To all new and prospective parents out there: After 12 years in the game, I highly recommend that you become good friends with the concept of “fit.” What I’ve learned is, one size definitely does not fit all. We have spent much of our time together finding the right fit—in terms of schools, activities, you name it.
For adoptive parents, you are introduced to “fit” the day you start the search process for your kids. All children have both good and challenging qualities—what you want is to find the kids who are the right “fit” for your personality, values, and lifestyle. This is just my own opinion, but I believe detecting fit is a matter of gut-level, versus brain-level, knowledge. A kid can look perfect—or very imperfect—on paper, but when you meet him or her in person, something kicks in that tells you “Of course” or “No way” or “Maybe …” (For the maybes, I’d recommend a second or third visit before you commit.)
And that’s just the beginning. From the point at which you and your kids become a family, you can apply fit to .. well, to pretty much everything that follows. Over the years we’ve had to suss out fit for obvious things like babysitters, coaches, therapists, tutors, and music teachers, as well as less-obvious things like behavioral systems, travel destinations, movie picks, restaurants, etc. As just one random example, the boys and I had more fun on our first trip to Victoria, Canada (where there is Nothing. To. Do.) than we did on our trip to Hawaii. All because the former, with its quirky charm, was more “us” at the time.
Probably the most important area in which fit applies is choosing a school. Between the two of them, my kids have over the years gone to two schools with great reputations, two with funky reputations, and one that no one ever heard of (school-switching is kind of a hobby in our family). Ranking the schools from the most positive experience to the most negative one, the order looks something like this:
- Funky reputation school 1
- School no one ever heard of
- Funky reputation school 2
- Great reputation school 1
- Great reputation school 2 (This experience was so negative, I’m tempted to make up some other schools just to move this one further down the list. More details in a future post.)
As you can see, in our experience, the so-called “great” schools ended up as what I fondly refer to as “awful” fits for one kid or the other.
To help determine fit regarding a given school, activity, or person for your kid, I recommend getting as much information as possible to help assess fit. I find talking to folks—administration, teachers, parents—more useful than reading information or looking at stats and achievements (believe it or not, most schools highlight their most positive stats and achievements in their recruiting information). Fit is primarily about the human element, so the more human contact, the better. A few thoughts about this: If you’re getting input from someone and you find that you personally don’t have a fit with that person—their values, vision, etc. don’t line up with yours—listen carefully to their advice. And then do the exact opposite. And if someone throws an “of course” into their advice: “Of course you want to send your kid to [name of teacher/school/camp/coach/etc.]?” Run screaming in the opposite direction.
Lest you think finding the right fit is challenging … well, you’re correct. Why? Because …
- The right fit for you, and the right fit for your kid, are usually (always?) two different things. The school that you love so much that you think, “Shoot, I wish I could go here”? Your kid will hate it, and when you look more closely, you will realize that it’s really not the right place for him or her. So you pick the kid’s best fit—which is, of course, the one you yourself hate—and spend the next several years becoming a master at gritting your teeth.
- As your kids grow and change, so do the things that fit. Much as you spend every six months buying them a new pair of shoes (Payless was my best friend until the boys’ feet stopped growing), you could make a full-time career of trying to keep up with your kids’ changing interests and needs and looking for the perfect—if temporary—match. This is when you inadvertently become a Taoist as you seek to attain the middle path between your kids’ needs and your sanity.
Finding fit requires taking the time to learn both yourself and kids pretty intimately, but it has the potential to reap amazing rewards. Plenty of people will tell you what you “should” do with and for your kids, but when you nail the right fit? Solid gold.