Back to School Advice for Parents

Summer isn’t what it used to be. Back in my day everyone got off on the same day and went back the same day. Now it’s all over the place; some went two weeks ago, some are going tomorrow, some are going after Labor Day.

Whatever.

I can barley keep track of my own kids schedule, let alone some one else’s.

For the first time in ten years we only have one kid in school. The good part of that is we only had to fill out one set of those horrendous emergency card packets. The down side is that my oldest isn’t going to college. I’m pretty sure 12th grade was his school finish line. And that’s okay. For as much as he struggled when he was in school, I can’t see the upside of making him go to school when it’s voluntary.

That’d be like volunteering to get stung by a stun gun.

Why? Why would you do that?

During one of his 24,508,318th parent-teacher conference I remember his Second Grade Teacher telling us “this is only the beginning of your struggles…”

Knowing what we know now, that was very prophetic of her to say.

But I am seriously okay with him not going to college. To force a kid into doing something he never ever wanted to do, and when he did do it he didn’t do it very well, just doesn’t make sense.

But, there is a downside to that.

In life, you get what you pay for.

I really believe that school is more than reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s training for life. The school work is almost secondary to the life skills you learn. While I am okay with Frankie not going off into higher education, it was never our plan. We never gave up on making him be the best he could be. School was always a priority. We didn’t let him sit around and play X-Box because he didn’t want to do his schoolwork. He sat there and stared at it. Day after day, week after week. he didn’t hang out with friends, he didn’t watch TV, he didn’t do anything because he wouldn’t do his school work.

That was his choice.

But to Cheryl and I, him not doing an assignment was more than him not learning the subject matter. It was a lack of discipline. It was a lack of respect for both his teachers and Cheryl and I. It was a lack of ambition.

It was like yelling FUCK YOU to anyone who would listen.

Life isn’t handed to anyone. You work for it. You earn it. Do the work and get the grade or half ass it and get what you get. It’s the same as life. With both a job or a relationship. You get what you put into it.

Frankie didn’t learn that in school. We tried to hold him accountable, but the day he graduated he still believed he deserved better than the effort he put into it. And now, he’s living his own life and figuring out that life is hard. Nothing is handed to him, things don’t go away until you take care of them and that no one is going to jump in and save the day.

If you want it done, you have to do it yourself.

You learn how to get along with people and how to get along with people you don’t like. Over the course of your school years you are bound to end up with a teacher you don’t like. Get over it. There isn’t a rule that says you have to like your teacher or the other kids in your class. Chances are you are going to end up with a boss or two you don’t like along the way and learning to deal with that in 4th grade is way better than trying to figure it out when you are an adult.

You are going to get told no. You are going to have deadlines, some of them may not be fair and you are going to have to work on the weekend to get it done. You are going to have to give up something you want to do to make room for something you have to do. You are going to have to make tough choices, meet deadlines and do more work than you think is fair. Letting your kids learn that now is a blessing. Jumping in and trying to ‘fix’ it, or talk to the teacher is sending the wrong message. Unless you plan on barging into their place of employment when they are 33 year old and doing the same thing, then let them figure it out now.

The same goes for the bully on the playground. Kid bullies grow up into adult bullies. Let them learn creatively how to deal with it now and they will be better and stronger for it in the long run. Everyone has choices and if you take away their option of choosing one by doing it for them, then you are taking a tool from their tool box that they won’t be able to use in later years.

This week at school I had a kid come up to me and say the kids at his lunch table were making fun of him. I went over and asked what was going on. Of course the kids that allegedly had said the mean stuff denied it and the kid/victim swore he hadn’t done anything to provoke it.

It was obvious that I wasn’t going to get the truth of the story even if there was one.

I told the kids that supposedly said the mean stuff that they had to have something better to do with their time than sit there and make fun of someone who was just trying to eat his lunch and I told the kid that was sitting there listening to it that he also had other options than just sitting there letting them make fun of him. There was an abundance of other things to do; handball, tetherball, bugs to catch and chess to play. They all disbursed, but a few minutes later the kid that was picked on came up to me and asked me “aren’t you going to do something about it?” I said I did. I gave them both options to move on from the situation and they both had. The other boys were off on the playground and he was sitting their laughing and playing chess.

He looked at me and said “oh wow, you are right! I did it!”

He was more excited that he had taken care of the situation himself than he would have had I wasted his lunch and recess investigating and digging into something that was easily resolved by just stepping away.

(And for all you people out there that are up in arms because a kid was getting bullied and I didn’t do anything about it, chill out. I took down all three kids names and if I see a reoccurring pattern I will make sure the school is aware that it has been an ongoing problem, but for right now, one week in to the school year I’m not going to over react and you shouldn’t either.)

From a parent who has been there with a kid who just didn’t get school, don’t lessen your students opportunity to learn a valuable life lesson on your quest to trying to win parent of the year. Life is messy and kids need to know how to navigate those waters. They need to learn that their behaviors and effort have consequences and that there is a bigger purpose to getting the assignment done than just a grade. At the end of their school years they are going to have to stand on their own two feet and face life head on. Frankie battled school (and us) for years and years and now he’s out there living life on his own and both Cheryl and I sleep very soundly at night knowing we have given him every chance to make his own decisions and understand his own consequences. Is he doing it the way we envisioned? No. Is it as easy as he thought it would be? No. But he is doing it and that is all you can ever asked of your child is to be sufficient and successful in their own right.

There was some tough years along the way but they only helped strengthened him for the long road ahead.

So as you begin this school year and find yourself tempted to jump in and save the day, please pause and sit back and see how your kids respond to doing it themselves. The result may surprise you.

In a good way.

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