What My Son’s Preschool Admission Process Taught Me About Pressure to Conform

The other day my wife, Karis, and I were sitting directly across a nice middle-aged woman who handed us a thick mound of papers, and said: “You’ll need to fill out these forms, complete this application, turn in references, pass these interviews…”

The whole experience felt like we were qualifying for a home loan or vying for some high-profile job. Only we weren’t.

We were applying for preschools.

I must admit, as a relatively new dad, I thought school screening didn’t even start until like age five. But, alas, there we were, in the admissions conference at preschool option number four, trying not to remember that we had already gone through this process three other times at other top-tier preschools in the neighborhood that we had yet to hear back from.

Greyson is just two years old, but like so many other children and their parents, things like profile forms, ERB tests and interviews have already started a predetermined path towards “success.”

Between you, me and the lamppost, I really wanted my son’s path to start at a top-tier preschool; I mean, doesn’t every parent want their child to be set up for success in life? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do – to put them in the best school, so they can get the best education, so that they’re accepted into the best college so they can get the best job?

After hours of child and parent interviews, filling out form fields, touring schools and stressing about whether or not we’re messing up our child’s entire future by choosing the wrong playground, I had one of those light-bulb moments.

Even at the age of two, we’re already being given a prescription for how to live. And, it feels so natural – and so expected – that we don’t even notice that we (as parents, teachers, institutions or systems) are prescribing to the next generation the life we want them to live. If you go to this school, it means this. If you qualify for this, it means you’ll be able to do that.

We naturally want our children to achieve more than we ever did in life. We want them to feel successful and be happy. So, we impose what we know: the guidelines and standards that were passed onto us. And so, we do the same, and pass on what we believe is the success formula. A script for life.

However, even with the best intentions, by imposing our own rules, our own expectations, our own standards onto the next generation around how we believe they’re supposed to live… we’re actually depriving them of the freedom and opportunity to create the life they’re meant to live.

It reminds me of the old adage of not giving them the answers but teaching them to ask better questions. But as a parent who just went through this whole preschool process, I’ll confess that it’s difficult to let go of societal standards and perceptions, and not just automatically begin passing on the same script that was given to us. After all, most of us have been taught growing up to strive for society’s benchmarks of success.

And so, it’s challenging not to compare your kid to others. It’s hard not to wonder if the preschool you selected will negatively alter your son’s academic trajectory just because it’s not as ‘exclusive’ or ‘elite’ as the next.

As a child, I was given a prescription for how to live, yet at the age of 19, I began shifting my script to cut my own path. Talk about irony… there I was, a story of someone who went off the standard life script to get to where I am today. Yet, during this whole preschool application process, I found myself still passing down to my son the same exact steps I had been given about how I was supposed to live. Why? Because there isn’t a new script to give him. And that right there is a problem. A MAJOR problem.

I wish what I am going to give you next is the solution. The “7 steps to success” today. The new life script for our next generation. But I’m not. I can’t. If one existed, we wouldn’t still be passing down an old set of beliefs, written for a time that no longer exists.

But here is what I do know… I’m working on shifting that script.

If you have any perspective you’re willing to share on what you feel the new life script should be, I’d love to hear! Please chime in the comments below or DM me @blakemallen.

As of now, we have selected a preschool that we feel will help Greyson become who he is.

And hopefully I’ll have this whole new life script thing figured out before kindergarten 😉

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