My daughter started high school this year.
It was kind of a relief because I don’t have to have the “Which high school is she going to?” conversation anymore that has dominated my social interactions for the last two years.
But of course, the conversation hasn’t gone away. It’s just changed. “How is she going at school?” is now high on the list of FAQs. I feel funny about answering it. She seems happy enough, certainly. She’s made some friends and doesn’t come home with any complaints. But she also hasn’t come home with much homework or any of the normal things that show that the school is a ‘good one’. It’s the local government school, and while it’s got some things going for it, its faults seem glaringly obvious.
I thought my own questions about ‘which school’ would be over once she started, but
I’ve found myself continuing to ask, “Really? Is it okay? Did we do the right thing?”
And then yesterday, it occurred to me that I’m actually asking the wrong questions. If I’m looking to a school to challenge her, to make her happy, to provide her with a future, to give her accomplishments, I’m going to be disappointed, no matter what school it is. And she’ll grow up thinking that who she is and what she does are shaped by what happens to her. She’ll blame the school for her shortcomings, or she’ll think that people can only do good things if they’re in a particular institution.
“You know, you’re going to have to take responsibility for your own learning and your own standards,” I said to her. “Just because things aren’t maybe as challenging as you’d like or I’d like, doesn’t mean that you can’t set your own learning goals and find your own way and set your own high standards. Don’t allow the school to set the limits of your life.”
In one way, going to the school that isn’t the ‘best’ is a better preparation for growing up than going to a school with every facility and a hundred different options. In grown-up life, we’re all responsible for ourselves. We can decide to blame our circumstances or we can get on and find a way forward. We can set our own standards of achievement and our own goals and we’re responsible for reaching them.
My new attitude is to accept the school for what it is and appreciate its many good points, and then, instead of blaming it for its shortcomings, to encourage and equip my daughter in her learning, to keep finding opportunities for her and to help her to set her own standards and keep to them.
Cecily Paterson is an author and mother of four children who blogs at www.cecilypaterson.squarespace.com about parenting, relationships and living an uncluttered life. Her book, Love Tears & Autism, is a memoir of the first four years after her son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.