I took this photo when I was sitting in the audience for a weekly recital. We were waiting for the piano accompanist. I was so nervous. I wanted to walk up to my son and fuss over him. Remind him to use vibrato. Make sure his A string was in tune.

But he needed none of that from me. So I took the picture. I took the picture of the moment when I realized that my son was up there, alone, and I couldn’t help him. I had to just wait, and watch and see what he did.

Did I tell you my younger son also plays piano? He does. He doesn’t like it nearly as much as cello, and this is a picture of me screaming at him to shut up and play the damn song so we can finish practice. I think that might be a trademark technique in the age of iPhone parenting: take a photo so you can separate yourself from the situation and you are less likely to yell.

Anyway, these photos together make me think about how the key to being an effective parent is knowing when to step in and take control and when to say that it’s clear that my kid is better off if I step back.

When parents decide to put their kids in school, they are deciding to step back: school will decide what’s best for your kid on a daily basis. For a while it was unclear if Philadelphia schools would open because the school district has no money. So parents were trying to figure out what to do, and many announced  they would homeschool if the schools don’t open.

It turns out that the school district borrowed money to open on time, but what blows me away here is that parents are putting up with huge amounts of uncertainty in their lives from the school. When school is not even a sure thing – when you can’t schedule your family life around knowing school will be there in the fall – then it looks to me like it’s time to step in and take control. You can say, “My family needs more stability than this school system can give me.”

It happens in other ways with school. The school controls your kid’s destiny for the year by which kids go into the classroom with your kid. Does your kid sit next to the trouble-maker to calm him down? (It’s always a him.) Does your kid sit next to the slow reader to give him tips? (Statistically a him as well.) You can’t control any of this, but it affects your kid every hour of every day they are in school.

Read this letter from a teacher published in Instapundit. Notice how the teacher argues that kids perform poorly in school because they think of school as something that’s done to them rather than something they do themselves.

Most parents have the same attitude.

If you think I like making my son practice piano, you’re wrong – I hate it. But he wants to compose music, and composers need basic piano skills. So I’m taking responsibility for helping him meet his dreams. I’m stepping in. It would be so much easier to just sit and watch, waiting for the schools to open.