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.
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