Getting out of the "system"

April 8, 2006 | 4 comments

I remember when I was younger I would see movies and TV shows sometimes portray parents of young children as hyper-competitive, obsessed with making sure that their child had all the latest educational toys, was enrolled in the most exclusive pre-pre-school, was reading Homer by three years old, etc. I always wondered where the media got these outlandish stereotypes because, c’mon, nobody’s really like that.

Well, one of the bigger shocks I’ve received since becoming a parent is that a *lot* of parents really are like that. One of my good friends called me last week to say that she just got her son into one of the last waiting list slots for some ritzy preschool about 45 minutes away from here and was encouraging me to drop what I’m doing right now and make sure DB (my 18-month-old son) is on that list. Then yesterday I was at Barnes and Noble and heard two other mothers talk for close to an hour about which pre-school is best, what elementary schools have the highest test scores, what waiting lists their kids are on, what toddler soccer leagues are best, etc.

All this just for toddlers! And from what I’ve seen, it only gets more intense from there. My 17-year-old neighbor is a senior in high school and her life revolves around tests, college applications, scholarship competitions — all while squeezing in volleyball practice a few times a week and games on the weekends. Her mother recently told me that she (the daughter) recently decided that not only is she no longer Catholic but she doesn’t believe in God. Shocked, I asked the mother what she was going to do about it. She explained that with all the tests and applications and campus visits and practices and games they just don’t have time to worry about that kind of thing right now.

I don’t want this for my life, for my family’s lives. I don’t want to stress about what PRE-school my child attends, I don’t want their lives to revolve around this-or-that test, I don’t want their high school years to be so filled with competing and applying and testing that there’s little left for family and God.

More and more I find myself feeling alienated from most other mothers I know because I don’t want to obsess about and nit-pick every last detail of my children’s education, starting when their barely out of diapers. Ironically, education is really important to me. But not important enough to get sucked into this treadmill that values school names and test scores over real learning, not important enough to put educational bureaucracy before family and God. (And, besides, I’m not convinced that their education will really be any better going to name brand pre-schools and the “best” high schools and taking zillions of test prep courses than if we all just relax and choose whatever schooling route is in line with our priorities and I spend a lot of time with my kids.)

I worry a lot that maybe everyone else is right, and maybe I’m throwing away my kids’ chances at a college education by not getting them into the “system” early on. But my gut tells me that you really can’t go wrong putting family and God first, and that it’ll all work out for the best.


  1. Georgie Tamayo Clemens

    Amen sister. YOU are absolutely right in your instincts…there is not that much you can do educationally that will greatly alter the final way your child will turn out. What does have an influence on children in the long run is being a good and faithful Catholic parent and making sure that your child knows how important a relationship with God is. Committment to Christ through His church gives a person meaning, hope, character, values, dreams, and dignity in all ages and stages of his or her life. Pray that the world will see that.

  2. Barb, sfo

    Jen, you have the right idea. And believe me, it is a tough road that you will walk during the next 20 or so years. My kids are 14, 10 and 4 so I am seeing this competition stuff at all levels right now. People think I’m nuts because my little guy will not be in 20-hour-per-week preschool in the fall, and my big kids are not in 17 sports, etc. I think the kids are better for us taking the pressure OFF and just letting them take in what they need to from their education instead of stressing them out at 3.

  3. SteveG

    Spot on as usual Jennifer! Go with your gut.

    I’ve probably said this before, but my measure of success for my children is whether I can teach them to selflessly give an receive love to God and neighbor. It’s like my mantra when I am tempted to get caught up in all the extras.

    If I can do that, I’ll have given them the tools they need to be joyful and peaceful in the face of the inevitable ups and downs of life.

    I am ‘educated’ and it didn’t bring me a whit of joy until I started to learn to love God and others. Within that context, it’s brought me great joy. Everything, it seems, must be subordinate to that overarching goal.

    Seek first the kingdom of God, and all else will follow.

    Those are the words of the savior, and I trust them even if I fail to live them out 9 times out of 10.

  4. SmartBlkWoman

    A few thoughts…..

    I know how overwhelming it can be dealing with small children. Just have patience with yourself and take deep breaths often 🙂 You’ve been a mother a bit longer than I have so I am sure that you have the “patience” bit down pat. I’m still working on it myself.

    As far as working on your knowledge of the faith, this is also one area in which you can’t rush it. I’ve been reading Christian literature for sometime now and I still don’t get it. It’s a long process and there is a lot of information to absorb, sort through and figure out. It may not be easy but it is well worth it. No need to rush, you’ll get there.

    I am also anti-preschool. My daughter can learn just as much at home with me and her grandparents as she can in a daycare; and don’t be fooled, preschool is really daycare by another name. People are putting their children in daycare at younger and younger ages-and while I don’t want to come down on parents that do this because they may be in a position where they have no other choice-and there really isn’t any benefit to it. I enjoy having my baby here with me and I feel that laying around with people that love and cherish her is much better than sending her off to daycare.

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