Why Forcing My Son to Go to College Was a Mistake

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I knew better  but I let that whole being judged by society thing affect my decision. You know, the thing we teach our kids to stand up against? Don’t give in to peer pressure? Well I gave in, and boy did my son show me.

My beautiful little baby, the kid who idolized me and wrote stories about me in school and every year chose me as his hero…well he morphed into this creature that was unrecognizable. My perfect little baby that allowed me to believe strange fantasies about being a perfect mother and how bad teenagers happened to bad mothers, well, somehow I must have become that bad mother, because being a bad teenager became his profession.  And I hate to use the bad. He was creative in the way he broke the rules, every single one. Yes. Creative. I like that.

But anyway, I had this kid who was always on the honor roll. He would get anxiety if he got a 96 on a test because he knew that he should have had the 100 plus the bonus points. Then one day I pulled up to get a bagel and what did I see?  My kid standing in front of the bagel store smoking a cigarette. My son who cried every day until I quit smoking and gained 100 pounds. I tugged at my yoga pants that were not for yoga and wanted to go kill that little bastard as I thought about all of the nice clothes that I could no longer fit into. Then I remembered that it wasn’t about me and that my son was smoking a cigarette at 16. Ok, so I was smoking at 13, but this was not about me. So, I sent him a text and asked him what he was doing and this is the part where I want to tell you that he told me he was at lunch or hanging with his friends but nope, he told me he was in class. I sat there five feet away and read a text that said, “Ma, I’m in class. Ttyl.” Which then meant that not only was he smoking, but he was cutting class. I know. Not the worst stuff teens do, but this was my little cherub not one of the bad kids of those other bad mothers I often heard about.

That was the beginning. I wish that was the worst of it, a few cut classes, a few loosies, but it wasn’t. My little A student with dreams to go to Penn State was now this creative genius when it came to breaking rules. And you want to talk about a little charmer? Well, not at home. At home he was such a charmer that I discovered at least 500 ways of using the F bomb in a sentence. At least 500, but I’m sure the number is much higher. School was where he used his real charm. Teachers loved him. Loved! He was so charming that he regularly got a pass for cutting and not doing homework. It got so bad that he was not going to graduate on time because of gym. GYM!! Can you imagine? Not even science or math. The kid couldn’t pass classroom gym!

So imagine that I took this kid who couldn’t pass classroom gym, rarely saw the inside of a classroom, refused to take the SAT, and I thought college would be different. College is different but I was ignoring a lot of the signs. No, not that my son was a little shit. Obviously he was a little shit, but that he was not a student. No matter how smart he was, he was not a student. And believe me, my son is a genius, maybe an evil genius, but a genius.

My little genius went off to Nassau. He registered for classes that he never went to. Maybe once or twice, but the rest of the time he met up with other friends who didn’t belong in college either. They had all been part of an alternative learning program at our high school but all seemed to graduate without any job skills or any skills to apply to a classroom. It was a failed experiment because my son, and many of his friends did not last the semester.

What do you do with a high school graduate with no job skills in a world that demands college for everything? It’s not back in my day where college was important but you still had possibilities. There is such a push for college today, and not just from the schools that don’t want to land in Newsday’s bad school list but other parents who all seem to believe that where their kid got accepted is some proof of great parenting.

I’m not completely blaming the school for wanting to have a certain ratio of kids going on to college because it looks better than saying that they had kids they recognized were not students but still had great potential. I mean, not completely. But I do look back and wonder why not one of those BOCES programs had been suggested as an alternative. Eventually my son got it together and went to school to become certified as an HVAC technician, a program he could have taken in BOCES. He would have graduated with a career and no debt. It was NEVER suggested but the alternative program was pushed heavily. I still can’t figure out what he learned in that alternative program except how to make a bong out of a can of soda. I mean that’s a skill but not what I had been hoping for.

I also wonder what was wrong with me as a parent. Why was I more concerned what people were saying about my little nightmare and what it meant about me as a mother than I was at all of the wasted opportunities there were to see that my little evil genius had real potential in other ways. He was a kid who always thought outside of the box. He was smart, just not interested in books. And yet, I forced him to go to college.

We’re seeing many changes to education but this goes beyond testing, modules, Common Core, teacher evaluations, etc. Education is no longer about educating kids and providing the tools to become productive adults, and hopefully happy adults. We should all strive to be the best parents and push our kids to do well, but we should also go back to a time where we recognized that not all kids are college material and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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