Meditations on Parenting a High Schooler

As I lay in savasana at yoga this morning, my teacher shared a quote that landed and resonated deeply for me as I reflected on parenting and guiding a high schooler to think about life after high school:

Awakening and enlightenment are accidents; but practice makes one accident prone.  

As a parent, I’ve spent countless hours literally awakening (and hopefully enlightening) my children. In fact, I think that’s especially true now, as my first-born, Celia, progresses into her second year of high school, begins to grow independent and starts to consider her future. As a now-single mom, juggling my own work as an educational consultant and entrepreneur, and managing all that comes with raising two kids in a COVID landscape, I often close my eyes, cross my fingers and hope that I am helping them attain their highest potential with what I am able to provide. The moment I heard the quote, I understood that what I want more than anything right now for my children, (but especially for my teen in high school) is for them to be awakened and enlightened. I wondered if there might be a way to set an intentional practice for us to help make them more “accident prone” to awakenings (and not the 5:30 am kind, either.)

I first witnessed the a-ha moments I associate with awakenings and enlightenment when Celia was a student at a Montessori School on Cape Cod. She began at The Sandwich Montessori School at two years and nine months. She had always been that kid who insisted she could “do it myself!” Understanding that she had that spirit of exploration and that yearning to discover sensorily, I read everything I could about Montessori before her dad and I decided to pursue that path. At Montessori, I believe Celia developed a solid foundation in math, language, and learned to problem solve, both academically and socially. But there was something more practical that drew me to the Montessori educational model, and it was that life skills and sensory aspect to the program that I loved: that’s what I think set Celia up for the awakenings and enlightenment she experienced in her early childhood. She practiced the work–whether it was learning to zip a garment, unbuckle a belt, sweep and mop, or pour and scrub. By learning these practical life skills, Celia learned to strengthen motor skills, navigate the world, and care for herself. She also learned a little bit about grace and courtesy in her interactions with her peers and adult guides. As a mom, I remember feeling a wave of emotion overcome me as I witnessed her developing in confidence and growing into independence, even as a three-year old. 

Flash forward a decade, and our family had experienced its share of ups and downs. My Celia was eleven when I got divorced, and her younger brother Henry had just turned seven. My role as a newly-divorced mom was to do everything I could to provide for them and to ensure they felt stable in our new family model. My focus became support, love and connection. I practiced communication and engagement with my children while I launched two businesses and attempted to do what I could to care for myself and heal from the grief of losing both my parents, three grandparents, and a marriage I had tried to save and lost. Of course, as the saying goes: when it rains, it pours; we even moved that year —out of my marital home and into a rental in town. There were weeks and months when awakenings and enlightenment didn’t feel possible for any of us. During the eighteen months or so that felt so devastating, difficult, lonely and uncertain, I fought to remain focused and purposeful. I would like to believe I role modeled resilience, strength and tenacity, and that I did it well. The truth is that it wasn’t pretty; it was messy.  Oftentimes I was overcome by anger, resentment and deep sadness. Although there are times I regret that my kids had to see those difficult aspects of growing through pain, I take heart knowing who they are now and am grateful for that consistent practice of putting communication and engaged connection first and foremost in our life as a family of three. 

Celia was thirteen and in eighth grade when she approached me about educational alternatives for high school. I remember the morning well when she dropped the bomb to her college counselor mom; she had decided she wasn’t really interested in attending our very highly ranked local public high school and that she was seriously considering our local vocational tech school to possibly major in cosmetology, unless I had other ideas or options I thought she should consider. 

I cannot express how difficult that conversation felt, mostly because of my own guilt for being selfish in throwing everything I had into building a new business partnership in my efforts to sustain life for them. I had so many ideas about possible private school options but we wouldn’t qualify for enough financial aid to make it possible. The vocational tech world was completely foreign to me, and the ignorant, college counselor snob in me just wasn’t ready to accept that pathway as a possibility for my very bright, capable and talented first-born child. I threw myself into researching other options; digging into the different voc-tech programs; and doing my due diligence talking to parents, students and alums. Celia ultimately applied to two voc-techs, understanding that our very strong public high school would serve as her backup option. We were thrilled and relieved when she received admissions to her first choice school: The Norfolk County Agricultural High School with the intent to study animal science. She challenged my very traditional educational consultant viewpoint and approach, and became my greatest educational experimental case. So far, the experience has exceeded my expectations in so many ways: Celia is life-ready, equipped with so many of the kinds of life skills that I marveled about when she was barely three and in Montessori. As a student in an agricultural voc-tech school, she’s learning about animals and plants, stewardship of the environment, woodworking, welding, and is even getting a little primer to mechanical engineering. I’m beyond proud; she’s acquired skills that I may never possess and, as her mom, I’m super grateful. Most importantly, she’s confident, happy and not afraid of hard work.

