Q. My wife and I are the parents of seven children. Our eldest child is in a mainstream yeshivah high school. His application and acceptance process was pretty straightforward. However, our next child, now in eighth grade, is making things a bit more difficult. He says that he would prefer an “out-of-the-box” high school and that he would like to create his own identity in an environment with fewer restrictions. My wife and I are somewhat relaxed parents. We give our children the autonomy to make many of their decisions on their own. When our son shared his feelings about high school, we listened to him. However, when we began to explore our options, we realized that the schools he prefers do not match our family’s religious level and values. We are now in a bind because entrance exams and interviews are in full gear, yet we feel clueless as to where we should allow him to apply. Should we insist that he apply to schools that match our values or schools that match his wants?
A. You are in a difficult bind that has no quick fix. I appreciate your level of flexibility and open mindedness while trying so hard to hold onto your core values. It takes a lot of stamina to stay impartial when your child wants something different from what you assumed would be his next step. What makes your dilemma seem even more difficult is the fact that the application process is in full gear, leaving you with little time to carefully consider all of your options. That said, I’d like to stress a few pointers to help direct you a bit more. First, I’d suggest consulting your rabbi. If you discuss issues that arise often enough, I’m assuming that by now he knows your family quite well. Now take the time to carefully explain your son’s nature and religious level over the last few years. You will also want to mention his academic achievements and/or difficulties as well as his relationships with his teachers and classmates. Moreover, discussing his relationship with you and your wife as well as his siblings, in addition to considering his sense of self in relation to the family dynamics, is of paramount importance. After discussing your doubts with Rav you trust, I believe you will gain a lot more clarity. If your Rav is adamant about whether or not you should consider the “out of the box” high school, you have just magically narrowed down your decision making process. This should make you feel more confident as you consider your options.
If you have not yet done so, set up a meeting with a current principal or teacher that knows your son well. Consider what the teacher or principal suggests and take that into consideration.
Sit down and have a conversation with your wife and son. Create a list of pros and cons as you explore what every high school has to offer. Then discuss the list privately with your wife to see which options align with your family’s values. Take the time to discuss your son’s nature and whether sending him to a high school he adamantly refuses to go to will create unhappy feelings which could ultimately lead him to act rebelliously.
Ultimately, if you decide to send him to a school that is more aligned with your family’s values as opposed to the high school of her choice, validate his feelings. Moreover, create outlets for him. This might mean being more flexible with his curfew, signing him up for extracurricular activities of his choice, and being more lenient about his summer camp choices. On the other hand, if you decide to send him to the high school of his choice, create crucial boundaries. These boundaries might include limitations related to any technological devices and an appropriate dress code.
Never doubt your instincts and decision-making process as a parent. After all, you have raised your son in a loving home with the gift of stability and consistency related to core values. Once you made a decision, stick with it and daven for your son’s future success. I wish you lots of hatzlacha.