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Parenting two teen boys is tough, but not for the reasons I expected.
They are still sweet and my favorite people to spend time with. I wish their phone wasn’t always so close and that my 16-year-old driver would learn to notice parking signs, but all in all, good so far.
The problem I have is with the society I’m raising them in, and how hard it is not to be swept up in it.
The pressure to parent perfectly by my latchkey generation has caused much misery for everyone involved.
After a long day at school, kids come home to piles of homework and tutors. Sports at school are no longer enough, and families are paying thousands of dollars and giving up weekends and holidays and church and temple to join club teams. The politics and angling involved with these teams is absurd—and all for what?
Approximately zero percent of the kids playing will go pro and a handful more will play at the college level. What happened to playing for the love of the game and working your heart out for your team made up of kids you have grown up with? Plus, once you commit to a club, it’s year round, and there is no room to try other sports or perform in a play or anything else.
Community service hours have become a requirement to graduate. This seems like a well-intentioned idea, but it’s stripped away the heart of volunteer work. Rather than cleaning the beach because it feels good to protect our oceans, it’s done to chalk up hours and robs children of the feeling of doing good for good’s sake.
I happen to live in Los Angeles, one of the places where the wealthy outsource all sorts of tedious chores and responsibilities. Throw a little money around, and diapers magically get changed, prepared organic food lands in the fridge, and personal coaches and tutors give your child the best chance possible to succeed.
This is all wonderful for those who are able. It often means more quality time with family.
It’s horrifying, but not surprising to watch the college admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues, unfold. Just one more check—right?!
Except it’s not.
Some things will never be fair or equal.
The donations from wealthy families to secure admittance (of their perhaps less qualified progeny) benefit the universities and the entire student body. The downside is one spot is taken from a potentially more deserving student, which is unfortunate, but buildings need to be built and top professors need to be paid.
Downright cheating and padding the pockets of a few is different. What kind of a message is this sending to children everywhere? To get ahead, you have to cheat? Already, 25 percent of students admit to taking ADHD drugs for better grades and over 30 percent have applied for longer test time allowances.
One of the names in the college cheating headlines is a friend of a friend who I’ve met on a few occasions over the years. She’s lovely.
Now, she is forever known as a cheater and is facing jail time.
How did ambition, fear, and societal pressure push her to do this when her children already had every advantage in the world? My heart aches for the kids, even if they were in on it. What kind of a message have they received about what is important in life? Their own accomplishments have become a house of cards.
There will be no buildings attached to my sons’ applications, and we are making choices now that will hurt their prospects for a top college. A question that rolls through my mind is: do I even want them to attend with a sea of students who won this fraught competition for admittance, are entitled like the Stanford rapist Brock Turner, or have coaches who take bribes?
Completely opting out isn’t a real option, but how do we help our children navigate a path through the pressures of the system and to ultimately become happy adults?
Oprah is currently recommending a book, The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Dr. Shefali Tsabary.
The author says our children hold a mirror up to us. When they trigger our emotions, it’s a moment for us to feel and heal our own baggage from childhood rather than to react negatively toward our child. Her premise is that the reason we have children is to heal ourselves and to connect with them at the soul level as equals.
How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims is another compelling book. She recommends climbing out of the helicopter to let your children make their own mistakes and find their own passions.
I tried this with some success, but it turns out that if you let them fail, sometimes they do so spectacularly. Perhaps that isn’t the end of the world (and this could be her point), but it’s murderous on their self-confidence. The school system can be a game, and my boys need help with the organizing bits and, weirdly, the turning in your completed homework bit. The answer is somewhere in the middle.
There are oases out there.
My youngest just finished a year at Manzanita School in Topanga Canyon where nature, social justice, and interpersonal connection are the priorities. The students take care of the school land in a formal stewardship program and have daily councils when the class communicates with each other about difficult topics and emotions. I’m forever grateful for the vision of this school and for how it influenced my son and our family. More of this in our world, please.
Each year is a new year, and I’m finding a balance of letting my boys lead the way and asking them when they need and want my help. We’ve dropped the club teams and play sports at school, college application be damned.
This change alone has opened our weekends for quality time, impromptu ukulele playing, cooking experiments, and soul connection. It feels right.
The college application is no longer the goal, savoring moments of their childhood is.