As a teenager and young adult, I watched an older family member raise her children. From the time they were babies, she was consumed with their education to the point of driving to a preschool a few towns away because it was more “academic.” At the time, her daughter was three.
Not only did this family member’s attention to her children’s education never wane, I argue it, instead, grew stronger. Whenever anyone, including my boyfriend who later became my husband, questioned her strict oversight, she held her own, claiming if you do not teach good study habits by the time a child is in the third grade, that child will be lost.
To this day, I am not entirely sure why the demarcation line she chose was the third grade, but her statement stuck with me. And when I gave birth to my first child, a girl, I followed suit.
I read to my daughter, and later to my two younger children, all the time. I taught them how to read from about the age of three using either flashcards or my own “method,” which included highlighting repetitive keywords in "Dr. Seuss" books as we alternated reading each page out loud. I went back to the basics, special ordering every "Dick and Jane" anthology I could get my hands on, believing these stories were by far the best way to teach a young child to read. I still do.
We visited the public library often, as well as bookstores, and today I house a collection of children’s titles that would probably be sufficient to found a small library.
Still, during those early years, my eldest daughter’s attention span left a lot to be desired and when she began elementary school I questioned whether my hard work would eventually pay off.
I grew increasingly worried as the homework load began to build, even from kindergarten, and so, too, our battles over doing homework. Despite the hours I had already put into instilling a love of learning and diligent study habits, my daughter did not seem as enthusiastic as I would have liked when it came to studying.
As she advanced grades, that elusive third-grade deadline drew dangerously near and our homework battles grew worse and worse, culminating with me standing at the oven like a vigilante, watching the timer count down from 60 seconds as she struggled to complete her math tables in one minute or less. Only when she achieved perfection over the course of the week in preparation for a test each Friday did we stop practicing.
She began to experience the rush.
By the time my daughter reached the fourth grade, I had little involvement in her studies and now, as she heads toward the end of the 10th grade, I have none. Nor do I have to ask her to do her homework. Or study. Ever.
I wish I did.
I grew up in a house where, although education was emphasized, no one sat on me to make sure I was working up to my potential. And I did not. When I failed to perform as I would have liked, or hoped, I grew resentful and, later on, regretful I had not worked harder when given the chance.
As a new mother, I vowed to never put my children in a position where they could one day look back and feel they had squandered their opportunities. When it comes to my first child, I think I have accomplished exactly this.
But there is a price and about that, I feel regret. No, that price will not come in the form of rejection to a college of her choosing. With her academic record to date, it is safe to assume she will have many choices available to her, even though one of them may not be her first or, I should say, the one we conditioned her to believe is her first.
I am proud of my daughter. No matter what she tries her hand at – academics, sports, volunteerism – she always gives her all. Where I question the value of the drive I helped to create is when I see her push herself to the brink of exhaustion, staying up way past her bedtime and beating herself up when she does not receive the grade she wanted or the recognition she worked hard to achieve.
I have changed my tune since those oven timer days and frequently encourage my daughter to take breaks, spend time with friends, read for pleasure, and call it a night in the name of sleep. And she is happy to receive the encouragement, or lack of it, both of us understanding success is not success unless you can enjoy it.