Why I’ll Pass On Being A Perfect (Pushy) Parent

istock_000000835115xsmall.jpg

This year’s back-to-school season twisted me inside out. Maybe I’ve just been through too many presentations on “authentic learning.”  Maybe it’s because this year, with kids ages 14, 12 and 9 in three different school divisions, I have too many back-to-school events to attend.

Perhaps my kids are getting too old for this. 

Perhaps I am getting too old for this.

Sometimes I think it’s other parents who have made me hate September. On Monday, I was at a girls’ night out dinner.  One of the moms was missing. She had to stay home to help her son finish an English paper. 

Her son is a sophomore at Harvard.

Two nights later, I sat squeezed into my 7th grader’s desk during Middle School Back-To-School night.  Parents behind me were talking about the SAT exams.  Had I wandered into the wrong classroom, maybe come to the seniors’ back-to-school night by mistake?  (Both were distinct possibilities.) 

But no.  These were parents of 12-year-olds.

Who are making their kids take weekly SAT prep classes.

SIX YEARS before they actually have to take the test.

A few months ago, I sat in the same building with the same parents discussing the documentary about over achievement, Race to Nowhere.  I read Wendy Mogul’s Blessing of a B-. Just this month, Washingtonian Magazine ran an article about the performance pressures on local kids titled, “Am I Good Enough Now?” Am I the only parent getting the message?

Hard work, achievement, and success in life are well and good.  But why do some parents so desperately want our children to achieve dizzying heights of perfection before they turn 20?  Were we all so accomplished when we were in school?  Are we all so terribly perfect now?  Are the gifts of perfectionism worth the suffering their pursuit causes?  Aren’t the gifts of failure also important?

Before you think I’m writing this from the loony ward, ranting about parents who write their kids’ graduate school applications, I’m relieved to report that other parents also redeemed September for me.

My nine-year-old had dreamed all summer of hosting a first-day-of-school pool party.  It rained all day and the temperature dropped 25 degrees.  My daughter begged me not to cancel. The kids had a blast.  Without being asked, one mom stayed next to me poolside, shivering and wearing a raincoat.  For five hours.

One dad fell asleep in the back row during the back-to-school presentation. A bunch of other parents didn’t come – I guess they decided their kids would survive their absence.  A few forgot to come and didn’t even realize they’d forgotten until the next week. 

A friend who is a professor at a prestigious college nearby laughingly told me that her daughter came home with a D in history. Two senior parents smiled when I asked where their child wants to go to college and then said: “At this point, we’re just hoping he graduates from high school.”

These parents made me consider the true fruits of life, the stuff no SAT prep course can teach. Love and encouragement. Perspective. Joy. Forgiveness. The satisfaction of working hard at something you love regardless of the final score. The value of a good nap. 

Imperfect parents show us what really matters in life.  Just as imperfect kids do.

Leave a Reply