When your kids are still babies, and you are in the throes of breastfeeding, diaper changing and burping, one gives very little thought to what lies ahead. Things like education, extra mural activities, holidays, exercising your child’s potential on and off the sports field – you don’t really think about these issues when you’re low on sleep and high on love for your little baby. Yes, you may have a policy here or there which will mature in 15 years, giving your little cherub about 6 months worth of good schooling, but you don’t really consider the implications of having this baby, beyond the expense of a cot, a pram and milk and diapers for the next two to three years. Because I had no intention of sending Liam to a school where he needed to be on the waiting list pretty much from the day after he was conceived, I didn’t worry too much about “big” school. However, now that he goes to pre-school, I am exposed to other parents who have registered their kids at such schools, parents whose children (3 year olds) are involved in a different extra mural activity everyday to “expose” their kids and to “understand and develop” a future South African rugby player or footballer. This got me thinking about the cost (physical and emotional) attached to raising a child.
I’ve always been of the mindset that I’d like my children to attend a public / government school. Everyone usually gasps in shock and horror when I say that. But the truth is, I want my children to be surrounded by the common people, the plebeians! People who are the same as we are. I want them to be aware of the world as it is. Private school would create a false idea of my children’s world. Because our world is unfortunately not skiing holidays in the Alps, or Mini Coopers for their 16th birthdays or a wardrobe full of Gap, La Coste and other preppy labels. As much as I would love this for myself and my kids, it’s not our reality. And even if I won the Lotto tomorrow (because as it stands, I couldn’t afford private schooling anyway), I’m not sure that I would swop our reality for that reality anyway. This said, I want my kids to go to a school where teachers are dedicated, in my opinion whether you’re at a public or a private school – it’s the mettle of the teacher that really counts. I’d like them to attend a school where life skills are as important as algebra. I want them to be proud of their Alma Mater, not because of the number of lawyers or doctors who passed through the school, but because they were groomed to be high standing citizens who value the privilege of a good education.
Education is expensive, but I think the real cost comes from the time, effort and dedication that you, as the parent, devote to ensuring that your child is getting the best education, no matter what educational establishment you enrol them in. I believe that by getting involved at cake sales and other fundraising events, by getting to know your children’s teachers, by attending parent/teacher evenings and checking homework every night – YOU are already setting the foundation for your child to get a great education. Even now, I think I may be the thorn in Liam’s teacher’s side, but in order for Liam to reach his potential, she has to teach well, as I have to parent well – so all of us have to pull together. I know the schooling years are the toughest and most gruelling years (the baby years have nothing on it) for both the child and the parent and the cost attached to this phase often goes way beyond your pocket and your heart can stand. I want my kids to go out there and be awesome. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the sports field, whether they suck at maths and prefer home economics (is that still a subject?) or they battle with spelling, I want them to enjoy (for the most part) their schooling years. I want to choose a school where they are pushed to their limits in order to achieve the best results that they can, and be the best person they can be. Yes, I want them to play sports, because activity of the body is as important as activity of the mind, but I don’t need them to be the next Hansie or Bennie. Yes, I would love them to go to university, get degrees and be head hunted for wonderful careers, but if they prefer to go back packing through Europe, then I’m ok with that too. My point is that the education you give your children, in my opinion, has very little to do with the school fees you are paying. You may disagree, but I’m more concerned with finding the right teachers under the right leadership in a well rounded school, than a school who can boast of an in house stable filled with award winning horses.
In terms of extra mural activities – the list is endless. Your child can learn to play a musical instrument or play a sport. They can join Monkeynastix or Playball or KiddiesChef. Go on and Google it, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the extra mural list, and the more I investigate options for my children, the more nervous I become. Yes, I want my children to have equal opportunities to all things fun. Yes, I want my children to develop their hand / eye coordination and their balance and their left and right brain. Yes, I want to give them the opportunity to perhaps be really good at playing the piano or doing ballet. But where do you draw the line? Besides the expense of enrolling your child in extra mural activities, what about the physical demand on this little person to be on the go all day, every day, flitting from one activity to the next. What happened to just kicking a ball in the back yard and playing hide and go seek with the other kids in the complex. Surely the lessons you learn in the play ground are the same as the ones you learn in an air conditioned indoor soccer Astroturf building? I am pretty sure about what sort of school I want to send my kids to, but when it comes to extra mural, I am stumped. I do believe swimming is critical, firstly and most importantly for safety, and thereafter for fun and enjoyment. But after that? I’m not really sure. And I most certainly do not have the time or financial resource to enrol both of them in EVERYTHING. My husband and I agreed we’d see which way their interest swayed and make a decision from there. But they BOTH love arts and crafts, they BOTH love to mess in the kitchen, they BOTH love playing outside, they BOTH love swimming, they BOTH love dancing whenever a beat comes on – I like to think of them as the perfect all rounders. Ha! So what we have decided to do is let them enjoy a different activity per school term or for as long as that activity cycle runs. Then the next time, they can try something else. And unless we see an innate desire or talent, we’ll move onto the next activity. This may or may not be good, after all without perseverance or persistent training, how do you ever become good at something, but I think this is the route we’ll go, simply until something gives.
So while you may think that life cannot get any worse, when you are up in the middle of the night with a colic-y baby or you are changing the 10th diaper in as many hours, I do believe that the hard part is yet to come. The little taste I’ve had of the schooling system, has left me feeling very overwhelmed and even a little intimidated. We all want the best for our kids, no doubt, but the trick is to give them the best, with the resources you have, while still making them feel like they are missing out on nothing!
And THIS my friends, is why they say parenting is not for sissies!