Welcome to Boredom Palace

Yikes, it’s been a while. It’s July, and we’re looking at Christmas pictures here.  It’s the blog equivalent of having a guest sit down on the dirty laundry you’ve stuffed under the couch.  How did that happen?

I’ve been meaning to write this particular post for about six months, but life, writing, raising kids — the usual — got in the way.  And I might have been feeling a tiny bit of blog burnout, too.  But I’m back! (Although not on a regular schedule.  It is July, after all.  At least for a few more days.)

So, anyhow.  One of the things I try and do when I’m not writing is read.  And six months ago I read Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or Fat Envelopes, by Madeline Levine.  I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or just someone who likes kids, I can’t recommend it enough.

Levine, a practicing psychologist, writes about the pressures we put on our teenagers to succeed and how harmful that can be, which shouldn’t be news to anyone.  But she also talks about the definition of success — the best grades, acceptance to the most elite colleges,  landing the most exclusive, highest-paying jobs — and how that may not be right for anyone.

The whole success conversation is such a complex, crazy one.  My children go to two different schools —  a charter in an inner city, and a private school — and the differences — not in teacher devotion or skill, but in parental expectations — is mind-blowing.  The reasons are complex and include financial situations and cultural expectations  — and are of course not true across the board — lots of parents at the charter school have very high expectations for their kids, and lots of parents at the private school are very good about letting their children find their own paths, but navigating between the two institutions sometimes leaves me with whiplash.  I’ve heard about complaints from parents that the elite high school their child was accepted to wasn’t good enough, and I’ve listened to a grade schooler say that she wanted to be a doctor, but her parents think the education would cost too much money, so she’ll be a nurse instead.

I am as guilty of riding the success train as anyone.  I have asked my children (one child in particular) why they have not done better on a test score.   I have suggested that a child may not have put their best work into a project.  I’ve been annoyed when a child has gotten a lower grade than I expected.

And yes, I get that kids need to learn to do their best work, to live up to their potential.  But does everything have to be the best, all the time?

Levine’s book has an exercise that helps you bore down to what your core values are as a parent — what do you want your child to walk away with when they are grown?  I almost never do these things, but the book was compelling.  So I came up with three qualities I want my children to have as adults, that I want them to start cultivating now.  I wrote them on a sticky note and put it on the front door, so they could read them every day before school.  I figure if on any single day they have two of them, it’s a step in the right direction.


And of course, they had a response.  (Well, one of them, anyhow.)  You’ll be happy to know I resisted the urge to correct the spelling or comment on the penmanship.  At least one of us is learning something.

Welcome to boredom palace!  Please use servant's entrance.

Welcome to boredom palace! Please use servant’s entrance.

PS.  If you’ve missed me, I’m also over at Writer Unboxed today.  Please stop by!

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Liz Michalski


  1. Vaughn Roycroft on July 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Nice restraint, Mom!

    P.S. Reading your posts today as I run around trying to get ready for my trip, I’ve been anything but board. 😉

    • liz on July 29, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Vaughn!!! And I am so envious of your trip. Raise a glass for me, please!

  2. melissaamateis on July 30, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    I’ve had to realize in this parenting journey that what was right for me may not be right for my daughter (she’s 15). I went to college right after high school – there was never a question in my mind (or my parents’ minds) that I wouldn’t. I earned my BA and then later, after she was born, I went back and got my master’s degree.

    But she doesn’t want to go to college. She doesn’t care about some high-paying job; She wants to live in London and be a writer. (Well, who doesn’t?!?). And I am okay with that. She has taught me so many things – she has her own style, has an incredibly unique way of looking at the world, and she truly is a gifted writer. I’m excited to see where life takes her. But she won’t be following the world’s path to “success.” 🙂


    • liz on July 30, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      How awesome that your daughter has the courage to follow her own path and the wisdom to know what it is. And how cool that you support her. I wish her all the best!

  3. Jan O'Hara on August 9, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I’ve been taking a break from the ‘net for a while but wanted to drop you a quick note. Have you read Dweck’s book on Mindset yet? If not, I think it would speak to you.

    Also? Your son is hysterical. A sense of humor is a great way to puncture the balloon of false priorities. Methinks he’s going to do just fine. 😉

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