A Nap Year?

The Washington Post doesn’t have a Parenting section, although one might be as, if not more, useful than a Sports section.  But there was an insightful, funny, comforting article about parenting recently in the Health & Science broadsheet.  It was called “A Pre-College Snooze” (great title) and was written by mom Rebecca Lanning.


Instead of cataloguing her son’s amazing academic accolades and impressing us with his college admittances, she declares that her son is so exhausted by surviving high school that he needs a “nap year” instead of the popular gap year.


How refreshing.


I recently celebrated an uncle’s birthday with family and friends. At the dinner, I sat next to a 25-year-old who’d come in via train from the death-grip parenting mecca most people refer to as New York City.  He told me about his new girlfriend.  I asked about her job.  He started to laugh.


“She tutors three-year-olds who are trying to get into New York private schools because their parents are convinced that the right pre-K leads to the right high school and then the right college. She drills little kids about what they should say in the interviews.  How to do better on the IQ tests they have to take.  She makes a ton of money.”


He went on to describe her bad days.  “Sometimes, the kids just cry.  They don’t want to practice the answers any more.  They just want to play.  Or take a nap.”


How horrifying.


I don’t understand how or why, from my parents’ generation to mine, the world of parenting has turned upside down.  These days, well-meaning parents replace three-year-olds’ naptime with prep sessions for pre-k; we drive our older kids so relentlessly towards achievement that they require a 12-month nap by the time they are 18.


Is all this uber-parenting really good for our kids, or our country?


I wonder what it does to the insides of a kid to worry about getting into pre-kindergarten.  I worry what it does to the insides of a kid to worry about getting into college.  This onslaught of pressure and competitiveness has got to be warping kids, individually and collectively.


The nap-year mom explained that her son’s exhaustion was in part caused by his learning differences, which made even regular school feel like a triathlon.  She offered a revealing, disturbing quote from Einstein:


“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will believe its whole life that it is stupid.” 


Sometimes it seems we, as a cohort of achievement-obsessed parents, are treating our kids as fish who need to climb trees.  With enough pressure, we can force our kids to do anything.  But is that good parenting?