Have you ever felt tied to your child’s school performance? Does your stomach sink or blood pressure rise when you see a low grade? I wonder, how does a parent’s identity get so caught up in their child’s grade? Grades are simply tools for assessment. What’s wrong with a B? B’s mean solid understanding. Does “B” translate as “Bad parent?” It shouldn’t. Our pressurized pursuit of perfection has gotten out of control. Let’s explore how.
When our children fail to meet our expectations, it’s tempting to take it personally. They should be the best reader in class, the best dressed, the brightest, the most likely to succeed. Why? Because we’ve poured ourselves into them, by golly. And then they disappoint us. But we sometimes take it out on the teacher because that teacher’s mark identifies our child as less than perfect.
Except they are. Less than perfect, that is. Our children are flawed and while admitting this is tough, it ultimately brings relief. We don’t have to pretend. We can relax and get busy helping our children accept themselves and then point them to a Savior who IS perfect.
Sending our children off to school brings such vulnerability. Others will see faults in our child and judge us. We were too strict, too lenient, too absent, too involved. The guilt trips are unbelievable. And the crazy thing is, we parents fall for it! Each year I tease my students’ parents with this note home:
“Did you know YOU are the cause of all your child’s problems? Yes, you! I hear:
“My mom never gave it back to me.”
“My mom never signed it.”
“My mom made me go to church so I didn’t get my homework done.”
Humor aside, parents, ease up on yourself. We teachers believe you are doing your best.
They could have done better, tried harder. That may be true. But red flags go up when kids see a low grade and say, “My parents will kill me.” Of course, I don’t think there will be actual bloodshed by dinner time, but there may be disappointment. And that’s OK. Disappointment is a valid response--often an appropriate one--and can be lived through. In fact, it is vital that children see beyond the disappointment to the unconditional love that underlies your relationship. Don’t we still love our children even when they spill milk, lose the spelling bee, or fail to make the varsity squad? Of course we do. A low grade on a report card will only damage their ego if we put too much emphasis on it.
Earning a poor grade makes a child unhappy. That’s actually a good thing. Uncomfortable feelings might just bring about motivation to change habits, thereby building resilience. Children who identify and then learn from their mistakes are ready for more academic --and life-- challenges. Those who sit and pout don’t go anywhere. They blame, they point fingers, they turn on themselves. It’s heartbreaking to see a child who physically beats himself in the head because he didn’t make a perfect score. It’s the same child who must be talked off the ledge in college. But we can coach them while they’re young to turn failures into learning opportunities. You see, kids need practice in trying hard, failing, and trying hard again. It develops what researchers call “growth mindset.” Very few learn to ride a bike without skinned knees. Knees heal. Confidence grows.
Turning this picture right side up:
Here's an excerpt from a teacher’s letter to a parent:
“Thank you for your recent communication. To address your questions: yes, if the goal is education, then Emmaline (the name has been changed) is succeeding! At 10 she is capable of
--Speaking clearly to adults
--Playing well with peers
--Formulating complete sentences
--Engaging in class discussions
If the goal is only A’s on assignments and tests, then no, Emmaline is not achieving this. However, Emmaline’s academic grades only reflect her amount of mastery in her academic subjects. But I’d like to point out that the other portions of the report card (character and work ethic) are included because those virtues will carry a person further than any academic achievement.”
Practically speaking, employers rate dependability and the ability to collaborate as two primary characteristics they seek in new hires. Jobs require initiative, teamwork, and positive attitude. The chances of inquiring what grade a person got in 4th grade math is slim to none. Even college transcripts end up in a box in the attic one day.
One of our teachers puts up a bulletin board about World Class Failures. It’s a favorite. It features men and women like Abraham Lincoln who lost every election he ever ran in except the one that most counted for America’s future. And Michael Jordan who couldn’t make his high school basketball team. And Walt Disney who was labeled, “not creative enough.” And Albert Einstein, a late reader. The board is full of these inspirational stories of those who “didn’t make the grade,” but made the world a better place.
Tying ourselves to our child’s grade is a vain pursuit, so let’s step off the pressure merry-go-round. Let’s give ourselves grace to be parents who simply encourage our not-so-perfect-kids to live up to their God-given giftings, whether that be horseback riding, chemistry, ballet, or joke telling. Let’s give our kids the chance to crash, get back up by God’s grace, and then continue to pursue His life’s calling on their lives.