What Not to Say to the Parents of Boarding School Kids
By Rachel Pieh Jones
Things to never say to the parents of boarding school kids and the responses that go through parents’ minds when they hear them.
There are few responses to our decision to send our 12-year old children to boarding school that are harder to hear than, “I could never do that.” Especially when that response comes from people I care too much about to offend by saying out loud what runs through my mind in the moments following this declaration.
I could never raise my kids in a country that sells five-pound gummy bears. I could never raise my kids in a culturally isolated, world-view restricted, familiar but uninspiring location.
It is a good thing I don’t respond like this because not only are these responses cruel and snarky, they are lies.
They are lies because I could raise my kids in America, I even daydream about it sometimes. I have good friends who are excellent parents raising kids in America. There are kids with healthy palates, culturally diverse worlds, wide-open world-views, living creative and inspired lives in the American suburbs.
The reason these answers are what initially rise to the surface when someone says I could never do boarding school is because those words imply a refusal to step into my world for even a second, an inability to see anything beyond the four walls of their own choices so I knee-jerk back with the same attitude. They also subtly (and not so subtly sometimes) communicate a, “You don’t love your kids as much as I do,” kind of attitude that is equally false and I want to belittle the speaker just because I can be mean like that at times.
I compiled a list of things to never say to the parents of boarding school kids as well as the responses that go through that parent’s mind when we hear them. I have personally heard each of these, and more:
“I’ve never known boarding school kids who do well as adults.”
You must not know many boarding school kids. I know plenty who have done incredibly well in life. And I know plenty of non-boarding school kids who have not done well. There is no guarantee and I won’t pretend that any single decision of mine will ensure the outcomes I would love to see for my kids.
“I could never do that.”
You could never make a decision that is good for your kids, that is something they want, even if it causes you pain? That seems kind of selfish.
“Don’t you worry about them?”
Of course I worry about them. Don’t you worry about your kids? But worrying never changed or fixed anything so let’s encourage each other instead of judging each other.
“Now you don’t have to worry about teenagers, yours are away.”
Didn’t you just ask if I worry about them? And, I still do have teenagers. I didn’t sign over my parenting responsibilities. I still see them, talk to them, love them, nurture them, discipline them, argue with them, play with them.
“It will get easier.”
It does not get easier. It gets harder, and better, even as we develop new normal and routines.
“I love my kids too much to do that.”
I would like to slap you.
“So you are letting someone else do your job.”
No. This is me doing my job. I have not abdicated, I have just made a different choice than you and I am very much still their parent.
“Couldn’t you just move back to the United States?”
Moving back to the United States would possibly be the worst decision we could make for our children. They don’t want to. Their parents have no jobs there. This is home to them, here, believe it or not. The kids want this. And I hate to break it to you but American high schools aren’t exactly utopias, either.
“I can’t imagine doing that.”
Maybe your imagination is underdeveloped. What you are really saying is that you could never imagine doing the best thing for your child, if that best thing made you uncomfortable or caused pain. I’m sorry to hear this. You are also saying that you refuse to enter into my world for a single moment, to try and understand any reality other than your own, to join me in my joys and pains of parenting, even though you are comfortable judging them.
Isn’t it, um, expensive?
Yes, it is (though not as much as you probably think). And aren’t, um, private music lessons expensive? Hockey lessons, gymnastics classes, summer camps? Extra curricular actitivies are included for us. Plus, we’re away from shopping malls, Amazon prime, movie theaters, restaurants, and all the other venues urging kids to consume, consume, consume. I’d rather invest in education than in fashion labels.
“It is probably easier for you than it would be for me.”
Excuse me? Because I’m a worse mom? Love my kids less? Feel pain less acutely? Am some kind of superwoman?
“I’m too attached to my kids.”
Too attached to your kids to do what is in their best interest? That is a dangerous position to be in.
“Well, that is not our idea of family.”
While you are allowed your own opinion and conviction about family, don’t impose them on me.
I would never send my kid to boarding school.
How can I explain how painful your words are? They are more like weapons that cut through my heart and divide us. The truth is you don’t know what you would do in my situation and it wouldn’t hurt to be a teensy bit more sensitive.
The underlying message behind words like these is that if we really loved our kids, we wouldn’t make this choice. The way I see it is that because I love my kids so crazy-much, I’m willing to make this choice.
Every family is unique in personality, purpose, and choices. This is how the Joneses roll, at least for this season and in the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. I am happy to talk about boarding school and love when people are genuine and sincere and curious.
It is a gift when someone comes alongside and is able to see this perspective and bless our decision, to hear about the joys and griefs in it, just as there are in every parent’s life. I am exuberantly thankful for the way most of the people around our family honor our choice.
Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and three children. Raised in the Christian west, she used to say ‘you betcha,’ and ate Jell-O salads. Now she lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas.