It’s a conversation most parents have had a hundred times. You are at the playground and you start chatting with another parent, inevitably exchanging the basic facts about your kids- names, ages, siblings, and interests. I’m a mostly stay-at-home mom, so these little conversations were sometimes my only adult interactions in the course of a day. So, you can imagine my surprise when my daughter turned five last October and the mommy chitchat I used to happily partake in took an unexpected, and often ugly, turn.
“Where will Sarah go to kindergarten?” has become a dreaded question for me because I’ve learned that my one sentence answer will rarely suffice. You see, my husband and I have decided to send our daughter to private school. This is not a decision that we made lightly. We have spent months thinking this through; we talked to our daughter’s current preschool teachers, researched and visited local private and public schools, and talked it over with family and good friends. If you had asked me when my daughter was born if we would ever consider private school I would have responded with an emphatic “No”. But, our daughter’s beautiful little mind and personality quickly showed us that we might need to consider private or home school options. Ultimately, I am delighted with our choice and have no doubt that we are making the best decision for our family. But, that delight has been tempered by the doubt that some other parents, some we considered good friends, have tried to cast on our decision.
Here are just some of the responses I have gotten from people when I told them where Sarah would be starting kindergarten:
“How in the world are you going to pay for that?”- Random Mom at Soccer
“Well, my David goes to public school and he is doing just fine- I’m sorry you think it’s not good enough for your daughter.” – Good Friend and Neighbor
“Oh, that school is nice if you just want her to get hugs and kisses.But, if you actually want her to get into college you should look somewhere else.” – Mom from a Different Private School
“We didn’t know you guys were the private school type. Better start saving up for the BMW for her 16th birthday!” – Casual Friend from College
“You do know they are bringing families over from Africa and giving them houses and jobs because it’s the only way they can get their minority numbers up?” – Eavesdropping Mom at a Local Restaurant
After I would pick my jaw up off the floor, I would inevitably end up in a back and forth conversation, a “my choice” vs. “your choice” debate that had my head spinning. I was a little flabbergasted by it all. I have always known that there are people out there that will give you their unsolicited opinion at the drop of a hat, but this was completely different.This was our friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers trying to tell us we were making a huge mistake when it came to our daughter’s education. I became hurt and frustrated by these conversations.
It took my very rational husband to snap me out of it. I was telling him about trying to explain our decision to send Sarah to private school to a good friend who is a public school teacher and has kids in public school. She had seemed defensive as we talked and had been a little distant when I had seen her recently. After patiently listening to me, he simply said, “You do realize that this is all because she thinks you don’t believe she’s doing what is best for her kids.” He was right.
So, this is my plea to all parents to please be respectful of the school choices that other parents make for their children, regardless of whether it is a public, private, secular, or home school. Their choice has nothing to do with where your children go to school and is not a commentary on your parenting. There are often very private issues, such as child development and family values, involved with school decisions that parents should not be pressed to reveal or discuss. If someone wants your opinion or feedback, let him or her ask for it. At the end of the day, I think it is best for all parents to think optimistically and assume of others what we hope of ourselves: that we are always doing what is best for our family.