Attitude Check

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Attitude Check

By Jeannette Webb 

I’ve spent the last 31 years working with kids. That’s a really long time. And, when I need to make a prediction about where that child is headed or understand how they handle their lives, the best place to start is the parent’s attitude. You heard me – the parent’s attitude, not the child’s. If moms and dads really understood how much their outlook impacts and shapes their child, they would be terrified.

Let’s start with how you view your circumstances. 

I live in a poor state surrounded by farm families and homeschoolers. The majority of folks view the glass as not even half full, but empty. They feel poor, they look poor, and they act poor. They don’t spend money on good curriculum or rich experience. They don’t invest for the future. They survive.

Contrast that with a friend of mine – married to a pastor of a tiny country church, houseful of kids. You don’t get much poorer than that. And yet, this woman invests heavily in educational resources. She invests in herself. She subscribes to multiple magazines that will help her do a better job. In her words, “It’s cheaper than a nervous breakdown!”

It’s all a matter of perspective.

I can remember my son’s senior year. We had just moved to an old farmhouse and had not had time to clean up the outbuildings or remodel the home. Despite my attempts to move the meeting place, an Ivy League interviewer insisted on coming to our home for the interview. Our family sprang into action to do what we could in the few days we had. “He’ll think we’re white trash!” I wailed. After working for several days straight, my smiling son gave me a hug and reframed the situation, “It’s all right, Mama. Now we just look like impoverished gentry.”

Think Gone With the Wind: Scarlett O’Hara making a dress out of curtains.

There’s a reason that book was banned in countries that feared a people’s uprising. Her determination to rise again, despite the obstacles, infused individuals with courage. It’s the kind of courage we need in desperate circumstances. We must refuse to feel beaten and live as though it is a temporary situation.

Another aspect of your attitude is how you view your kid’s education and their future.

I think most adults think their kids are capable of no more than the parent is. Take math, for instance. It’s the one big fear harbored in many homes.

When in high school, my daughter was visiting a friend and she was working away at her math on the kitchen table. The mother saw what she was doing and very dramatically said, “You poor dear.” As you can guess, that mom raised kids who ran from anything educationally difficult. My daughter just smiled to herself. She knew she would never hear those words out of her mother’s mouth! In fact, she would get no sympathy. Ever.

Despite the fact that I am a mathematical midget, I never felt sorry for my kids or told them how impossible it was. I didn’t talk about their struggles to anyone in their hearing. I kept a smile and acknowledged that it WAS hard, but I knew they were smart enough to get it. I believed, despite my own inadequacies, that math was like music, you have to practice and work for a long time to reach proficiency. After that tipping point, it can become a challenge and fun. So, I cold-heartedly ignored my son’s moans. I kept smiling and told him I had confidence in him and his ability to conquer this thing. I made it clear over and over that math was not an option. It had to be mastered, so my kids just had to accept that and keep moving until it clicked.

I’ve kept the Algebra 2 textbook with tearstains smudging the pages. When my son graduates with his Ph.D. in theoretical math and computer science in a couple of years, it will be my gift to him – a rich affirmation in the power of a mother’s belief in his abilities.

How’s your attitude these days?

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Look Who’s Talking!

 Dear Mrs. Webb, 

Yesterday, I was notified that I got accepted at UPenn. Thank you for all the help you’ve given us that has made this possible!! 

Thank you for access to all your materials about college apps. Thank you for umpteen rounds of feedback on essays. Thank you for interview practice and all the editorial help you gave for each piece of my application. 

But thank you most of all for strategic planning and advice you have given me and my family all through the past two and a half years. Your pointers have not simply helped me jump through the hoops so that I can get a whopping load of fin aid at an Ivy League school, it has made a difference in the experiences I sought out and the abilities I have developed. October of my Junior year when you strongly suggested I add teaching (or something heavy on human interaction!) to my schedule, keeps coming to mind. I was all set to go ahead without it and probably wouldn’t have tried to find a position if you hadn’t told me to “get out and move among the people.” But after I got out and started moving, I found my job to be not only my “strongest extracurric” for college but also one of my most rewarding and pleasurable activities.  Thank you. Very much.                    ~Jeremiah, China

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