I’ve recently been thinking about the first time I ran the NYC Marathon and what I recall most vividly is this: my fellow runners anxiously discussing their training techniques right before the start at the Verrazano Bridge.
“I stretched for over an hour this morning, and used a foam roller to work out the knots in my calves,” said one woman.
I didn’t do that.
“I’ve been eating pasta for a week and carbo loading for a month,” said another.
I didn’t do that.
“I did three 22-mile training runs and ran 100 miles a week.”
I didn’t do that either. By the time I crossed the start line, I was in a mental panic. I didn’t do any of the things to train that others had done. Maybe I should have trained differently? Was I unprepared? Would I be able to finish? Listening to these other runners, I started doubting myself.
I had trained—in a way that felt right for me – but now I was feeling pressure, competition and worry that I wasn’t going to achieve my goal of 26.2 miles.
Why do I tell this story now? Because I now have a daughter in Upper School. I hear from her, and from other parents, about pressure in school that doesn’t let up. As her parents, my husband and I tell her to do her best. But at school, it’s easy to get caught up in the pre-marathon start scenario and doubt your abilities. Being a teenager is hard enough, with social media, hormones and basic academic stress, but add relentless pressure to all that, and it’s no surprise that teens worry about measuring up.
These kids are caught in a culture where admission to an Ivy League school seems to be the ultimate life goal. I hear from some parents that the stress can begin before life. Parents are rumored to time conception of a child to align with admission to certain sought-after preschool teachers. So it’s no wonder that kids feel that pressure.
My daughter definitely does, and I don’t know how much is innate (she’s a perfectionist and an overachiever) or if it’s triggered by our parenting, the school culture, her friend group… who knows. I just know that all my husband and I want is for her to do her best. Nothing more. Nothing less. I know that there is a college out there that will be a good fit for her. Ivy League or not, it makes no difference to us as long as she is academically equipped to make some sort of difference in the world and lead a satisfying life.
As a parent, I hope I am modeling some positive behavior. That day at my first marathon start, I walked away from the group conversation, and since then, I have deliberately avoided training-method chats before a big race.
That was 19 NYC Marathons ago! Now I plan to help my daughter learn to judge when it’s time to walk away too.