Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Grades, Hurt, a Parenting Moment

Do you remember the feeling? That feeling of getting back your grade on your high school test, and the result was way, way less than what you had hoped for. Remember that feeling? The sinking feeling.

The pit that opens up in your stomach, as if some void of despair had suddenly opened deep in your bowels. The sudden opening of the Clam Shell of Failure.

I still remember that feeling well. I also remember my Dad and his reaction. His primary response to the news of poor grades was, well, how do I say this? One word. Anger. For some reason, although my Dad was basically a good man, his primary response to academic under performance was not an encouraging word, a pat on the back, and a "you'll do better next time, son". Nope, not that.

So when I got a bad grade, I often would dread my father's reaction almost more than the getting of the grade itself. For my Dad, my life was all about getting into the right college. Shame was a nice motivator to that end. Getting into college was essentially the whole point of my life in Dad's perspective. This was what his generation valued. As I think, my generation is not much different, for that matter.

And strangely, I did not learn something very important about my Dad until I almost graduated from high school. What I learned was that my Dad actually never graduated from college. He had a Big War to fight. It bothered me that he was after me about my grades and getting into college, and he never bothered to tell me that he never went back and finished college himself. For years I was bothered about that.

The DNA our parents give us is often unavoidable. This week I was confronted with the lineage of anger within myself. Suffice it to say that one our our girls came home with a not so hot math test grade; and this after she has been visiting a math tutor. My wife Nancy told me the news on the phone in the middle of the day, so I was prepared.

Honestly, the first reaction I have with news like this is to want to cut off my kids from all extraneous Internet use. I mean, if you can't do well on a math test, why should you be able to "IM" your friends all afternoon, whilst you are doing your homework, while also multi-tasking and looking at your Facebook account. And while we are at it, lets cut off the kids from all social contact, as well. Grounded for the rest of your life, that works for me. Let just get angry, that was the model when I grew up.

However, as I drove home from work the day of the math test report, I made a decision for Grace, but one that felt counter to how I am wired. I decided to offer grace, to just love, and to lay off the anger. When I got in the house, I went to the room of the "math offending daughter" (who was, by the way, in her room studying).

I said this;

"You know that sinking feeling you get in your tummy when you get a crummy grade on a test? (look of semi-surprised recognition from my daughter) Well, I sure do remember that feeling, and I was thinking about you this afternoon, and that math grade you got back today. I said a quick prayer for you. I was remembering about how I felt when I was a kid, and I wanted to just tell you that no matter what, I love you, and I will always love you. I am really glad to be your Dad, and I am proud that you are my daughter. I love you. That's all."

Then we shared a hug.

As I thought of this, I realized that this might be one of the only pure things I have done this week that is motivated by my faith.

I thought it was a good parenting moment. I don't have a lot of those, so I thought I should share.
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