My son will graduate from high school next week, and I could not be prouder. He is graduating six months early. Last night we were at his awards assembly, and I was so happy for him as he accepted his honor roll certificate. As I sat in the audience, I reflected on my son’s positive transformation over the last few months. He was a product of the right educational environment and a fantastic support staff.
It was not always like this. My son asked us several months ago if he could switch from his mainstream high school to an alternative education environment. At that time, I was unsure and a little heartbroken.
As parents, we all have expectations of what we want for our children. However, my expectations no longer correlated with my child’s reality. This, as a parent, can be tough. It took me a while to accept and adjust to something different than I had envisioned.
It took me time to adjust to my teen’s idea of what he wanted
I needed to come to terms with what my son was going through. I had to face reality that what was best for my son’s well-being no longer aligned with my idea of what his high school experience “should be.” As his mother, I had come to a crossroads of doing what was in my child’s best interest instead of what I thought should be done.
In my head, I knew the best thing for him was to switch to another learning environment to complete his high school year. But my heart broke a little that he would be moving from my alma mater and would not walk the same graduation field and stage that I had walked (and his brother and grandfather had). The scenario I had created was no longer conducive to his well-being.
My son was unhappy at his high school
My son is extremely shy and has always had a small friend group. He is a sweet, mellow, loving, and compassionate young man. He gets good grades, and academically he has always done well. He struggled socially because he is shy and quiet and suffers from anxiety. Large groups are complex for him, and he was miserable at a school with over 2,500 kids as someone with social anxiety. A school that size can be overwhelming for anyone, let alone an introvert with social anxiety.
His high school had been closed for Covid for over a year, and since returning to campus, my son had difficulty finding his footing. Once back on campus, he would text me throughout the day, saying he was feeling down. Many of his friends had taken different paths or begun friendships that my son was no longer part of, so he had few friends with whom to interact.
As his mom, it is my job to encourage and listen to him. I did this daily, but I never truly connected with his anxiousness. I attempted on several occasions to get counseling for him but counselors were either not taking teenagers or had wait lists. When we talked, I asked him to get through his Junior Year. He did, and I thought we were over the hump and that Senior Year would be good. It was not.
Things did not improve during his Senior Year in high school
My son continued to text me throughout the day and would come home from school sad and miserable. Then he asked to meet with alternative education studies to explore our district’s different options.
We discovered that the continuation school was an option with the same general curriculum required by our state to graduate high school. The credits he had already earned would carry over, and he could graduate early. After talking, we decided that this was his best option. When he transferred, he only needed 15 credits to complete a student project involving life skills, career exploration, and independent living skills to graduate early.
Listening to my son allowed him not only to survive high school but to thrive
By allowing him to have input and choose this option, we have watched him THRIVE!! The difference is astonishing. My son made friends; he was productive and participated in a life skills course to help him with real-life studies. He felt engaged with teachers, counseling staff, and his peers.
The most significant change we saw was that he would come home smiling and happy, enthusiastic about his day. He was excited to share what he was learning and how his day had gone, which warmed my heart.
As his momma, this is all I needed to see to know that letting him choose what was suitable for his educational path was the right move, as was letting go of my unrealistic expectations.
My expectations were based on my experiences and personality; he was not me. I had to let him be who he was to do what was best for him.
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