“I’m going to burst,” blurts my husband, the planes of his face tight with anger. “Maybe we should stop him working, prevent him from going out, or switch off the Wi-Fi.” I can feel the heat of frustration radiating from this normally placid man who is on the brink of volcanic eruption over our son.
“Do you think that would make him more likely to study?” I prompt, knowing that none of these measures will encourage our apathetic senior to apply himself but will certainly make him cross and resentful.
“Probably not, but he’s doing everything apart from the revision: gym, friends, TV, PlayStation. I sat for hours before exams. How can he be so lazy?”
“I’m frustrated too.” I empathize, “but he’s satisfied with his grades and confident about the exams. He doesn’t want to invest anymore effort, and I don’t think we can force him.”
Even to my ears, I am unconvincing an advocate for a case I am not sure is justified. The night before an important test, he should be studying. Shouldn’t he?
We are guilty, my husband and me. Guilty of wanting more for our son than he wants for himself, guilty of expecting him to perform at his best, always, and guilty of being disappointed when he does not. We are guilty of expecting him to be driven and to understand the ramifications of current choices on his future — or at the very least, to listen to us, the voice of experience and reason.
But the reality is, at seventeen, he is a fallible, hormone-driven, thrill-seeking semi-ripe adult, just trying to survive the senior year and often too overwhelmed by basic needs for sleep, food, and social acceptance to care much about anything else.
Tomorrow is the final in literature. His door is ajar, and I knock and enter, hoping to see open books, but no such luck.
“So are you going to study?” I try to sound neutral yet encouraging; I want to clarify our expectations without increasing the pressure already weighing down his defensive shoulders.
“Nah, I’ve got it. All you need to do in those exams is waffle on about the plot and characters, which I’ve been doing okay all year,” he says, eyes fixed laser-like on the screen, thumbs moving at the speed of light as he expertly maneuvers the Dallas Cowboys to victory.
His confidence is not misplaced. Without too much effort, his marks are quite acceptable; enough for a place in college, enough for his teacher to tell us that he is one of the better students, and obviously enough for him, but for us? This boy is bright; imagine if he really put his mind to it. Imagine if he really “did his best.”
“Perhaps it’s a genetic thing,” I confess to my scowling husband, ready as always to defend my cub. “I was a terrible student in High School. After years of being Miss Studious, I discovered boys and parties; school was an annoying backdrop to my social life. I was lucky I got into college at all.”
Unimpressed, my reluctant spouse swallows down the weight of his expectations and tries to make peace with the dwindling influence and shift in leadership which accompanies parenting teenagers. “It is hard for me to let go of wanting the best for him and from him.”
It is hard.
We want so much for our children, and academic success is a building block in the foundation of a fulfilling and lucrative career. But it is not everything. The emphasis on grades can outgrow rationality until we sometimes fail to see the child — the struggling teenager, hoodie up to shut out the judgmental world, door closed to stop the nagging, eyes averted to avoid the expectations.
And it is good to have high expectations for our kids. But when it comes to a toss-up between pushing them beyond their own will or maintaining a good relationship based on understanding and trust, I know where I am.
“Look at all the good things he does.” I induce my husband. “We should not get hung up on what he doesn’t do, but thank goodness for all that he is.”
Our “lazy” son is also the school quarterback and drags himself out of the house on dark wintry evenings to exhausting four-hour training sessions after an arduous school day. Our “lazy” son was promoted twice in his weekend job.
Our “lazy” son gets out of bed and goes to school every morning even though he is wary of the institutional grind and its often empty requirements. Our “lazy” son sits on the edge of his eight-year-old sister’s bed and reads her Diary of a Wimpy Kid and sometimes shyly confesses snippets of information about girls and parties and how one day he wants to raise a family in our hometown.
Is that not enough? Do we need him to be a straight-A student just because he has the potential? Can we not accept his choice sometimes to be a B or C student because that’s all he’s got to give today because his life is about more than paper qualifications? After all, it’s his life, not ours.
Yes, it’s a shame that he is not fulfilling every degree of his potential and may miss opportunities. But I trust him to own his mistakes and find his way forward, building a life that is round and whole and not always lived at full throttle.
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