In our quest for the best — nursery school, summer camp, teacher, or college, it’s easy to get caught in the “Gotta-Go Flow” and lose sight of what’s best for our children and family. The community anxiety around securing what’s best can create peer pressure difficult for any parent to resist. I’ve stood on many sidelines breaking into a cold sweat while listening to a litany of missed opportunities: the after-school program was a must; that sports team set her up for varsity; this SAT tutor was his ace in the hole.

Somewhere between racing our kids to soccer and bribing them to take music lessons, I learned to consider the difference between what’s seemingly best and actually best. The seemingly best nursery school might be across town and complicate a parent’s commute. A doctor might be nationally ranked but neglect to return phone calls. A theater program might be sought after but interfere with dinner hour or a good night’s sleep.

Years ago we set out to choose the perfect sleep-away camp for our daughter. After a weekend of camp visits, lengthy director interviews and much deliberation, my husband and I agreed on the seemingly best one. Pristine cabins lined the end of a peninsula on a serene lake overlooking plush green mountains. We wanted to stay at Camp Pristine, but our daughter did not. She preferred a rinky-dink camp with cobwebbed cabins and unstructured play. We mistakenly overruled and left our daughter with a disappointing experience. The following year she attended Camp Rinky Dink and had the time of her life. We learned to slow down and listen up, and to follow our child’s lead when making decisions about her life.

What’s best for Anna isn’t necessarily best for Kate. What’s best for Bobby might not be best for his family. Even siblings differ in rhythm, interests, and personality. We wouldn’t buy a batch of identical shoes and hand them out to different people. Instead, we give time and focus to what works for each individual. We commit to a personalized process of finding just the right style, function, and fit. Why would we readily conform on more important matters?

Keeping our finger on the pulse of each child as he or she evolves is a big parenting commitment. Amidst college rankings and top ten lists we need to step back and remember that what impresses doesn’t necessarily nurture. A higher price or lower acceptance rate doesn’t guarantee a better experience. Just because our child can attend a coveted program doesn’t mean he should.

Through years of shortlists and long faces, sign-ups, and meltdowns, my quest for the best has shifted from the best product or service to the best decision our family can make at the time.