Growing up, my parents say I was a well-behaved, sweet kid who pretty much did whatever I was told. I never rebelled in any crazy way; I was polite and respectful and eventually became a sane, normal member of society. If I had to describe myself in just three words I would say I am positive, motivated, and open-minded.
As for my youngest child Jake I would use the following adjectives: laidback, confident and funny. Unfortunately the laidback part of his personality sometimes irks me a lot. He is much like my husband – he never stresses, takes each day as it comes and is carefree to a fault. When it comes to schoolwork Jake has always had the “ah it will be okay” attitude. Despite his intelligence, he doesn’t always push himself to work hard nor does he – as his teachers like to note – “work to his potential.”
His sister is the complete opposite. She reminds me of how I was at school. She wants to work hard and aims to get good grades. Since starting high school this year, never once have I needed to remind her to do her homework or hand in an assessment. Without any push or pressure from me, she has unearthed this disciplined side of herself that just gets things done.
Jake, in comparison, likes to leave things to the last minute and will only pull out a school book after he is yelled at to do so approximately five times. At age ten, he thinks the best thing about going to school is playing with his friends and he usually behaves as though life is one long holiday.
One day we had a meeting with his fifth grade teacher to discuss how we could encourage Jake to work harder. After all, he is an A grade student who is happy to receive B and Cs in his report card. We wanted to work out how we could motivate him to push himself harder instead of doing just the bare minimum (for example, if asked to do a book report of 1-3 pages, you can pretty much assume Jake will be handing in just one page).
During this meeting it became apparent that Jake’s care factor for receiving straight As right now wasn’t very high. He stated bluntly “seriously, who is going to ask to see my year 5 report card when I’m an adult?” And that was when it hit me. He was right. A+ for stating what most parents tend to forget while we are parenting younger kids. The long-term significance of those primary school report cards isn’t nearly as important as we think.
How do I know this is right? Well I can only use myself as a case study and lo and behold I still have all my school report cards to refer to. Even though my parents describe me as an obedient child, it seems our memory of things can sometimes become quite warped over time.
The truth is even though I did excel in my later years, at both high school and university, I myself wasn’t always the perfect motivated angel my parents assumed I was (or the angel I now hope Jake will transform into).
I still remember enjoying year 5 immensely. I was obsessed with playing with my group of friends, reading Sweet Valley High books and pretending life was one long wonderful adventure. The purpose of my life back then was to have fun. If it wasn’t fun, I didn’t particularly care to do it.
My year 4 report card was thankfully kind:
A popular girl with a pleasant personality. Frances is always tidy, neat and well-organised with her work. She is dependable in all class activities. She is a keen project worker and possesses a sense of responsibility. She does her best in class.
Then I hit year 5, which from memory was alot of fun but I don’t think teachers grade you on how much fun you have at school.
My year 5 half-yearly report said this:
Frances is not working to the best of her ability – she puts too little effort into most of her work. Frances is unsettled in class and does not like to be given directions. She could be doing much better.
My end of year report in year 5 was not much better:
Frances is often unwilling to conform to school rules. She likes to do exactly what pleases her. In her school work, Frances is now making more of an effort – her results show improvement. I hope that next year Frances will be a more involved member of her class.
Anyone reading those two report cards from year 5 might assume I would grow up to be a delinquent but that wasn’t the case. By the time I hit year six, I had already changed my tune. See below:
Frances is an intelligent and capable student with commendable qualities of leadership and application. She has worked well all year and I am sure she will enjoy success at high school.
I have to confess – I didn’t get straight As all throughout high school. Most of the time a report card full of Bs littered with a few As was enough to make me happy. And if I got a D in music (music was SO not my thing) my parents didn’t even particularly care, though I too had “great academic potential”. It was only during the later years of high school that something finally sparked in me and I became a student determined to do my best at all times.
What this means is that individual report cards do not adequately predict a child’s future. You can have a report card that indicates how well a child has studied for an exam or memorised facts but they do not grade anyone on their resilience, confidence, happiness or compassion levels. You can have a child who is blasé about his or her schooling for now but then later on in life becomes a fabulous entrepreneur.
Your child may not discover what he or she is passionate about before they finish school. Maybe they won’t even find their “thing” until years later. And when they do find it, chances are they will change their mind a few times. There was certainly no indication in high school that I would become a dedicated author in the future. Research also shows that the vast majority of jobs that our young children will eventually work in haven’t even been created yet.
So the next time your child comes home with a less than impressive report card, resist the urge to tell him or her that this piece of paper will ultimately determine their level of success in life.
Stop for a minute and think:
Did your report cards accurately reflect your level of success? Did you score straight As and Bs yet now work in a mediocre job? Alternatively, did your report cards indicate you would never achieve much in life but then you went out and proved everyone wrong?
As parents, we worry so much about providing our children with all the right opportunities. We place these expectations on their shoulders that they should go well at school because we ultimately think a great report card equals success and happiness. But does it really? Really?
Our children are human just like us…sometimes they feel motivated to work hard, other times not so much. That doesn’t mean that when they become adults they won’t find their own path. That doesn’t mean they won’t grow up and discover something they love to do, the thing that gets them out of bed in the morning and lights a fire in their heart and soul.
Sometimes it’s more important to raise a child to be kind and respectful, to find joy in the simple things in life. When I keep these thoughts in mind, I know and trust that Jake will grow up to be just fine as an adult. Because while we are busy trying to teach our children all about life, our children are at the same time teaching us what life is all about.
And here’s the thing: I have somehow raised a child who is confident, resilient, kind and forgiving. Jake has a great sense of humour, is generous and isn’t materialistic or selfish. If the purpose of life is to be happy, my son has already achieved this goal.
Of course there’s a good chance he will continue to come home with Bs and Cs even though he has the potential to achieve straight As but don’t we all have that same potential to do better? Some of us just blossom in our own time and that’s okay. I am fine with that now.
And if I’m ever NOT fine with it then I must remember that I myself grew up to become a productive, caring, compassionate member of society, even though my grade 2 teacher (see below comments) didn’t always think I would turn out that way.
Frances is polite at all times however she is often quietly disobedient and insists on doing what she wants to do regardless of instructions.