The vocational route has opened my eyes and challenged my own preconceived notions of what a post secondary path should look like. It’s also spurred many discussions about my daughter and her future plans beyond life at Norfolk Aggie. If my own experience as a mom and as an educational consultant/college coach can help inform some of your discussions with your children, as you embark on helping them tease out and solidify their post high school plans, I’ll be pleased. But in order to write this piece, I’ve also had conversations with numerous parents who’ve been my predecessors on the journey to raising successful, introspective and awakened adults.  

So how do we, as parents, committed to the highest good of our children, engage in the practice of impactful communication about our children’s futures with them? Talk to your kids. Remain open-minded. Don’t allow for any of your preconceived notions of what a post-secondary path should look like drive your child’s journey–remember, it’s theirs to own. Honor your child’s unique identity, experiences and characteristics as you help them plan out and navigate their own pathways.

Here are some additional tidbits of wisdom I’ve compiled that might help inform your practice of communication with your children:

  • Be transparent about issues around money and funding post-secondary education. 
  • Ask your child what brings them happiness and joy
  • Be open-minded and aware that our children (unlike our generation and previous generations) will have opportunities to pursue multiple career paths in their lifetime as working humans
  • Don’t be afraid of asking the big, seemingly daunting question: What do you want to do with your life? Don’t be alarmed when you face the big question mark in your child’s eyes. Instead, engage them in digging into the question by asking them what they imagine doing to make a living, what their goals are, and what their ideal work environment might look like. Do they imagine sitting at a desk? Working with their hands? With people? Behind the scenes? 
  • Ask them if they feel ready for college. If they’re not sure, give them the permission and guidance to look at other opportunities and jump in together. It might be a magical family experiment.  
  • Listen to them, poke and prod a bit at their responses to your questions, encourage them to both daydream and to be practical.
  • Remind them that it takes time, inquiry and a whole lot of practice to come to the awakenings/enlightenments and epiphanies that bring them the clarity they seek; and that they’re not alone. 

Life’s road is not always a direct pathway to success. And taking the road less traveled may be exactly what your child needs permission to do. Remember that it’s often messy, muddy and requires patience, space and introspection.

As we started to come out of savasana this morning, my teacher shared a last tidbit that resonated with me on so many different levels. After class, I asked him for the full quote from the Tao Te Ching, or “The Way” by Lao Tzu:

Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles, and the water is clear?

For me, as a parent, the answer is a resounding “yes.” But the part of the extended quote that I didn’t hear in yoga class, but found even more relevant and resonated deeply with me as a parent who is constantly trying to influence my children’s decisions and solve their problems for them was this line:

“Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”  

As a fellow parent, I challenge us to honor these deep pieces of wisdom, to guide our children by asking the right questions and communicating with them while allowing for them to find their own “right action.” I hope that in doing so, we can help them cultivate the practice that will make them become more accident prone towards awakenings and enlightenment. As parents, all we can hope for, after all, is to guide our children towards becoming awakened towards their true paths and to honor their journeys as we walk alongside them: supporting, advising, challenging and loving them along the way.   

Bio:

Christine is an educational consultant, and co-founder of Personalized Educational Solutions, Inc (www.pesglobal.org) and Education Station (www.educationstationhopkinton.com)

She  is grateful to do meaningful work that supports and empowers students from all over the world in finding their best educational matches in private schools and universities. She is a team builder, community contributor and educational entrepreneur with almost 30 years of experience as a business owner involved in helping students develop and implement successful educational plans. She is a serial volunteer, lover of the arts, and committed to social and emotional wellness and youth empowerment. Christine is a musician, an aspiring yogi, lover of animals and committed single mother of two amazing children. As a committed, passionate college coach, Christine recently started a new nonprofit called The College Axis Project (www.thecollegeaxisproject.org) which she sees as the culmination of her life’s work.  She is grateful to be pursuing her vision and passion to make educational enrichment and college counseling available to all.