I took Snuggler and Little Guy to a zoo class yesterday. I met a homeschooling mom there whose son started public high school this year. He's attending one of the good, target schools. I asked her how it was going. She suddenly looked unhappy and uncomfortable. Apparently she's not wild about giving up homeschooling him, and he's very stressed from the workload and lack of free time.
I reassured her that stress is normal the first year of high school, even for kids who have been in school their whole lives. A big part of freshman year anywhere, for anyone, is getting acclimated to a new environment. I told her about telling Eldest (who was homeschooled through 8th grade) that there were two different sets of stuff she'd be learning in 9th grade: academics, and how-to-get-along-in-this-new-place... and that the latter part was likely to be harder.
This mom seemed unconvinced. She said, "I feel I'm a failure either way: if he decides to stay at high school I'm a failure because he didn't want to homeschool, and if he comes back home I'm a failure because he wasn't able to handle it." I mentally gaped at that, wondering how to respond. I said something vague about supporting her son in the choice he had made, and then nattered on about how learning to adapt to new situations is a major life skill, and how we all get stressed by change, and how it takes at least six months of anything new before you can even assess whether or not you like it. I pointed out that we get better at things, especially logistics, with time.
The woman still looked unconvinced. So I added, "Remember how you felt when you had your first baby? You couldn't even take a shower those first months! But eventually you figured it out. New situations, especially ones where we have to reorganize our days, are hard. But we do get better at them."
A bit of light finally dawned.
And it dawned on me that this is the value to us, as parents, of the hard situations we've been through in the past. We need to hold on to our memories of stressful situations. They can help us be better parents, help us empathize with our kids, and help us remember that how we feel at the moment is how we feel at the moment. New stuff is tough. Things change. We change. Life can get better.
Do you remember how unfamiliar your body was when you reached puberty? How conscious you were of whether or not you fit in at school? How brutal it was when the guy you thought was kind of cute told someone (who told everyone else) that he thought you looked like a dog? And how much you would have loved to hear someone say, "Oh, I remember feeling that way -- and it's hard. It's yucky and you feel dumb and you want to crawl under a rock. But even though it's hard and miserable, it's normal. Almost everyone goes through feelings like that. And eventually the feeling will pass. It will pass."
Learning to deal with stress, with disappointment, with uncomfy feelings is just as important as learning academic subjects. For it's possible to be brilliant and unable to handle life, and it's possible to be a plain 'ole Joe and handle stress well. The world doesn't give us an either/or choice between academics and coping skills. We (and our kids) have to learn both.