Just like any other parent with kids returning to school this term, I am full of hope for a happy and successful school year. As I see the many images of kids in backpacks, grinning and styled in their best back-to-school outfits, I wonder about what success really means for all of these kids. Is it straight A’s? Is it making it on varsity sports teams? Is it getting fewer detentions than last year? Maybe its simply a year without being called in to the school to address the habit of biting other children.
Defining success is an exercise that begins early in our lives, even if we don’t realize it. It’s measured by milestones like how quickly we potty train and how early we learn to read. These things become so important to parents as we measure our kids against other children their age. In the grand scheme of things, should it matter that much? I don’t know about you, but in the many job interviews I’ve had, it’s as if they don’t even care about when I stopped shitting my pants. We put heavy expectations on ourselves as parents, and also on our kids because we can’t seem to stop comparing our families to other families. Comparison is the killer of confidence.
Of course, we all want what’s best for our families and good parents encourage their children toward greatness. We expect more because we know that something greater is inside our kids. To be honest, we also push because we don’t want them to miss the things that we might’ve missed. Every parent wants better for their child, but sometimes it backfires.
I’ve always taught my children the importance of education and that good grades are an expectation. My straight A daughter got one B last year and she freaked out. She thought she would be in trouble, and was disappointed in herself. I realized I had made a big mistake in the way I pushed her. I inadvertently created an environment where my child was afraid to not be perfect. I had to think about the messages I was sending her and completely throw them away and rebuild. Her self-worth should not be tied to a letter on a piece of paper. It should be tied to the knowledge that she does HER best no matter what the outcome. I need her to know that I am always proud of her efforts and her spirit, even if she completely fails at some things. Failure can be a good thing, because it shows you’re reaching beyond your comfort zone and learning something new. Let’s be real, a grade of a B in math is still damn good. It’s ridiculously far from failure, not even in the same universe, and yet my parenting had made her feel like it was the same. Frankly, I don’t give two poots if she knows the Pythagorean Theorem. I care that she is a good person who uses her own personal strengths and knowledge to build a happy life for herself. I don’t care what she decides to be when she grows up, as long as she’s happy with who she is, and not a sociopath. I am not interested in raising someone who is book smart but also a horrible human being.
Don’t get me wrong; grades are important. It just that they aren’t the only important things. Grades are what can secure someone a spot in college, but aside from that, the person who graduates with a 3.2 GPA can get the same job as a person with a 3.7 GPA. I won’t even bother to bore you with a list of successful, happy people that never even went to college. I have the same CPA license barely passing the exam with a 75 as the person who passed with a 90; that person just screwed up the curve for everyone. No employer has ever cared to ask what my GPA or my CPA exam score was.
I am grateful to have a child that excels in her academic classes, but to be honest I am more proud of the fact that she managed a rough drama club schedule and never missed a beat in her assignments. I am happy that in drama club she found a passion for the arts. As a black mother, I am over the moon about the fact that she, on her own accord and planning, scheduled a meeting with her school principal to pitch ideas about expanding cultural education and awareness in her school as a response to a racial insult being flung at her by a white student. I am in awe of the strength she displayed when she decided that she wouldn’t let this small-minded person rob her of a good day. I am impressed that she proceeded to give a strong proposal, even though her friend told her it was useless because nobody cares about the minority children in our very white area; also how heartbreaking is it that her friend feels this way?! I am encouraged that her principal called to tell me how impressed he was with her and how he wants to help her grow her ideas.
My child is not perfect by a long shot, but I see a fire in her. I see the beginnings of talents and gifts that have nothing to do with the letters on her report card, and honestly, it thrills me more than any GPA ever could. Yes, I am proud of her honor roll status, but that’s only a small piece of what she can do. I am so much more interested in who she’s becoming. The important part is that we don’t all have to shoot for the same version of success in our kids. They are individuals and don’t need to be judged by comparison to anyone else. This is the version of success that I want for my children, and we’re off to a roaring start.