If every day were the first day of school

My social media feed is starting to fill up with “first day of school” photos from fellow parents, along with the appropriate sentiments. Kids posed—some more enthusiastically than others–on the doorstep or outside the car or even on the school grounds, sometimes with a sibling or two. They all had their first day of school documented proudly and a touch wistfully by Mom or Dad.

“It’s official! My two babies are now both high schoolers.”

“Last day of elementary school. Where did the time go?”

“For the first time, he’s driving himself to the first day of school.”

Whether a parent decides to share these moments with their internet circle or to keep them as personal mementos, the sentiment is spot-on. Watching our kids grow up is the pleasure and occasional pain of parenting. These are the moments we remember, not because we document them, but because we’re moved by the progression and the change. It’s hard to forget the day your kindergartner wouldn’t leave your side to walk into that new classroom. Or when you practically had to restrain your fifth or seventh or eleventh grader for a quick photo before they fled from your side.

But for many parents, the enjoyment we feel around marking the milestone on day #1 is soon replaced by the stress of outside measurement of our student’s performance.

The first day of school is a blank slate. There are no grades or test scores or other measures to worry about yet. But then the first exam comes home, the first grade, the first test score–some performance-related measurement that doesn’t have anything to do with their character or growth or value as a human being. Anxiety creeps in. Is this good enough? If it’s not, how do we fix it? What action can we take?

That’s when their journey of growth transforms (back) into a race with the competition, one that, for many families, won’t stop until the student is admitted to a prestigious college.

Parents, I think we can do better than that.

What would it take to treat every day of school like the first day of school, a day when you just sit back and marvel at the kid you’ve raised? What if instead of worrying about the C+ in chemistry, you could just appreciate how wonderful it is that your former baby now gets himself to school and tries his best and is nice to his sister? What if instead of worrying about yet another round of test prep you could just stop and be proud of how much she loves playing the French horn or leading in the math club or running on the track team?

What if you paid more attention to the lasting milestones of their journey to adulthood and less attention to the fleeting academic, testing, and admissions measurements that come along with it?

I’m not implying that these measurements don’t matter at all. They carry temporary significance that becomes less impactful as each assumes a place in the past. But you can hold onto those milestones—and their associated photos—for years to come.

The journey gets better for both kids and parents if you treat every day like the first day of school.