My kids are gearing up to go back to school next week. Actually, they're not gearing up; they're hunkering down at home for another few days, enjoying lots of neighborhood roaming, Pinterest pinning and parent-time. We all watched AFV last night until well-past bedtime, finally wandering to our rooms at 10:00.
But school is right around the corner. In some ways, the kids love school. At 10 and 12, even they realize that getting out of the house and having somewhere to be is healthy. They like the challenges of certain projects and subjects, and they each have their favorite teachers.
Then, of course, there are the downsides. There's always a rub, right?
Teachers are pretty stressed these days, likely overwhelmed with increasing numbers of students, amounts of work and training and growing responsibility for aspects of student life they have no control over but are somehow expected to having meaningful impact on.
Kids can be less than kind, my own included.
Fundraising is in full-swing (always), and my kids feel the stress and worry of not wanting to be the one kid whose family didn't give enough for the whole class to land a pizza party.
There are days I seriously consider home schooling.
But I have to admit I'm partly to blame for a lot of the stress and anxiety my kids feel about school.
I'm a grade pusher. I want all As. If my kids can't get the A, I want a good, solid, I tried-my-very-best reason for such performance. I push. Hard.
Why am I so fanatical about grades?
When I stop and think, I realize that I push grades because of fear.
Fear is one of the greatest motivators; the desire to avoid pain is often more compelling than the desire to gain pleasure.
What am I afraid of?
The list is long.
I'm afraid my kids will be left behind.
I'm afraid their lackluster performance now will somehow translate into a lackluster life, one that leaves them coming home to the basement, asking me to make grilled cheese sandwiches while they sit glued to social media and video games.
I'm afraid people will judge me as a less-than mother if my kids aren't top of the class.
I'm afraid my kids will feel like failures (and probably become failures) if they don't excel.
I'm afraid of my kids being mediocre.
That's a lot of fear, anxiety and judgement (much of it unfounded) to heap onto a 10 and 12 year old.
Or is it?
Chinese kids go to school sometimes until 8:00 at night, or later.
South Korean kids are so tired from extra study sessions, their teachers have to keep them awake by physically prodding them with stuffed animals attached to sticks.
I had an Indian doctor who told me anything less than a doctor or engineer as a profession was seen as utter failure in her family and culture, which meant straight As, little social life and nose-to-the-grindstone for her entire childhood.
If everyone else is rising to the occasion and slaying academic dragons, what will happen if my kids don't?
Enter a video I watched on The Atlantic last week:
This all makes me think back about 15 years, to the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, when I lived in an old nunnery-turned-Mennonite dorm and pursued a graduate degree in Asia Pacific Policy Studies. In the dorm, I met a guy who sort of rocked my world. He was in law school there and maintained a solid C average. He said he didn't see any reason to try harder than that, forgoing a social life and wasting two years of his life hunched over books.
He wasn't trying to make law review or work in an academic setting, and he argued a law firm would never look at his actual transcripts. He wasn't trying to make it to the top; he just wanted a stable job and opportunities for the future with law as his default.
I was stunned. As an American, I'd never actually heard someone say this. Sure, I'd seen this attitude play out in plenty of situations, but I'd never heard anyone say that was his plan!
Then, my husband attended the Army War College a few years ago. The college has students from all over the world, and in his group was a military officer from Sweden. Same thing. The Swedish guy said in Sweden they have a word for it: lagom. It basically translates to: good enough.
Instead of trying to ace all of the papers and exams, he said the goal was to do well enough to pass and move on but not so well that they weren't able to enjoy their family time and social lives.
My husband came home and reported to me this whole lagom idea and said he was officially taking that on during his time at the College, which he did. You know what? We had a bunch more fun than if he'd been tucked away with his books, up all night trying to perfect his essays (many, many officers spent their year that way).
So...how would I feel if my kids took a knee one year, maintaining a B average but investing more time in extracurricular activities or family time or even just good old fashioned playing?
I'm tempted to find out. I'm tempted to lay off the grades, the hounding, the following my kids around the house with flashcards of Latin roots and multiplication tables.
I'm tempted to ask about other interests, projects they'd like to build, trips they'd like to take and life they'd like to explore. What would they say? Where would they want to go?
Would it be neglectful of me to steer them away from academics ever-so-slightly and out into the world a bit? Or would it be a blessing to them, opening their world to extend beyond the often arbitrary nature of an A?
Something in my mother's heart is telling me to try, at least a little bit, because life is more than grades, and intelligence and success and potential are more than the letter stamped on a report card.
Does anyone else struggle with the fine line between pushing kids to excel and letting them be good enough?
I hope everyone is having a lovely post-Christmas Wednesday. January is right around the corner, bringing 2018 in the sidecar.