The Single Most Important Thing in Your Child’s Education

Private school or public school? That is the question. 

My 2 children, ages 8 and 9, spent the day at a small, progressive private school a couple of weeks ago on a school visit.  It was lovely.  There was a soft landing at 9am, the teachers were respectful, the children happy.  It felt almost unreal, too, like it existed within a bubble of goodness and light.  It is expensive.  It is $12,000 each per year, which is nothing compared to the $45,000 my friends in NYC pay for a similar education. But it’s a lot for me.  I am applying for financial aid, but the question remains.

How much am I wiling to struggle financially for my children to have this type of education?

They currently are enrolled in a pretty average public elementary school in upstate New York, where we live.  They are learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic but often, it feels like they are learning how to stand in line.

As someone who has had money and also not had money, I have seen both sides.  My parents really struggled so that I could go to private school.  As a result of their hard work, I attended one of the top private boarding schools in the country and went to college in Washington, DC without accruing any debt.  I’ve experienced a top education and I look at my life and wonder, was it worth it?

I am a single mother in my 40’s and barely covering my overhead as I rebuild my career.  I was educated to be a luxury SUV mom but I’m living a Hyundai life.  This is the result of two big decisions that I made. One is that I chose to walk away from a lucrative career in the television industry to stay home with my children.  Also, I chose to have two children with a man who couldn’t provide for us and do his part financially.  As they say, I’ve made my bed.  And it didn’t matter, the respectful attitude I received at Marlborough, the top all-girl school I attended in Los Angeles, or the high-level math and science courses I took at Choate or the medieval philosophy I studied at Georgetown.  I still was capable of making some really big mistakes and now my children are in this public school petri dish instead of the private school one.  I’m confident that I can rebuild my career, but will it be in time for my children to get a good education?  How important is it?

Last night, my son was in the Spring Concert at his school.  As I looked at the children on stage in front of me, I would guess that for the most part, these kids were not born with silver spoons in their mouths.  A few have an air of confidence and light that makes me feel like they’ll make it out of here but for the most part, they probably will not leave this area. They will not be captains of industry.  Standing in the second row is a girl who has a bit of a crush on my son.  She is taller than him, a little overweight, and her family has lived in this area for generations.  Is this the type of girl he will date or marry? Will this be enough for him?

I had lunch with Gabor Mate yesterday.  He is the co-author of one of my favorite parenting books, Hold On To Your Kids.  I asked him, how important is it that my children are in that private school environment?  Not only is Gabor brilliant as a therapist and researcher, but he’s also a father.  He looked at me and told me not to worry about it.  There is something more important than the school or subjects or extracurriculars and that is my connection with my children.  The parent-child bond is much more important in determining their success, future happiness, and ability to choose healthy relationships than which elementary school they attend.  Spend your energy on that, he recommended.

photo by: Caitlinator