Does this sound familiar to you? It actually happened to me recently, and with the primary school year-end exams looming, I decided to share. “Did you know Jean failed her Maths?” asked my husband angrily. When I shrugged, he continued, “Why are you so calm? Shouldn’t you do more as a mum?”
I replied, “Oh… but I have. I have her right where I want her to be. Loved. Experiencing our unconditional love, regardless of her grades.”
My husband first rolled his eyes, then muttered something about leaving it to me. I smiled, and strengthened my resolve to be the secure mother I am today, drastically different from the tiger mum I used to be.
The Old Me
“I’m SORRYYYY!” My daughter’s apology ended in a wail as I hit her with a ruler.
I was so angry and frustrated. All I could think of was how silly she was for not understanding a simple Maths concept that I had just spent an hour explaining. I knew she was smarter than that! She was just being ‘difficult’, what with her bad attitude towards the subject.
Her tears and cries enraged me even more.
“You’d better stop crying or I’ll hit you more,” I threatened, raising the ruler. I didn’t know how else to make her keep quiet and learn.
As she averted her eyes to avoid mine and did her best to hold back silent sobs, I relented. I softened. I walked away to calm down and regretted my actions for the umpteenth time that week.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I shook my head, acknowledging that this madness had to end. I was tired of the usual routine. Whenever I asked the girls to study, they would refuse, saying I would scold them. Each time I would promise that it would be different that time, but they knew better. More often than not, those sessions ended with me in a rage, and my daughters in tears.
(See also: How to Raise a Maths-loving Child)
What Was Wrong?
I loved them, and I knew shouting and hitting them were NOT expressions of love. Why then was I doing things that put such distance between us? Why was I repetitively doing the very actions that made them afraid of me?
Of course, I would apologise and hug them after we had cooled down. But I was doing it so often, even I wouldn’t believe my own apologies anymore.
With tears rolling down my cheeks, I recalled how my mother used to cane me while she chased me around the house. I remembered how bitter I was against her. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was becoming the very mother I swore not to be.
As I dug deeper to find the real reason for my explosive rage towards my kids, I realised that the root cause was fear. I was afraid that if they did not understand their studies, they would fall behind, which meant lower grades. I decided to challenge my own assumptions by asking myself: “So what?”
The Turning Point
So what if my kid failed Maths? So what if they got low grades? So what if their results were not among the best? How bad could the repercussions be? So what if they failed their Chinese spelling tests? So what if they took longer to understand some Maths concepts? Would it matter that much in the long run?
In doing this mental exercise, I figured out that… it was all about me! My fears. My hopes. My wants. I feared they wouldn’t do well in school. I hoped they would grow up to be successful. And I wanted certainty of what good grades would mean for them — good schools, good job, and a good future.
As I re-examined my unconscious assumptions, I had another epiphany. My unfounded fears were projecting a future that was not even real! I was so living in my head that I was missing out on connecting in the moment with my children. Instead of encouraging them, I was heaping all my unrealised fears on them and scaring us all in the process!
The New Me
I came to a decision. From now on, it would be about my kids and their needs. As I looked at what might serve them best, my action plan included three main points of focus:
1. Making connections
Studying together is a journey to be savoured, not rushed. None of us enjoyed our study times previously because I was so focused on the goals. They had to ‘get it’ within a ‘reasonable’ time frame or my time was wasted. I remembered the (rare) delightful study times when we had fun — those happened when I made the subject come alive without expecting to achieve a specific outcome. When the only objective was to discover the joys of learning; we could take our time and veer off-course on a whim.
Now, I consciously shift my focus to make our learning times the most enjoyable and rewarding possible. Experience the process rather than see it as a means to an end. Yes, it takes time… but what’s the rush?
2. Discovering them
As I decided to dance to the tune of discovering their unique gifts and potential, I also came to understand that their grades don’t singularly define their success. Grades are a measure of how well they understand a subject at a particular point in time. They are not a measure of their potential.
Now, learning times are not confined to academic outcomes but include teachable moments in life. It could be a reflection on what one daughter learnt when she got lost earlier at the park. Understanding another daughter’s perspective on why she chose to shout at her sister.
(See also: Sibling Rivalry Across Two Generations)
3. Inculcating life skills
True success is defined by the joys of realising their individual strengths, developing life skills, and deepening their values. The reality that the mainstream system may not actively acknowledge these other barometers of success means that I was going to have to continually champion the discovery of their individual strengths myself.
Now, my main goal during learning times is to impart life skills. Independent critical thinking and creative problem solving outranks Maths and Science. Beyond English and Chinese, they learn how to be empathetic contributors and confident communicators. Instead of fixating on textbooks, I anchor them in values that will withstand the test of time.
(See also: Parents, Inspire your Child to Self-Motivate)
A Parent’s Resolution
To close the chapter on The Old Me, I dedicated this apology and promise to each of my children:
“I’m sorry. I’ve always compared you with an ideal of what I think you should be and that is not love. From today onwards, I will embrace you for who you are. There may be times that I forget and slip back into default mode. I give you the authority to remind me then. Because you are more than your grades, my love. You have, within you, the potential to be anything you want to be. Don’t let anyone — not even me — ever tell you otherwise.”
As the exam results come out, all of us parents have two choices:
- Define our children by their grades. This may not serve them regardless, because we unconsciously reinforce that as their identity — a ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘average’ student.
- Define our children by the possibilities of what they can be regardless of their grades. Because as Stanford University psychology professor, Carol S. Dweck, says, “Test scores and measures of achievements tell you where a student is, but they do not tell you where a student could end up.”
Which do you choose?
If you’re still focused on results, you may want to read how Junia’s eldest went from F to A in five months for her PSLE in The NAKED Parent.
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