One Shirt Two Shirt Red Shirt…Guilt Trip

It’s been a rough week in the mother guilt department around here.

Last May, I wrote about how we had decided to hold Peanut out of kindergarten this year. It was a decision that the hubby and I went back and forth on before making it. It was a decision that when the public school bus rolled through the neighborhood on August 8th and my little guy wasn’t on it that I questioned again. Are we doing the right thing by keeping him out until 2012?

The kicker this week was this New York Times opinion piece. Friends were posting it on Facebook, other blogs were writing about it, it filled my Twitter stream.

And yes, I freaked the heck out. What had I done? Did we make a mistake? Was our child now going to be stupid and unsuccessful because we delayed his kindergarten start?

Then, I calmed down. I took a few days. I went back to the beginning. And realized a few things.

First of all, can we discuss the headline? “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril.” Peril? Really? My trusty Oxford American Dictionary defines peril as “serious danger.” Now, I understand their argument that holding kids back could backfire, but does it put my child in serious danger? After I calmed down and thought about it rationally, nope. Sorry. But it doesn’t. The inflammatory headline did what it was meant to do – grabbed my attention. But how many parents like me is it confusing? I can’t be the only one. I don’t agree with the implication that a decision I came to thoughtfully will now set him on the road to ruin.

Second, the author’s assertion that parents choose to redshirt their children to give them an advantage over their peers may be true for some parents, but not me. We chose to redshirt our child so that he wouldn’t be disadvantaged, not so he can smoke the other kids out of the water next year. It’s so much more complicated than the implication that parents redshirt their kids so their kids will be the best. I want my child to GET the best. And allowing him another year to mature felt like the best opportunity to make that happen.

I keep thinking about the kid Peanut met on the playground the other day, we’ll call him C. He’ll be starting the same kindergarten that Peanut will next year. He will be turning five in a week or two. He, by nature of the rules that a child be 5 on or before September 1st, was not eligible to start kindergarten this year. C and Peanut played wonderfully together. They were most certainly peers. If my child’s birthday were just a few weeks later, I wouldn’t have had to worry. I, like C’s mom, would have been at the mercy of the school system’s regulations. Instead, I was forced to make up my own mind.

I have plenty of friends with kids who turned five in May, June and even July who are happily ensconced in kindergarten classrooms and doing just fine. I also know a mom who sent her summer birthday boy to kindergarten last year and halfway through the school year regretted it. I have yet to meet a mom who redshirted her child and had reservations once they started big kid school. In the end, we all make our own choices and then try to do the best by our kids as those decisions settle out.

Instead of telling parents that the decisions they made carefully for their child’s best interests could make them failures in their future academic and labor market pursuits, create the opportunity for conversation. There is a reason a lot of parents hold their kids out. Explore those reasons. Discuss the classroom social dynamics with educators. Open a dialogue with schools. Adjust the cut-off date to make it less confusing for parents. Help us. The last time I checked, my parenting manual is still MIA.

I’m glad this is out there, giving voice to the other side of the argument. I simply wish the authors of this piece had approached it with slightly less implied judgment. I also wish they had addressed the issue of holding kids back a grade once they start. How does that impact a child’s future academic success? They discuss the benefits of accelerating students, so if my redshirt child ends up skipping a grade then it’s okay?

These things may be addressed in the book they are promoting. We’ll have to see. Until then, I will do my best to make peace with my decision, continue to challenge my child and remember that one size science doesn’t fit all.


3 thoughts on “One Shirt Two Shirt Red Shirt…Guilt Trip

  1. My son was 6 and 2.5 months when he started kindergarten. He is now 12 and in 6th grade. Still one of the shortest boys… does fine academically, but not a scholar. I will never regret our decision. It was a hard one, but the best one. Talking long-term… I've not met a parent who regretted holding to one more year, but I've met parents who have regretted sending too soon. Additionally, I think boys (overall, but not in every case) can really benefit form that extra year of maturity. Most are so very active – the classroom environment is tough enough for a 6 y.o…. imagine a 5 y.o. who just need to keep his body moving 🙂

  2. I couldn't even finish that NYT article, because it was making me too angry. Numerous studies show that it's actually good for boys to make the exact decision you did. And the entire argument about accelerating kids by having them skip ahead is flawed, because the social finesse required to be with kids who are older often trumps the academic gains. You should feel good about your decision!

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