Dear Dr. Linda,

This coming weekend, my family will host the yearly family reunion and we can’t wait. Everyone is coming, except my cousin Susan told me that her family can’t attend because her kids have finals coming up and those exams are too important when you’re looking to get into the most competitive colleges.

She made it clear that she felt horrible and so did her kids, but that their education comes first. That really bothered us. Was she insinuating that our kids aren’t capable of going to good colleges? We want our kids to succeed too, but the family reunion is also important. Any comments on this?

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Alicia and Mike

Dear Alicia and Mike,

Was Susan insinuating something about your kids? I don’t know enough about your relationship to draw any conclusions, but on the face, I doubt it. The priorities we set vary based on our values and opinions. It sounds like for you, family reunions are a treasure and that you and your family and the event override other items on your priority list.

Even though Susan, and probably her husband and their children, value getting together with the family, getting into the best colleges is tops on the list right now. There is no right or wrong here, just individual decisions. People’s values change at different times of their lives.

Here are some examples of how different parents in different financial situations react:

1. Priority: Parents want their children to be accepted into one of the most prestigious colleges. Beginning in ninth grade, Mom and Dad keep a running record of their children’s GPA scores. They make sure their children are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities to guarantee acceptance according to the guidelines, from playing a certain musical instrument to being captain of a sports team. Their children start preparing for SATs and ACTs in 10th grade and do whatever it takes and costs to graduate at the top of their class.

2. Priority: Parents want their children to have a post-secondary education. Throughout high school, they play a role in guiding their children about which classes to take and which activities to participate in. They see their roles as helping their children become happy successful adults. Money may play a role as to where their children go to college, but the fact that they’ll either go to college or take another route is on their minds.

3. Priority: Survival. Although they care about their children’s futures, they are totally consumed with fulfilling their day-to-day obligations. They need to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Even though many of them would love to see their children go to college, the reality of substantial debt makes it almost impossible, which pushes it down, if not off, the priority list they have now. A scholarship earned by the student is welcomed, and a sizable promotion could quickly change their priorities.

We’re all different people with different priorities, and everyone has the right to define their own value systems irrespective of what others think and without projecting them onto others. Let Susan and her family know they’ll be missed and focus on your family’s having fun at your family reunion.

Dr. Linda

If you have a question to ask Dr. Linda about your child or a school-related situation, she can be reached at Linda@stronglearning.com.