Big Educational Decisions are Big Emotional Decisions for Parents

Not long after we stop worrying about our babies sleeping through the night and getting enough to eat, the next big parenting moment arrives. Where will we send them to school? 

School choice has become a buzz word that implies a positive sense of control over what our kids' education looks like. But in my opinion, it should be called "school pressure" instead. Like a lot of the decisions we make as modern parents, deciding which school (or whether to homeschool) is a lot more clouded by guilt than the things our parents and grandparents had to choose for us were. 

And the craziest part? It's not just one moment of confusion followed by calm clarity. School is a choice we make every year, even every day, as we pack lunches and send them off with the educators we trust.

For those who work full-time, school becomes a topic of conversation when the little ones are just two years old, or even younger. Day cares have evolved into "schools" as working families feel the pressure to keep up with the rising cost of living across the U.S. Preschools are businesses. Instead of just changing diapers and keeping our toddlers happy, they have to gain a competitive edge by offering educational content and emotional support.

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What this means is that our kids are learning to conform to the ways of the compulsory education system younger than ever. Learning to sit down all day, raise their hands, walk in a single file line. If (and that's a BIG IF!) we can justify the cost of both parents walking out the door every morning, we have to question whether we're doing what's right by boxing in these creative beings from the get-go. Sometimes, we feel we have no choice. But the truth is, it's the pervasive choice that fills us with a sense of dread. 

Analysis paralysis is real. And it's not just something we face in the peanut butter aisle or when we go to upgrade our cell phones. Too many choices exist in all facets of parenting, most notably when it comes to education.

By elementary school, there's a whole new wave of options. The public school down the road has become a last resort for many. If we're not on a waiting list for a prestigious private school, we're praying they'll be accepted to a charter school via the lottery system.

As our loves get older, things only get more overwhelming. In some states, the middle and high school years bring an even wider array of options, including vocational schools and specialized programs. It's hard to know what is right for each child, because there truly is no right answer. We're expected to know our kids inside and out, which means knowing which path to send them on every time there's a fork in the road.

The pivotal moments don't end until they commit to a college. 

No wonder our kids stress out over college admissions! They've been watching us panic over every educational decision we've ever made for them.

We have reached a critical mass of sorts. Providing children with a proper education has turned into: providing MY kids with the BEST education for them. With the breakneck pace of the world we live in, that's just not sustainable.

So what's the solution? 

After all, school choice was supposed to be the solution itself. 

As a parent going through this educational maze myself right now, and having worked closely with parents as a tutor, I know the answer is not a practical one. It's emotional. 

You don't know what's best for your child. And I'm here to tell you that you don't have to know. Let yourself off the hook. 

By imagining there is a holy grail of educational attainment out there, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set our kids up for depression, frustration, and academic stagnation when we believe there is a right way to navigate this part of parenting. 

Our kids need the same thing we need: support. For them, that means feeling that you have confidence in what they're going out there and doing in the world each day. They want to know that getting up early, dealing with homework, and building friendships with their peers is a valuable way to spend their time. Seeing you encourage school for a greater reason than "because you have to go" is paramount.

We cannot and were not meant to parent on an island. Each time these important turning points arise, make a decision, then get ready for the moments when you doubt your choices. They will come. But putting together an educational support tribe -- having friends, educators, and academic experts by your side -- takes all the pressure off. Yes, you need all three. Other parents are a valuable resource, but not an objective one. Teachers can give you personal guidance tailored to your child because they interact with them every day. Academic professionals (counselors, mentors, and coaches) add a level of expertise that provides the comfort you didn't know you needed.

Take care to build a team around yourself that can catch your worries and craft them into the motivation that your children will see and imitate.

If you're in the latter part of this journey and don't yet have a tribe, exhausted from years of these heavy educational decisions, I'm here to take you and you children from surviving to thriving.

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