Right now, if you’re a parent — you’re probably stuck in an endless loop of checking facts and evaluating risk. The CDC publishes new guidelines, so you check those new guidelines against your decisions about school, or play dates, or carpooling. Your school district issues new ideas about online schooling, so you check those new ideas against your *current* plan for fall, your kid’s development, and your own tolerance for risk.
This is a tautology, and that means it’s going nowhere. Fast.
As George W. Bush said, “It’s no exaggeration to say the undecideds could go one way or another.” Tautological statements have no end in sight; they loop around themselves without making any clear exit, ever. Statements like “If we do not succeed, we run the risk of failure” (Dan Quayle) are almost meaningless, because they don’t arrive at any certainty except for the uncertainty already contained within them. Logical tautologies like, “Either it will rain tomorrow, or it won’t rain” are completely without merit, because we simply won’t know until tomorrow arrives.
Yet parents keep trying to predict the future, and it only takes one look at the media to see that no one really knows. We can read all the studies and watch all the news, and we all still have to make our own decisions. And if we start asking other parents, it gets even more difficult, because we start to align ourselves (or not) with others, and then we’re really in a fix.
Which makes me wonder if it’s really the risk that bothers us?
When I got divorced, the real trigger for it was not the myriad of reasons I typically give (insert your own ideas here…the top 3 for most couples are incompatible values, irreconcilable differences, and money). The real trigger for my divorce was the look on my 5 year-old’s face when he watched us fighting. I realized in that particular moment that my divorce was imminent, but also that I was teaching my child in a very material way how to relate to other people. (And sometimes, that’s to walk away.)
When we make a big decision — or even a small one — it seems to me that we’re modeling more than just our views on the question at hand. Making that decision about my divorce was not so much about the underlying reasons for the split; it was about how I wanted to model relationships to my child.
We can model the same decision-making behavior when we discuss — and finally decide — about school.
As we “cuss and discuss” school options, it’s worth considering what traits we’re modeling to our children. Are we showing that we can handle this decision, despite the conflicting views of others and the science that changes almost daily? That we can adjust, when we learn new information? That we can make a decision that differs from those of others, and still feel good about it? Or just that we can be calm in the face of uncertainty? These strike me as truly valuable skills to teach our children — especially in the face of other situations parents can’t always control (um, teenage drinking or pregnancy, anyone?).
So maybe that’s it. We’re uncertain, and it’s easy to transfer that uncertainty to our children.
I’ve got news for you, it’s our job as parents to model good decision-making behavior, and that includes NOT including them in our angst. We’ve got at least a few decades more experience than they do, and they are not yet equipped for decisions this complicated. While I’ve seen many parents give their kids a long leash on some things (honestly, it’s unnerving how much freedom some kids have), this is a decision that involves the parents — and the kids can contribute only if they are mature enough to do so. But allowing young children to participate in the process (I’m talking to you, Facebook Moms) is counter-productive and gives them far too much power. Especially for younger children, the decision rests solely with the parents — and we have to step up and do our best to show them how to make tough decisions.
And honestly, in the end, I think that’s what our kids will remember: That we cared enough to make a good decision, but also that we cared enough to show them how it’s done.