As I was putting my youngest daughter to bed the other night she started to tell me about all the “stress” she is under trying to balance school work with her multiple activities.
“It’s just a lot of pressure, Mom, you don’t understand,” she said her eyelids fluttering as she fought sleep. “Things I’m doing now could affect my whole future.”
“I do, sweetie, I was ten once too.”
But in a way, I don’t really understand the stress today’s children face with the pressure to do well in school at an earlier age. When I was in fifth grade as long as you memorized what the teacher told you in class and spit it back on the test, you were OK.
Today, we are asking children to actually think and process what they are learning so they truly understand it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing, but it is no doubt more challenging. Hopefully, she will retain more than I did from elementary school. Every once in a while I realize there is a gap in my knowledge and I think, I’m sure we covered that in grade school. Then I realize that I must have simply memorized it and then discarded it after I aced the test.
Children today are also involved in all-consuming activities. The days of recreational extracurricular activities are gone. In most sports and artistic endeavors, by middle school, you’re either all in or all out. I’m still trying to make peace with this phenomenon. As a child, I tried a million different things - many things that I was very bad at, and a few I found I had a talent for, but I was not a child prodigy in anything, just a kid learning different skills, having fun, and being exposed to the world.
So, understanding the pressure of what kids are experiencing today in this arena is not innate for those of us who grew up in the 1970’s.
I remember my mother always told me the things I worried about as a little girl would be inconsequential once I was an adult. I didn’t believe her then, but now I do.
“Sweetie, I know this all seems so important right now, but believe me, it won’t be someday,” I said, stroking her cheek gently as she started to give in to sleep. “Here’s what we’re going to do, I’m older and used to stress, so every time you feel it coming on, tell me, and I will take it away.”
I took my hand and massaged her scalp and pretended to pull a ball-shaped item out of her head. I then pantomimed throwing the invisible object as hard as I could across the room.
“There, you see, I took it and got rid of it. I threw it at the wall,” I said leaning in to hug her. “Do you feel better?”
She laughed wearily and closed her eyes. A few days later on the way to school I did it again as she had pre-test jitters. I reached back at a stoplight and then held her hand for a moment, put down the window and threw the invisible ball of stress into the road.
“Mom, I think a car just ran over it,” she said excitedly. I could just see her eyes peeking over the back of my seat in the rearview mirror, and they were smiling.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.