As parents our job is to choose the very best pre-school and kindergarten for our little ones. We must make sure they get into the very best elementary and high school and that they excel at all aspects of their academics (Saturday math class anyone?) They must be on all the right sports teams, study music from an early age, have an extensive volunteer resume, and become the perfect college ready, well rounded individual.
Whoa, hold on! Who signed me up for all that? When did being a parent become about simply creating a perfect child?
I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague recently who described these pressures for our kids to excel as an ‘arms race’. It’s true. If you subscribe to this way of thinking, there will never be ‘good enough’ for our kids, there will always a new way to excel.
These ponderings about the arms race of childhood have been tied up lately with our planning for financial independence. As Mr. PIE and I plan our family’s move to our mountain home in the summer of 2018, first and foremost on our minds is “will the kids be alright?”
This is a very valid question. In fact while I was visiting my parents in the UK recently I came clean for the first time about our plans for financial independence and it’s concurrent lifestyle change. The first question from my mother was “what about the boys, will they be alright?”
Of course they will be all right. We wouldn’t be planning this change for our family if we believed there was going to be anything hugely detrimental for the kids, but of course we worry. It goes with the territory. It’s what parents do. Even so, there are several factors we have to take into account to make the transition as smooth and painless as possible. These are some of the things we have been thinking about:
How much should our small PIES know about our plan?
The simple answer to this is ‘not nothing’ but ‘not everything’. I can see the raised eyebrows already! What? We’re keeping important secrets like that from our kids?! Let me explain our thinking. At this age (7 and 9) even a week is a long time, and the ability to understand what life might look like in a couple of years is almost impossible. Right now we see no need to clearly state what life will look like in two years. We will have that conversation gradually, as the months go on. We’ve talked about it in general terms “how would you like to live in the mountains all the time?” “What about going to school here and making new friends?” “You could be on the school ski team!” The conversation had begun, but it’s in the early stages.
A major factor in this is wanting our kids to live for today and in the moment. We don’t want them to feel for a second that their current life is temporary.
Mr. PIE and I never moved house as children. We don’t know what it’s like to say goodbye to the place that you’ve always known as home and move somewhere new – not as children at least. For this reason, we can’t truly place ourselves in our kid’s shoes and understand what it means for them. What we do know is that our mountain home is also ‘home’ for them. They know and love the location, and are already familiar with the surrounding area. They are often sad when we have to return home after a weekend away, and we commonly hear “I wish we could stay here!”
A greater unknown is how they will deal with leaving behind friends and neighbors. Most of their friends are school based, yet they have a huge span of friends and acquaintances due to the fact they attend a (fantastic) YMCA after school program, and go to (amazing) YMCA summer camps. This has the potential to be hard for them.
I can offer them two things. Firstly, we won’t actually be that far away from old friends, so we can certainly still see them. Secondly, my very best friend who I have known since we were both 4, is now 3,500 miles away, and we’re still best buddies! Distance is nothing these days. Another advantage they will have is our ability to plan meet-ups with new friends and invite new friends over to play. Currently the crazy busyness that is our life with two parents working is not conducive to planning and attending play dates, or organizing get-togethers with friends. All too often, that type of thing slips to the bottom of the to do list. That can all be different with two ‘stay-at-home parents. I’m banking on kids being better at making new friends than adults are, and we’ll be there to help them along the way. To some extent we will all be in the same boat when it comes to the need to make new friends, and I’ll bet the kids will do better at it than mum and dad!
With the move to a new location in a new state comes a change of schools.
Let me set up a bit of background here about the philosophy Mr. PIE and I share about school and academics. We both hold strong academics and hard work in high regard. We wouldn’t be where we are today without hard work, study and college degrees. At the same time we have a desire for our children to avoid some of the ‘arms race’ of academic and extra curricular pressures we see around us. It is enough for us for our children to work hard, find what they personally enjoy and pursue it, and to have a well rounded education and life.
A couple of years ago Mr. PIE and I both read and enjoyed an article in Outside Magazine about a family in Vermont who ‘unschool’ their children – essentially let them learn by working on the family farm and pursuing their own desires with lots of free time to explore. While we are certainly not going to that extreme, the idea of free time for kids resonates with us. Even now, our kids are minimally scheduled outside of school. They play baseball in the spring, which is a large time commitment, but that’s it. This leaves us lots of time for skiing and hiking and generally enjoying the outdoors. Even when we’re just hanging out at home the small PIEs are generally outside on bikes, climbing trees or practicing baseball with the neighbors.
But I digress from school.
The town we currently live in is very large, and we had a choice of 7 elementary schools when our eldest small PIE started kindergarten. However, we didn’t choose the town we live in based on schools. Mr. PIE and I lived here long before we had kids, and while there are (much more expensive) towns nearby with ‘better’ schools, we have been very happy with the choice we have made and our kids are progressing well.
As for the location of our mountain home, we definitely didn’t choose that based on schools. It was simply a vacation home to begin with, and again schools were not a factor in our decision-making. Having taken a look at the school options in the area, we are satisfied that they will be just fine. We are firm believers that a good baseline of education coupled with strong parental involvement is equal to the quality of learning that could be found at a highly ranked or private school, and the arms race that can ensue.
We have chosen the summer of 2018 as our ‘move to the mountains’ date. Mr. PIE detailed some of our considerations in a recent post. This is when our oldest small PIE will have finished elementary school, and will be ready to move onto 6th grade in a new location. Our smallest PIE will be leaving elementary school after 3rd grade, which hopefully will be a relatively easy time to move.
That leads me into what we hope will be the biggest advantage for our kids – two ‘at home’ parents
When our oldest small PIE started kindergarten I had a vision, a hope you might say – for the level of involvement Mr. PIE and I would have with the school. We’d be on the PTO, know all the teachers, chaperone the field trips, and generally be useful and well known. I think you know where I’m going with this. It didn’t happen. With commutes, our smallest PIE still in daycare and the general exhaustion that comes with small children and two working parents, attending an evening PTO meeting was low on the list. I’ve managed to chaperone one trip in 4 years.
All too regularly of late, the small PIEs have come home from school with fliers for various before school or after school clubs they would like to be involved in. While they have managed to attend a couple of the after school clubs (thanks to our fabulous and flexible YMCA after school care), we have sadly had to say no to the before school clubs. We physically can’t get them there at the right time.
These are example of some of the things were looking forward to changing as we become ‘stay at home’ parents. Heck, I’ll be the PTO chair! We will be generally useful and well known at school. We’ll be available to help with homework rather than rushing through it in the evening between dinner and bed. There will be time after school for work and play.
As we look forward to achieving FI, one of the things we crave is time. Our kids will gain this time too. We’ll have time at weekends to get involved in all the outdoor activities we desire. We’ll have time to let them follow their passions. We’ll have time to take a whole summer to travel together. We’re making some pretty important choices for our kids, and we think we’re choosing a pretty awesome childhood for them.
Sometimes, I feel I gotta get away
Bells chime, I know I gotta get away
And I know if I don’t, I’ll go out of my mind….
The Kids Are Alright. The Who (1966)
What are your future plans for you and your children. What will life look like? What’s today’s parental worry?