I have never met a parent who didn’t want the absolute best for their children. The idea of helping one’s offspring become more independent often is part of that “wanting what’s best.” When toddlers can’t immediately get up after a non-injuring fall, parents will often be mindful not to rush in and swoop up the child–to teach a sense of self-reliance. As kids age, parents hold themselves back when they hear school yard arguments between playmates and siblings, to teach them to work out problems on their own. Setting the table, clearing their dishes, pouring their own glass of milk are all milestones of parents trying not to coddle their ever growing child. Academic work can be an exception to this mindful non-coddling attitude. The desire for the ‘A’ grade, to be in the accelerated reading and math groups in elementary school, the opportunity to attend the rigorous middle school and prestigious magnet program at the flagship public high school in town, can translate into sitting together for the entire duration of homework every night, assisting wherever the child hesitates, even as the parent can see the kid’s thinking, hiring tutors at the first signs of challenge, checking the online grading system multiple times a day and emailing the teacher whenever a homework assignment or test score comes back less than 90%. The concern that their child be educated so s/he can live a financially stable future can trump their diligence in other areas to let the kid learn on his/her own. In addition, parents with a particular academic interest may innocently want to share that excitement with their offspring, overlooking that their child may not share the same enthusiasm or inclination. To further complicate the academic development of today’s students, parents often tell me that school wasn’t like this when they went to school; this being the pressures they sense kids are under to be in the highest levels of classes, taking multiple Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors classes simultaneously, while playing three sports a year and completing hours of community service weekly. They simultaneously feel the need to relive the stress they can see in their children from the academic load they’re taking, while at the same time wanting their child to be as competitive as possible for every academic opportunity and college in the future, so encourage their kid to take the challenging classes and keep up their extracurricular schedule. The road to creating “what’s best” for a child can be twisty.
There is no simple answer, when parents are working to do what’s “best” for their offspring. The expectations parents’ set for their children can build a mindset toward achievement. At the same time, a parent also is working to balance their kid’s interests, within the constraints of how society defines educational achievement, and let the child discover his/her inherent talents. Listening to high school students (minus the normal teenage angst against their parents), as well as parents’ concerns about guiding their children, the care and deliberation behind each decision and activity–pregnant with the potential to build an awareness and interconnectedness to a larger purpose in life–sometimes can feel contrived and less spontaneous. Tricky. Tricky. Tricky. While students find their own path and learn to work alongside their parents reflection and rigorous honesty about both the intention and effect of decisions is helpful to make adjustments as needed. Make some time, even if just the 15 minutes driving home from practice, to have a conversation about the day’s events, as well as what the student is still enjoying about the just finished activity. Then, everyone can continue to learn to work together, and students can build greater awareness of their talents and interests.