Blowing Off the Joneses

I wasn't sweating the preschool. There are plenty of other preschools. My kid's lot in life won't be determined by where he learns to not eat paste. But I do sometimes wonder if we're too laid-back as parents.
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My kid just got accepted to what I suppose could be considered a slightly exclusive preschool. I mean, they sent an acceptance letter.

Upon receiving said letter, I sent an all-caps, multi-exclamation mark text message to Mom and Buried, announcing that WE'D DONE IT!!!

She wrote back immediately to say she found my enthusiasm off-putting, and was relieved when I told her I was being sarcastic. She replied, "I love our parenting style!"

Which wasn't sarcasm. Is that a problem?

I wasn't sweating the preschool. There are plenty of other preschools. My kid's lot in life won't be determined by where he learns to not eat paste. But I do sometimes wonder if we're too laid-back as parents.

I love my son. I want him to have the best opportunities and achieve success, et cetera, et cetera. But I also think the culture of competition that has arisen around parenting and kids is toxic and I don't want much part in it.

A bit of a disclaimer here: This is my first child, and he's only 2. I might very well see things differently 15 years from now, when he doesn't get into the right college or his life falls apart because I didn't force him to learn a musical instrument. It's one of parenting's biggest challenges to balance the immediate day-to-day happiness of your kid with his or her future long-term happiness, and it's probably easier to draw a line from a strict childhood to a successful adulthood than to use the opposite as an example.

There is always the possibility that not caring enough about the "right way to do things" could handicap my son's opportunities somewhere down the line, but it's also possible that strict adherence to propriety could limit his opportunities and development in other ways. I may not let him re-christen himself "Frankenstein" and eat ketchup packets for every meal, but I know that I don't want him to grow up thinking there's only one way to do things or that you have to toe the line and walk single file to end up where you want to be.

One of the most depressing things about today's world is the way it has become more important to know the right people than to know the right things. I consider it one of my responsibilities as a father to keep that reality hidden from my son for as long as possible, while simultaneously doing my best to successfully navigate that bullshit on his behalf. But that doesn't mean I will let him sacrifice his happiness or individuality or interests in the service of some nebulous endgame that may or may not be worthwhile in the first place.

For every Tiger Mom with a golden child, there's a kid who can't take the pressure and rebels. And for every hands-off Dad whose kid coasts through high school and never realizes his potential, there's a child who is able to explore and experiment and eventually finds his own path to fulfillment. It's just impossible to know in advance which is the best approach for your children. How well can you understand your kid when it will take him the better part of his first twenty five years to understand himself? So much of our children's futures are guessing games, so many of our methods are shots in the dark, the accuracy of which probably won't be known for decades!

I am happy my son got into this preschool because I know he'll enjoy the unique music-based methods they use and because the teachers are very engaged. I don't care who else is enrolled, or if it puts him on the right track towards the right kindergarten and elementary school and high school and college and graduate school. I'm raising a person, not a chain reaction. Maybe in 20 years -- when he's living in my basement -- I'll regret taking this approach, but right now I just want him to be happy living in his bedroom.

I don't think it's instructive to raise your kid in an environment where everything is high-stakes.

I wrote about something similar a few weeks back in my post about the ways my reactions, and my personality in general, can influence my son's behavior, expectations and perspective. This whole situation seems to go part and parcel with that mentality; Mom and Buried and I have to set an example, and not getting caught up in the preschool competition is a start.

I don't want my kid to grow up thinking the only way to achieve success and happiness is by someone else's yardstick. Sometimes it's better to march to the beat of your own drum than to race to keep up with the Joneses.


This post originally appeared on Dad and Buried.