There seems to be something almost pathological surrounding our intense focus on our children’s school performance. It always confounds me how many parents who were in all likelihood not “A” students themselves have an expectation that their children should and will be.
Growing up, I was encouraged to work hard in school and to try to achieve academically. At the same time, I knew that my academic success or lack of it, did not define my parents. Even though I knew that “performing well” made my parents proud, I also knew that their love and affection was separate and apart from anything I could or could not accomplish in the classroom. They loved me, without condition, not for getting straight A’s or for the college I might get into, but simply for the person I was.
Many parents are not only disappointed when their children get B’s and C’s, they are angry. They are angry at the school. They are angry at the teachers. They are angry at the sub-performing child. In fact, they are not just angry, they are outraged. I think this rage comes from a misguided sense that the grades their child receives in school are a vindication of all of their parental decisions.
If you can get a child into an Ivy league or an Ivy League-esque school, then surely all of your parenting decisions, in retrospect, must have been the correct ones. The flip side of that coin is that if school performance is lackluster, parents wonder what the point of all the child grooming, tutoring and obsessing is. Many parents feel that if can’t mold their child into a high-achieving student, they have failed.
But here’s the problem, you can be an excellent parent and still your child may be an average or below average student. You can have a brilliant child who has been given every conceivable advantage and still they can under achieve.
Having children who get good grades does not make you a superior parent. You are neither liable for their failure, nor should you be lauded for their success. Our bumper sticker culture encourages us to cover our cars with our child’s accomplishments. There is the, “My child is an honors student at such and such a high school,” and then, of course, there is the ubiquitous college bumper sticker which proudly proclaims to the world that your child goes to such and such college. Our culture foists the onus for our children to succeed upon us, their parents rather than placing it, where it rightly belongs, on our child.
It’s a given, then, when my children do well I feel proud, but I know that their success belongs to them. My self-worth needs to be entirely distinct from how my child performs in school. It seems silly to have to say but these are not my grades, this is not my life. My child’s performance reflects solely on him, not on me.
My responsibility to my children is to serve as a nurturing life guide. I try to do this by providing warmth in the winter and shelter from the rain. In short, I do this by providing them with a launch pad from which they can catapult into the world as the best versions of themselves. My obligation to them is to be as supportive of them as I can possibly be, without allowing my identity to be so consumed by theirs that I lose sight of where they end and I begin.
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