On a stunning Southern California spring day we were driving to meet our son to celebrate years of hard work – his college graduation from the California Institute of Technology. My cell phone buzzed and I heard a strangled voice, “Mom, one of my classmates committed suicide yesterday.”
The beauty of the day was shattered along with the lives of the boy’s family, friends, and classmates. We never found out what was behind it all, but do know that it happened right after grades were released, just hours prior to the ceremony.
Was it caused by events – grades not high enough, failure to get into the right grad school, lack of a job offer? Was it the result of emotional problems or relationship issues? We don’t know, but do know what we witnessed the four years he attended one of the most selective colleges in the world.
Enough just never seemed to be enough.
At a school where student options were: “Sleep, study, or social life – pick two” the bulk of the campus was composed of brilliant kids who knew all about working into the wee hours of the morning. Their parents had big dreams for them. The kids had big dreams for themselves. And yet, my son heard classmates complain that their parents were pushing them harder still:
- Motivational materials would arrive in the mail
- Parents would castigate a student for taking time out of studying to attend a Bible study or social event
- A lower grade in a mind-boggling class would be criticized
- A student who was not leading the class would be reprimanded
I see this on a high school level as well with parents who fill their children’s lives with rigorous classes, multiple tutors, too many extracurricular activities, and still fret and stew that their kids will not be good enough to get into the best colleges. Their worry extends to the students themselves who are constantly uptight about building the resume and doing the right things. This results in fear and continual worry. It’s not a good way to live.
I need to clarify that I believe strongly in excellence and expected my kids to perform to the best of their ability. They understood my expectations and worked hard without my continual reminders to do so. In high school, we didn’t have goals such as a competition win or acceptance at a specific college. Instead we worked to develop skills, do the best job possible in each situation, and learn as much as we could. Then we let the chips fall where they would. Their best was good enough for me.
You may have a student who doesn’t test well, one who has developmental issues, someone who does great in a few subject areas and doesn’t perform well in others. Certainly, we work to fix the things we can, but then we must accept the constraints of those that we can’t.
Instead of having goals of a specific school or a national win, we do what we do as well as we can and then find the school that fits with who our child is at their core. For any student that belongs in college, there is a school out there for them. All the fuss and worry in the world won’t push your child into performing more than they are capable of.
So, absolutely have the expectation that your children will do the best with what they have. Help them to do that, and then let it go. Spend the growing up years treasuring them and enjoying their company. The outside world is stressful enough without inviting the emptiness of perfection, and its resulting worry, into your home.
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