High pressure parenting

This is a bit of a rant and also a chance to purge, so sit tight. At the moment I am feeling like a bit of a parenting failure…my crime? I did not groom my son early enough for college. See, my son elder boy is 18 and a high school senior, he also happens to be class president, captain of the debate team and president of the thespian society. Generally when you hear that you think gee, that must be a kid with straight A’s who is definitely headed straight to college. Well in this case you would be wrong.

Let me tell you about my son, he is a good kid, a kid we have allowed to be a kid since after all he has had the heavy burden of being the child of parents who split when he a mere babe…he has literally spent his entire life shuttling between me and his father. Old friends remember when he used to live with me year round, new friends only know him living with his father but through it all we have always been a family.

In the early years of school he maintained decent grades, nothing that was going to tear the roof off the school but he did well. In junior high, he was hit with the death of my mother whom he was close to, the Spousal Unit and I bought our house and then a year later after being an only child for almost 14 years he got a little sister. It was also during this time his father who was never in a serious relationship after we split up, hooked with a woman he would eventually marry who brought not one but four kids to the relationship. To say things were a tad crazy when he started high school would actually be a understatment. In a very short period of time he went from being the only kid to having to share his attention in both his parents households. He has often shared that in many ways it was easier to adapt  to girl child’s arrival than it was the arrival of what is now 4 step siblings who were also teenagers with 3 of them being girls.

His first two years of high school, while he wasn’t failing any classes he also was not earning straight A’s, I would occasionally talk to him about the future and college but at the same time senior year and college seemed so far away. It was during sophomore year that his father and his new lady-love decided to move back to the midwest, a move that elder boy was ambivalent about but decided to go with because he wanted to be closer to my family and also wanted to live in a larger place. Moving actually turned out to be a good thing, elder boy blossomed at his new school where his being a child of color was no longer an issue. He had Black teachers as well as white and was able to build  a more diverse group of friends, he got involved in school. His grades sky rocketed, along with his popularity. While that move was painful for me personally, after all I walked away from everything to move to Maine and be with him, that move in the middle of high school was a positive for him.  As a parent we all want what is best for our children, in some ways he felt he had the best of both worlds, vacations out here but going to school where he actually fit in and was challenged intellectually.

By the end of junior year with a year of solid A & B’s as well as honors level classes, as well as a growing love for theatre, elder boy got serious and realized he definitely wanted to go to college. In many ways the life story of Barack Obama had inspired him, my son liked Obama so much that he even volunteered for the campaign in 2008 though it would be 2 years before he could vote. So we spent the past summer checking out colleges, the boy visited several campuses in both New England and in Chicago before settling on the school of his dreams…the University of Chicago.

Well after much discussion and debate the boy applied to 4 schools and well this week, things came crashing down. To date he has been wait listed at one school and rejected at two and we are waiting to hear from the last school. Right now my son has a great attitude, he has been plugging along with his classes and shows, in fact he is directing a show at the end of the school year and was approached by a semi professional theatre group about getting involved with them. As we wait to hear from this last school we are re-accessing the next year and I suspect leaning strongly towards a gap year spent doing theatre. I am so proud of my son and his attitude and the fact that he is not letting the rejections get him down though I know that no from the University of Chicago hurt on a very deep level. He had actually interviewed with them at the end of summer and while he felt the interview had gone well, I suspect that his freshman and sophomore grades of  B’s and C’s hurt his chances badly despite where he his now.

Which leads me to my rant. I think we put too much pressure on kids and don’t allow kids to be kids. The other night I was on a discussion board of parents with seniors who are also dealing with this college stuff and was surprised at the general attitude that kids must be groomed early on for college especially a “good” college. One parent stated that if a kid goes into high school not doing A work then clearly that is a kid not ready for college. Excuse me but we are taking 14 yo kids! Personally I feel the maturity gap between a 14 yo and an 18 yo is huge. Having seen it with my son, I am starting to believe that our current education system as it is functions is deeply flawed on so many levels. Yes I would have loved for elder boy to have gotten A’s in his freshman year since this story might be different but at the same time I have seen my child mature into someone with deep passions and convictions and I question would those have developed if I had beating him over the head to get straight A’s. Too many times we look at grades instead of looking at the whole picture. It’s times like this when I look at friends who have opted out of the whole school system and think they are on to something.

Right now we have parents who I think put too much pressure on their kids to succeed yet in their quest to do that most are in danger of becoming just more cogs in the wheel. I was also stunned to hear of families where kids applied to upwards of 13 colleges. Mind you it ain’t free to apply to these schools. I am sorry its just too much, yes if you apply to a zillion schools you greatly increase your chances that your kid is going to get into at least one. But really is it so bad if the kid doesn’t get into any? I admit yesterday morning I was a wreck thinking what if elder boy doesn’t get into a college, then I thought so what? Hell, I was 25 when I decided to go to college and having lived life, my enjoyment of school was far greater than what it would have been earlier since I tried school earlier and it just wasn’t for me at that time in life.

Nope, my son will be just fine. I actually find myself thinking to be young and not bogged down with life responsibilities like a house, spouse or kids provides a great opportunity to explore the world and learn. We had been talking about giving him the gift of travel for his high school graduation gift and now that it seems he will have time  if he wanted to he could expand that time from a few week trip to a few month trip, what an even better gift? I always wanted to travel but having married and had kids early I have never been able to get off this continent.

But parents maybe we would do good to let our kids be and not apply so much pressure, as for elder boy I know he will be fine. As he joked the other night “Ma, this sounds like a movie in the making…kid gets rejected from every school he applies to and goes on to create some cool gadget and becomes rich” I told him anything is possible son…anything is possible.

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  1. March 21, 2010
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