Too often, age is sole factor in when to start school

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Dear Dr. Dobson: If age is such a poor factor to use in determining the start of the first grade, why is it applied so universally in our country?

Dear Reader: Because it is so convenient. Parents can plan for the definite beginning of school when their child turns 6. School officials can survey their districts and know how many first-graders they will have the following year. If an 8-year-old moves into the district in October, the administrator knows the child belongs in second grade, and so on. The use of chronological age as a criterion for school entrance is great for everybody -- except the late bloomer who is developmentally unprepared for formal education.

Dear Dr. Dobson: I'm convinced that I should stay home with my preschoolers if finances and temperaments permit. But what about after they are off to school? Do you still feel it is important to have Mom at home in the teen years?

Dear Reader: Many will not agree with my opinion on this subject, but it is born of experience with thousands of families. All things being equal, I believe Mom is still needed at home as the children grow. Why? Because the heavy demands of child rearing do not slacken with the passage of time.

In reality, the teen years generate as much pressure on the parents as any other era. An adolescent turns a house upside down -- literally and figuratively. Not only is the typical rebellion of those years a stressful experience, but the chauffeuring, supervising, cooking and cleaning required to support a teenager can be exhausting. Someone within the family must reserve the time and energy to cope with those new challenges. Mom is the candidate of choice.

Remember, too, that menopause and a man's mid-life crisis are scheduled to coincide with adolescence, which can make a wicked soup! It is a wise mother who doesn't exhaust herself at a time when so much is going on at home.

Let me illustrate why moms are needed at home during the teen years. A good military general will never commit all his troops to combat at the same time. He maintains a reserve army that can relieve the exhausted soldiers when they falter on the front line. I wish parents of adolescents would implement the same strategy. Instead, they commit every moment of their time to the business of living, holding nothing back for the challenge of the century. It is a classic mistake that can be even more difficult for parents of strong-willed adolescents.

This is my point: A woman in this situation has thrown all her troops into front-line combat. There is no reserve on which to call. In that fatigued condition, the routine stresses of raising an adolescent can be overwhelming. In short, the parents of adolescents should save some energy with which to cope with aggravation!

Whether or not you agree with my advice is your business. It is my responsibility simply to offer it. Generally speaking, the working mother has a challenging task before her. Admittedly, many women are able to maintain a busy career and keep the home fires burning, some with the assistance of involved husbands or domestic help. Other low-energy mothers with unhelpful husbands don't cope so well. Each family must decide for itself how best to deal with life's pressure points and opportunities.

Send your questions to Dr. James Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family

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