Your child's education: Who decides?

Aug 23, 2019

The last school year kicked my ass and forced me to acquiesce on pretty much every tenet I had about my kids' education, who was the boss in our family, and what was important. I stand before you a beaten, battered and more humble mother than ever before, and (I hope to high heaven) a better one too.


My daughter, Gigi's, original school last year emphasized grades, exams and performance, like most Spanish schools do (remember how we lived in Spain?).


Unfortunately, her sensitive, creative and active personality was a not happy with the traditional teaching and performance focus, and her failure to behave 'right' yielded castigation and disappointment from her teachers. The reprimands did nothing to improve her behavior or grades, but it did make her feel stupid, ashamed and angry.


While we pride ourselves on openness with our kids, compassionate responses to their needs, and co-creating our family with them, Mike and I have always been the boss, and never thought twice about it. At the end of the day, we have a vision, values, and expectations for our kids that govern our decisions. Complaining about school, hyperbolizing about social problems, or protracted surliness have never been grounds for a parenting pivot. Ever.


That is, until the gut punch of watching Gigi's morale, self esteem, and joy wane as the school year went on. It cast doubt on all those visions, values and expectations we had built our life around, and I was paralyzed by uncertainty. "If I 'give in' and go back on my expectations, she will think she can change something this huge just by complaining!" my tiny dumb-dumb mommy brain thought.


But something shifted after a particularly hard parent-teacher conference. "What if my vision and expectations are wrong? What if I just go all-in on Gigi? Maybe she doesn't need to learn how to be different," my mommy brain said, as it grew grinch-style. I decided to flip-flop (something I loathe) and moved her to an open, democratic school that was way outside my comfort zone (think 'companions' instead of teachers, classes in yurts, and no curriculum). I had no idea if the kid-led system there would teach her anything academic! But I had reached a point where I didn't even care anymore if she ever learned to add 2 + 2, as long as she got out of school with her self esteem, confidence and dignity intact.


It changed everything; she became a new person and things I thought were her unchangeable personality traits shifted before my eyes. She grew and learned and LOVED herself more than I ever expected, and I felt ashamed that her own mother never knew she had this version of herself inside all along. "What would it have been like if I had invested and leaned-in to her years ago?" my exploding mama mind thought. Being all-in with my child snapped things into place for her, and that created a huge shift in the way I think about parenting and myself as a mother.


It's pretty amazing how the universe works. Just a few months after all this, my eldest son had a crisis that necessitated a HUGE decision about our kids' education and our family's entire future. I never would have known how to honor and invest in him the way he needed me to without this moment leaning-in to my daughter. In the end, it wasn't about her education, but about expanding to have the capacity to make an even bigger leap and lean-in even harder on a family-wide scale.