Invest in Childhood

The College Savings Discussion on HuffPost Live

I was a guest on a segment of HuffPost Live yesterday discussing my ideas about ways a parent/grandparent/guardian might better invest in a child than merely saving money for their college education. The 1/2-hour discussion was lively and engaging, although it too often veered away from my focus on this as a parenting strategy more than a financial planning one. There were also several moments where other guests did what too many adults often do, that is disrespect childhood and discredit the experiences had during the most formative time of a person’s life. At one point, someone said that instead of being in Barcelona to see and learn about Antoni Gaudi’s architecture first-hand, that they could just read books and go online with their child to do that, which is an interesting argument against higher education too if you think about it. Also, for never leaving the house. What with thee world wide web, we can know everything (but experience nothing) from the comfort of our sofa!

Watch the archived HuffPost Live College Savings show here.

As 2-time Grammy winner Bill Harley says in one of his stories, “the things that happen when your 8, 9, and 11 matter. It makes you the person you’re going to become.” I am paraphrasing there because I cannot for the life of me remember which story that line appears in, but the essence of the sentiment from a man who has dedicated his life to honoring the experiences of children speaks perfectly to my parenting philosophy: As much as you can, give your kids access to more than what is in their own town, show them that an isolationist life isn’t best, instill in them empathy, so that they may develop a worldview and a better understanding of their place in the world, how things fit together, how people live, and work, and speak, and treat each other. You can’t simply Google that. And, as a bonus, you as the adult will get to see the world as new too, because you can see it through the eyes of a child and fall in love again with the wonder of it all. For my money, this is where I will continue to invest, in the unknowable impact of a lifetime of tiny and grand events and experiences shared with my daughters. Whether Mouse will become an architect because of touching the wavy shapes outside Gaudi’s Casa Mila and inside the Sagrada Familia when she was 5, I don’t know, but that is not even the point.  She was impacted by the experience in SOME way, because a year later she still refers to non-straight-line structures and patterns as “very Gaudi.” Simply put, I am willing to invest in what I cannot immediately quantify the benefits of. I don’t need standardized test scores to know things are sinking in.

Whether we or they have the money for university when they turn 18, I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know what the world will look like a decade from now or how the college system will have changed, or if either girl will even see college as a necessary part of their future. I define success differently than some, I do not think the idea of a successful life is tied to picking a major –> getting a degree –> getting a job. At least not in that order. Like Gaudi, we dig curves where others prefer linear paths.

This next statement might not make sense to you, but it means something to me in regards to this issue: you don’t become a racist in college, or at 18 years old. There are things you learn and absorb as a child that shape what is in your heart, and those often tiny things begin to mold the person you will become. College has its place for some, yes, but first, I want to make sure there is enough beauty, love, adventure, creativity, imagination, togetherness, wonder, experience, diversity, and curiosity in my children, and that for us means taking the smallish amounts of money that would otherwise be stashed away and then bobble up and down with the financial markets, and giving them experiences we can share in together.  The choice is an easy one.  College will be there if they want it, as will financial help should they require it.

And as far as the insinuation from one of the panelists of a possible stink of privilege on my kids in the eyes of college admissions offices for having *unusual* experiences like being overseas as a young child: our 2012 trip to Spain and France probably cost about as much as a week in Disney. So, suck it.

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