It had been almost 25 years since I walked home from a school in tears, but this week it happened again.
I’d asked to meet with my son’s headmistress because I was really struggling over the decision of whether or not to have my son take his 11-Plus exam. (Where I live in the U.K., 10-year-olds can be tutored intensively for the exam and if they pass, are then able to attend highly desirable grammar schools.) I had gone to a grammar school like this myself and had loved it more than life, and I’d always expected my son would do the same.
Where I live, it is seen as a status symbol to have your child attend these highly academic schools. But as I chatted with my son’s headmistress about the insanity of putting children under that kind of pressure at such a tender age, a thought struck me: Was I doing it for Finn, or was I doing it for myself?
Back when I was in school, I was driven, bookish, and competitive. My son isn’t.
I came from a broken home. He doesn’t.
As an only child, I looked to my friends to be my family. He has a sibling.
In short, my son is not me.
As I left the school, big, fat tears spilling down my face, I learned a huge lesson: that the dreams I had for my son were my dreams. My hopes for him were the ones I’d had for myself, and I needed to wake up to the fact that what worked for me is not the solution for him.
Later that day, I talked to a friend who said that she tried to get her daughter to move up class ranks at gymnastics. My friend had been a gymnast when she was a kid and was very competitive, always trying to push herself to do better. But her daughter said that she was happy where she was. My friend looked at me and said, “My daughter is like me in so many ways, but also, she is totally different.”
So often I see parents pushing their kids — determined that they will pass the 11-Plus, go to that highly academic grammar school, and then go on to college — when in reality what their kids want is very different.
We have to ask ourselves: who are we really doing it for?
I’ll admit I’ve had to shove aside all of my long-held desires for my son’s education, my preconceptions of the public school he’ll be attending, and my own stupid worries about what others will think. I think of the insane helicopter parenting we do, the worries about our kids doing the “right” sports, having the “perfect” birthday parties, and attending the “best” schools. I can’t help but wonder if we’re doing it for our kids or because we want to look like we are the parents who are doing it all right?
I’ve had friends admit that they sent their kids to private schools simply because their friends did and they were following the herd; now they look back and say that it was the most monumental waste of money! Another couple confessed they forced their son to go to an elite private school that was so pressurized, they’re certain it affected his self-esteem. But at the time they thought they were doing the best for him, getting him the best education that money could buy.
Sometimes I look at the sad kid sitting at the end of the soccer bench and wonder if he is there for himself, or because his Dad played it at school and is insisting his child do the same. Or the girl squeezing her feet into the ballet shoes, twirling and falling across the dance floor, because that’s what Mom did all those years ago.
Yes, our kids have our mannerisms and our eyes and our hair color, but they are not us. So isn’t it time we let them be who they are and not extensions of ourselves?More On