An interview with Dawn, parent ’16 conducted by Chloe ’16. Read on to find out what Dawn’s fears were about boarding school, how she came to terms with them, and the difference it has made for her family. You can also check out some of Chloe’s other posts on the blog including: Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Filling Your Empty Canvases (Making a Dorm Room Feel Like a Home, Not a Box), and Speaking of Squirrels.
How did you decide boarding school was the right fit for your child?
Initially, I was very hesitant. Sure, Chloe had been to her share of sleepovers and overnight camps. But none of these had lasted for more than a week at a time. And although, as a little girl, she had spent a whole summer abroad without me, she had stayed with family then, not a bunch of strangers at a faraway school.
My willingness to consider boarding school grew over time. At first I was only willing to consider “local” boarding schools — schools inside of the tri-state area. I figured if I could get to her, driving, in an hour or less, the distance wouldn’t be such a frightening thought. After spending a couple of days visiting a school in Connecticut, meeting other boarders there, and seeing Chloe make her way around the campus, the idea of letting her go a little further away began to seem less scary. On the ride to and from Connecticut, I realized how close New Haven was to New York. A couple of my very good friends from college live there, and it occurred to me that even though I would be several hours away, they would be able to get to Chloe in far less time if needed.
Then I started thinking about all of the places where we had family or very close friends who I could count on to be surrogate family in a pinch. I thought of my own experiences as an undergrad (and even a grad student) living far from home. I thought about all of the really strong friendships that came of my time away from home. I realized that those friends became my chosen family, and that college and grad school was my home away from home. That’s when the boarding school decision became an easy one to make. That’s when I realized that it was the right fit, not just for Chloe, but for me, too.
How was the application process? Was it stressful? Were there doubts?
The process was stressful precisely because there were plenty of doubts. Would she be offered admission? Would she be awarded sufficient financial aid? Would she be accepted by her peers? Appreciated by the faculty? If I had to do it again, I would try to quiet all of these questions and doubts, focus on the journey, and try to worry less about what was to come once the first leg of it (the application process) was over.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned during your child’s time in boarding school?
I’ve learned that I can parent from a distance. And that parenting from a distance is, in some ways, a lot better for our relationship than parenting up close.
Are there any feelings of empty nest syndrome?
Not yet, partially because I still have Chloe’s little sister (9) in the nest full time. And partially because of all those holidays and school breaks that bring Chloe back home for weeks at a time. It’s not like when your all-grown-up kid moves out and visits for a few days once a year. I suspect that’ll come later. Boarding school is probably good training for that!
How has boarding high school affected your relationship with your child?
This relates to my answer to the question about the biggest lesson I’ve learned…I think our relationship is even better than it would have been if Chloe had gone to day school. After all, there’s a lot less slamming of doors and yelling about cleaning your room than I recall from my own teen years, which has to bode well for the rest of our years together!
All humor aside, in a lot of ways, Chloe is more mature than I was as a day school student. I think that maturity is a result of being a boarder, and that the relationship that she and I have is more mature as well. We both know she’s still a kid, but she’s certainly teetering closer to the edge of adulthood than I was at her age. And our relationship is more akin to that of a parent and adult child than that of a parent and child.
What was your biggest worry about sending your child to boarding school?
That she would grow emotionally distant, and that her relationship with her sister and me would suffer. Thankfully, all of those worries were totally unfounded! I’ve already shared how great the boarding school choice has been for my relationship with Chloe. As it so happens, the choice has also done wonders for the friendship between my two girls. Because Chloe and Maia miss each other so much while Chloe’s away at school, there’s none of the bickering you might expect from two sisters, born 8 years apart, sharing a tiny bedroom. Instead, when Chloe comes home for a weekend or extended break, the girls happily hang together in their little room — often cuddled up on one of the beds — talking about the books they’ve recently read and catching up on each other’s lives. Because they know these visits are short, neither of them takes their time together for granted, and even if they’re doing nothing much, they’re happily doing nothing much together.
Who decided they wanted the boarding school option? You? Your child?
I was hesitant at first, while Chloe was all in from the beginning. In the end, we agreed that it made sense to pursue all options.
How do you think you have grown from your child’s first day away from home to the present day?
I think I am a better parent now than ever before. Not just to Chloe, but to her younger sister. I think this is because I now have more confidence in my intuitions as a parent. I see that my past decisions for Chloe haven’t backfired, so I feel that I can be more relaxed – less angsty – about future decisions I make for her and her sister.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for parents considering the boarding school option?
I would tell them to suspend judgment. Once they settle their own fears and silence (or ignore) the fears of others (warning: grandparents can be especially worrisome), they may find that boarding school is the best option for their child and their family.