Our family recently moved back to our hometown, where both my husband and I grew up. We moved here from the city-suburbs for a few reasons: to be closer to our aging parents, to live in a safer, more suburban community, and so that our kids can attend school in a more well-funded, thriving school district.
The school district we moved to — and that my husband and I both attended back in the day — is top-notch. In fact, it was just voted #1 in our state, according to Niche. And while we are excited for our kids to attend schools that are jam packed with resources, caring and attentive teachers, and tons of free/low-cost extracurricular activities, there is one aspect to all this that is giving me pause. A whole lotta pause.
Our school district is super-duper competitive. It was this way when we attended school here, and word has it that it’s even more this way now. Many of the parents who live here are hyper-focused on their kids’ grades and accomplishments. They want their kids to excel, and in many cases, they put a shit-ton of pressure on their kids to reach their goals.
Many parents here have the resources (i.e., money) to do this. Most kids here have tutors, whether they are struggling academically or not. Almost every kid is enrolled in one or several classes — piano, dance, sports, acting, singing, coding, you name it. Kids are expected to be good at everything they do. Only the best will do for many parents here.
It’s a pressure cooker, for sure, and I am already feeling the discomfort of this, because the idea of badgering my kids about their grades or signing them up for a million classes is pretty much the opposite of how I roll. Sure, I want my kids to pass their classes, and do well in them if that’s what they want, but my goal is mostly for them to enjoy learning, to make friends — and honestly, for me to have to do as little schlepping from one activity to another as possible.
But all of this has gotten me thinking about why parents care so damn much about their kids’ accomplishments — whether it’s grades, sports, or extracurricular accomplishments. And I think it all comes down to the fact that when our kids accomplish something, it reflects well on us.
We want the accolades for ourselves, to have a kid who looks good to the outside world. But so much of the time, we forget that this is our kid’s life, not ours.
We all do it some extent, don’t we? I am not entirely innocent here, either.
Just this past week, I caught myself doing it. As my son was enrolling in his new middle school, he had to take a placement test to determine what level math class he’d be admitted to. The kid loves math and does well in it, so I was hoping that he’d get into the advanced math class.
As we awaited his test results, I found myself stressed and anxious, wondering how he’d done. I found myself badgering him with questions: “Are you sure you checked over your work before handing the test in?” and “Were there any questions that tripped you up?”
My son was pretty chill about it all. “It’s fine, Mom,” he kept telling me. And in that moment I realized that this test — and his future placement in his math class — doesn’t have one freaking thing to do with me. Yet I was the one stressing out about it.
Yes, we parents want the best for our kids. That’s only natural. We want them to feel successful and we want them to be able to achieve future success. Very often, our kids strive for success on their own. But many times, when we consider what grade they are going to get on a test, or if they are going to make a sports team, or get a good part in the school play, we are thinking about ourselves much more than we are thinking about them.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t cheer our kids on, or gently nudge them toward higher goals. Certainly if they need extra help at school, we should offer it to them if we have the time and the means. But it’s so important not to fall into the trap of basing their self-worth — or ours — on our kids’ accomplishments, or lack thereof.
What should come first and foremost is our kids’ happiness. Period.
We should urge them to do what they love as much as possible, not just what might look good on their college application. We need to teach them that the process is just as important as the end result, because so many kids these days are stressed to the max by the idea of perfectionism, and their mental health is suffering as a result.
I’m not saying we should stay out of every aspect of their lives. But we need to let them take the reins as much as possible. We need to let them follow their hearts in terms of what they want to focus on and commit to. We need to let them make mistakes. We need to let them fail.
But most of all, we need to butt out, lay the fuck off, and remember that this is their journey, not ours.