No matter where I have traveled or whom I’ve met there is something that I have come to find in common with many fellow parents – most of us worry about the quality of education that our children are receiving. We wonder if it might be better somewhere else, if what we’ve chosen is good enough, if our friends who have moved schools, neighborhoods, or countries have moved to something better, if private is better than public or vice versa, Montessori or Waldorf, co-ed or single sex, and so on. We all know far too well the great demands that will be placed on our children as they grow up and so we wonder – should we let them play and truly enjoy their childhood while they can or should we push them to excel so that they can be top of their class, the star athlete or the accomplished musician. I suspect (and hope) that we all wish for our children to simply be loved, nurtured and safe and that deep down in ourselves we know that’s all they need to go out into the world one day and excel. But just as with everything else these days, we are bombarded by information and everyone else’s opinions. And as a parent I know only too well how this overwhelm can so easily disrupt what I most want for myself and my family, often sending me into endless self doubt and worry. This is in direct contrast to the joyfulness that I wish for my family.
I recently read an article written by Ryan Avent for the The Economist 1843 titled High Pressure Parenting that I related to strongly. Avent writes from his personal experience of education and career choices and relates this to his experience of raising a daughter while navigating the educational and extracurricular choices and decisions for our current generation. He writes, “There is no finish line after which results are compared and winners and losers determined. Parents are investing massive amounts of time preparing their children to win a race that cannot be won. Those children learn to run like mad in pursuit of some elusive end result, until they give up or expire from exhaustion.” There are many moments where I feel the nudge of competition and ego urging me to push my daughters to excel and win. But more often I don’t wish this for them because I know this won’t necessarily bring them true happiness. More than wishing for them to excel and achieve I wish for them to have joy in their life. Being the best is most often short-lived and lonely because by its very nature, winning separates you from others. It’s in the connection with others that I have found my greatest joy and my greatest ease.
I grew up in a family where travel and schooling ‘on the road’ for months at a time was a fairly regular occurrence. On all of these trips I can recall my school books and learning – my times tables on a train from Seattle to Los Angeles; the definition of an obtuse angle while driving across Texas; the magnificence of the solar system aboard a sailboat on the Pacific Ocean; and the tradition and ceremony of a Fijian funeral on an island in the South Pacific. These experiences taught and instilled in me self-discipline, independence and offered me early beginnings of a rich view of the world. Our trips were more often rough and rugged rather than polished and luxurious. I remember being about 12 years old, traveling by bus in Mexico with my parents. We arrived in a small town in the middle of the night and slept on the sidewalk until our morning bus connection. I recall hotel rooms so dodgy that I’d tuck my feet into my Dad’s legs to avoid touching any creepy crawlers down at the bottom of the bed. And then there were those glorious times when we’d spend a few nights in one of the nice hotels and enjoy the spoils of swimming pools and fresh linens. To this day I carry with me extraordinary memories of those travels and I know that they deeply inform who I am and how I am as a parent.
For me it’s felt very natural, and almost necessary, to take our young daughters out of mainstream schooling to travel and to spend that time learning both at home and in the environments in which we live. I strongly believe that kids can learn anywhere and everywhere if they are loved, nurtured, and free to be curious and to explore. As a parent I don’t think there is anything more beautiful or joyful than providing this for them.
So while I am guilty of wanting too much for my daughters, of worrying about what they’re not getting, and of passing on my own fears of missing out, I choose to make sure they get something else. While I am serious by nature, I choose to encourage their playfulness so that it will accompany them always. I choose to encourage in them self-love rather than perfection and self-hatred. I choose to always help them to see and understand the privilege of their education and the responsibility they have to make good use of it. I will always model and teach them respect for others no matter how we differ and to always choose kindness. While it is a challenge for me but thankfully less so for their Dad, I wish for them to laugh wholeheartedly even in the worst of times and to search for the joy that is there in every moment. And finally, I will remind them daily that their warm hearts, their care for others and the ability to include others is what they most need in our most uncertain and ever-changing world.
Avent, R. ‘High Pressure Parenting’. The Economist 1843. February/March 2017.