon, too. Here’s what else I discovered.

You learn new things about each other Filling in their list of activities on application after application, your senior might reveal that they only liked two of the three sports they played, or that the diversity group you forced them to join turned out to be their favorite extra-curricular. Now is the time you can admit that, like your student, you never cared for their band director or the wrestling coach.

Your teen appreciates your commitment If you’re staying up to keep your student from falling asleep during app season, or making yourself available to review their application after work, they appreciate what you’re doing, even if they don’t say so. They like knowing you’re nearby to answer the confusing question that comes up at least once on every application. When a deadline is looming, it helps to have Mom or Dad nearby to remind you that you’re almost done.

Spontaneous laughter releases a lot of tension This outburst usually occurs when you’re both ready to scream and give up. Maybe it’s catching the big typo that mistakenly lists a rival college in a short answer, or the sixth time your teen has to list their senior year classes, or the moment you repeat your story about filling out your college applications by hand, at the dining room table, all alone, and your kid rolls their eyes.

DSC05427Bonding over Mallomars Food is fuel and after you’ve fed your son or daughter the fruit, the nuts and the yogurt smoothie, there are the Mallomars, or whatever the favorite, totally-not-healthy snack is in your house. A well-stocked pantry helps minimize the crankiness on everyone’s part.

Now is a good time to spread some praise Your senior might be a few weeks behind on the whole college application process, but if they’ve made the commitment now and are plowing through, give them credit. I lectured my son when he was dragging his feet on his apps, but when he finished the last one a couple of weeks earlier than planned, I made sure to tell him I was impressed.

Filling out applications makes the idea of college instantly real for a senior As my kids moved through the application process, we inevitably found a college or two they decided to cut from their list at the last minute. Maybe your kid doesn’t want to go to a college that’s beyond driving distance after all, or they don’t want the option of commuting, or they do want to apply to a school where they know someone.

Don’t be surprised if your teen turns to you and says they’re scared—to graduate, to be without their best friends, to have to think about a career or just to go to college. Your job is to be reassuring, not to dismiss their very real and very normal fears.

There will be stories to tell—when it’s all over Your senior will boast about how Mom was literally pulling her hair out or Dad picked up a big batch of Buffalo wings to celebrate when the last application was sent. You’ll remind your teen how hard they cried when that one application didn’t save and they had to start it all over again. You can mention the strength it took for you not to cry, too.

College application season brings a large share of stress, but remember to take a step back and see how the experience has benefited your parent-child relationship.

Share your story of how the college application process affected your family in the comments section below.