Would You Rather

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Would you rather eat a jar of hot sauce or drink a bottle of vinegar?

Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

This is one of my kids’ favorite dinner time “discussions” – a conversational game that proposes undesirable options from which the players choose the lesser of two evils.  

When the game devolves into questions like, “Would you rather be stuck on a deserted island with Mom or with Dad?” – I propose alternatives like Roses and Thorns, which they roll their eyes at.

Yesterday, I played my own version of Would You Rather, though the other participant, the director of a test prep company, did not know that she was playing.

Would you rather pay for college prep or pay for college itself?

Would you rather pay for tutoring or tuition?

Following a brief introduction, the director outlined the recommended tutoring schedule and its corresponding price points – the “less expensive option” left me utterly speechless.

While my personal math test scores were rather unimpressive, I was able to estimate the obscene figures she was suggesting that I literally, buy into:

$190 / per hour, 1.5 hour sessions, 2x/week for 9 months.

So as not to waste your math neurons, this calculates to $20,520!  

Sensing my sticker shock, she proceeded, “Though this may seem like a lot of money, parents view it as an investment; this is an investment in your daughter’s future.”  

I gulped. “My husband and I are very invested in our daughter’s future,” I thought.  

She proceeded with her well-crafted sales pitch, “Certainly less expensive programs exist, but they’re unable to provide as individualized a plan.”  

I panicked and thought, “My husband and I prefer an individualized plan”.

And the icing on the cake “College admissions is frighteningly competitive.  The majority of our students produce the scores required by the competitive schools.”  

My tears began to well as I thought, “My husband and I want to provide her with every opportunity to have the choice of school she wants to attend.”

The director successfully hit every emotional hot spot to raise my already high anxiety and to indirectly convince me to forgo my personal indulgences to pay for this essential service.  Gym memberships, salon hair colorings and restaurant meals were mere frivolities in comparison to my child’s future.  Her college prospects were not the time or place for me to bargain shop.  

Yet something just didn’t feel right.  This tutoring package not only conflicted with my wallet, but with my fundamental values.    I realized that my anxiety had gotten the best of me and that I had been swept up by the (insert dreadful duh, duh, duh) …. The Achievement Anxiety Spiral.  This is a framework I created to illustrate a devolving parental anxiety pattern which mimics an accelerating treadmill.  

So, I stepped off the treadmill and more rationally walked myself through the steps I’ve encouraged parents to take when they feel conflicted around achievement related decisions. Here’s a few:

WTF?  What’s the fear?   Identify my worries, fears or anxieties – this ensures that they won’t have veto power over more rational thoughts.

In this instance and like most parents, I worry about the “unknowness” of my daughter’s future and I fear that if I don’t provide her with the best preparation, I am depriving her of future opportunities

Find a new seat for the worry:  Acknowledge it, validate it, and consciously remove it from the driver’s seat of decision making

I validated my good intentions of wanting to be the “best parent I can be” who provides her with excellent prep, but I needed to think through these decisions with more clarity.

Remember what you stand for: Value your values and refer to them often.

My husband and I reviewed our core values:

We want her to experience a sense of mastery and competence so that she remains motivated.  

We want to provide her with experiences that are likely to engender these feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction.  

We want her to know herself and her learning style so that she may set her own goals and actively participate in steps to achieve them.

Guided by these values, we engaged our daughter in a collaborative decision making process to find a tutor who afforded her (and us) a learning opportunity which reflected these values… Phew!

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