“Whether you get As or Cs will be irrelevant. No single letter of the alphabet will raise or lower your value to me.”
I’m sorry you’re so stressed out right now. Finals week is always tough. You’re a high school sophomore: no longer a child, not yet a college student. I’m sorry you have to care more about grades now than you did when you were younger. Yeah, yeah, yeah — this is the year grades apparently count, the first year of grades that college admissions counselors will look at when you apply to schools.
I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful as you study. But I’ll be honest: I have no freaking idea what you’re talking about any more. I mean, I’ve heard of covalent bonds and Avogadro’s Number. I remember doing quadratic equations and reading about the Louisiana Purchase. But truth be told, your academic knowledge surpassed mine years ago. I’ve been faking it since you were in eighth grade.
That’s how it should be. Our kids should be smarter than us. It makes me feel safe to know your generation has the potential to wield more knowledge, and do so more wisely, than your predecessors. But that doesn’t help you when you have a final exam in AP History, Honors English, AP Chemistry and AP Math — all in the course of two days.
I’m not one of those parents who feels high school teachers today assign too much homework. I’m a college teacher (in English — the one subject you’ve never needed help with), and I can confidently state that when you get to college, the workload will be much more intense. This means that if college is in your future, now is the time to tackle the rigors of academia head on with as much confidence as you can.
Today when you came home from school, you had your Worried Face on. You and I sat down together, and you told me about how concerned you are that you’re going to bomb your exams, which will result in a parade of horrible grades on your report card, which in turn will be a sledgehammer to the kneecap of your future. In short, you said you’re afraid you won’t get into college and will instead be living in a box under the freeway. (OK, you didn’t actually say box. The furrows in your anxiety-ridden brow did.)
You were then quiet for a minute.
You took a breath and said that, more than worrying about your own future, you are most worried that if you get bad grades, I will be disappointed in you.
That is what’s worrying you most today. My disappointment. Not the fear of being rejected by colleges, not the idea of under-the-freeway real estate, not anything having to do with your future. You’re worried about the look on my face if I see low grades on your report card next month.
Oh, Sweet Girl.
That’s not something you need to worry about because it’s never going to happen.
What disappointment means, doesn’t mean
Here’s what you should understand about disappointment:
Sure, sometimes parents feel disappointment in their kids. Maybe we see our children behave poorly at a restaurant after years of being taught good manners at home. Or we learn they’ve been sneaking out of their room after bedtime and playing games on the family computer for weeks, which they know perfectly well they’re not supposed to do. Maybe we catch our kids in a lie about something: ditching school, shoplifting, treating a friend poorly, whatever, and we feel disappointed in what they’ve done. Because they’ve been “raised better.”
But even in those moments, disappointment is usually pretty unproductive. See, disappointment is what we feel when we have some expectation about how something should be, and then it turns out differently. (Expectations are, as a general rule, pretty dangerous.)
And when you’re a parent, there’s this extra complication: we sometimes feel that our kids are representing us when they go out into the world and do their thing. That’s actually a major danger. We think things like, “I was good at calculus in high school. So you should be, too.” Or: “I was always comfortable at parties in high school, and good at making friends. Why can’t you just be a little more outgoing?”
Bad mojo, that stuff.
I want you to know where disappointment comes from and where it sometimes lurks in the darker corners of a parent’s brain.
And I tell you that so I can tell you what I really want to tell you, which is this:
I’m just as human as the next guy, and I walk around with expectations in my head like everyone else: expectations for myself, for others, for the world.
But you will never have to prove your worth to me, with grades or anything else.
As you get older and have relationships with other people, they will put their expectations on you. And you on them. Sometimes those expectations will be met, and sometimes they won’t. You sometimes will even feel disappointment in me (I know — shocking thought).
But it’s my job not to put that crap on you. All I want you to do is try. Whether you get As or Cs will be irrelevant. No single letter of the alphabet will raise or lower your value to me. No letter will affect how much I love you. So out of all the things in the world to worry about, you do not need to worry about that.
Do try hard, do use your strengths, do work with your challenges and do attempt your best. The letter grades you get in chemistry, history and pre-calc will not change your worth, and they will not put a fence around my love for you.
Take your exams, do what you can do, and let’s go have pizza afterward to celebrate that you are a 15-year-old person in the world, working her way steadily through challenges.
P.S. If you get stuck on a multiple choice question and have to guess, choose C. Trust me.