On Tuesday while I was volunteering at the polls for our town budget referendum, a woman asked me a question about how the schools were addressing, in her words, “the huge amount of stress that students are under.”
I didn’t really have a good answer for her.
For two reasons.
One, I have no idea what the hell the schools are doing to help the kids handle stress, actually.
And two, I didn’t really know what the heck she was talking about.
We currently have a child in kindergarten, third grade, fourth grade, and a sophomore in high school in our school district.
The sophomore is taking two honors classes. He elected to take those on his own. The rest of his classes are what they call “academic.” Which basically means regular old classes.
Every day he has a study hall or a flex period, so he has opportunities to complete some of his work in school. He usually gets most of it done there.
He has never had hours and hours of homework. He knows if he needs help he can ask for it, and he will occasionally stay after school to get help from a teacher.
His grades are all A’s and B’s. His GPA is higher than mine was in high school.
The expectation we have set for him is that if he wants to do the stuff he likes to do, like play basketball, he should have grades that are Bs or better.
We could sit over his shoulder.
We could drill him and test him and quiz him and put all sorts of pressure on him.
We could require straight A’s.
But in a little over two years, he will (probably) be in college.
And who will be there to sit over his shoulder then?
And not my husband.
So we have left it up to him.
And he has risen to the occasion.
I know that doesn’t always happen. I know there are kids who have potential who don’t realize it all.
Or even come close to realizing it.
And that is extremely frustrating.
But I don’t think you can force intensity or desire into a kid.
I published a post yesterday about how I think we have an epidemic of parents making things too easy for their kids these days.
How they make excuses and ask for do-overs and give second (and third and fourth) chances.
I think we can go the other way, too.
I think we can sometimes require perfection.
And I think that can backfire.
I think we check and recheck and correct and redo our kids’ homework.
Especially at the elementary level.
And I think this is dangerous.
First of all, it does not give your kid’s teacher an accurate representation of the work he or she is doing.
And it doesn’t teach your child to be independent. It doesn’t teach him about consequences or how to develop her own work ethic.
But it might give your child a complex.
Because it teaches him or her that if it’s not perfect, it’s not okay.
Is that the message we want to send?
What if, instead, you told your child what the expectations were?
What if you told her that she needed to complete her homework every day?
That if she did, she’d be able to continue to play soccer or take dance class or whatever fun stuff she wanted to do, but if she didn’t, well, then she wouldn’t get to do those things?
And then, what if you just left it at that?
What if you told your child that if she needed help you would give it to her, but that you wouldn’t hound her?
What if your kid made a mistake and you just let it go and let the teacher see where he was struggling?
What if you didn’t expect perfection on every single assignment he did?
Would the world end?
Would his acceptance to a decent college be jeopardized?
No. It wouldn’t.
Do you do every single aspect of your job perfectly?
Is your house spotless 24/7?
Mine definitely isn’t.
But I work hard. I’m not a quitter.
I just put the most effort into the things that really matter to me.
The other things that don’t matter so much, the things that need to be done but maybe not to such a particular degree, they get done. Just not perfectly.
My kids need to eat.
But it doesn’t need to be a five course meal. And it usually isn’t.
So maybe some of that pressure our kids are feeling, maybe it doesn’t come from the schools.
Maybe it comes from us.
Maybe instead of forcing our kids to work to perfection we instead let them understand the concept of cause and effect.
Maybe we let them comprehend the concept of garbage in, garbage out.
Let them fail.
Or even worse, let them be mediocre in some things.
Let them decide.
And maybe we can also show them that you can work really, really, really hard, and you will never be the best.
But that doesn’t matter. Because ultimately in any aspect of your life, you aren’t competing against other people. You are only really competing against yourself.
Maybe we teach our kids that sometimes the journey is more important than the final destination.
That you learn things about yourself along the way.
Whether it’s school or sports or whatever, maybe we should put more of the responsibility into the hands of our kids, let them make choices, and then sit back and see what happens.
Watch their journey with a little guidance rather than strapping ourselves into the seat behind them and telling them which direction to take and how fast to drive every step of the way.
And maybe we should model for kids that working hard at something and enjoying it is what’s important.
Not being the best. Not winning.
I ran the 2015 Boston Marathon.
It was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
And you know what my nine-year-old said to me?
“Mom, you were really slow! And there was a guy on crutches beating you. And a little person. Why did you even run that race? You should have just skipped it.”
I’m not sure where this you’re only good if you win attitude comes from.
From me? Maybe partly. And I’m definitely going to be more conscious of my part in it.
But I sure am glad my kids saw me do something and feel good about myself even if I didn’t win. Even if I came nowhere near winning.
So back to that school pressure…
If your kid wants to take five AP classes, I would probably offer some guidance and suggest not to do that.
I’m not really even sure if any AP classes are necessary.
Yes, in some disciplines I suppose they are.
Or if you are really passionate about that subject.
But I think maybe we need to encourage kids to work only as hard as they need to in some areas so that they can really work hard in the things they are passionate about.
Maybe they are passionate about school. Maybe it’s baseball. Maybe it’s guitar. Who knows.
But I definitely want them to spend most of their time pursuing the things they are good at and the things they enjoy doing.
Because I think that makes for a well rounded, happy, and healthy human being.
And that is my ultimate goal for my kids — a good work ethic but also a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Will loading their schedule full of high pressure academic classes do that?
I don’t necessarily think so.
Sure, I hope my kids to to college. IF they want to.
But am I pushing for Ivy League?
I’m not even pushing for Lehigh where I went to school.
Not because it’s a bad school, but because it’s expensive.
And to be honest, I don’t really think it matters all that much where you get your degree from.
Warren Buffet went to the University of Nebraska.
Oprah went to Tennessee State.
Mark Cuban went to Indiana University Bloomington.
They weren’t Ivy League-ers.
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright, James Cameron, Harrison Ford, Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t even graduate from college.
Would it be great to brag that your kid got accepted to Yale or Princeton or Harvard?
Sure it would.
But sometimes there’s a cost.
You want the best for your kids.
We all do.
But sometimes what you want for them and what is actually best for them are two completely different things.