According to my children, lots of parents pay their children if they get good grades and I am missing the good parent boat. I’ve never been a subscriber to that philosophy. When you pay a child for something that is outside their control, you set them up for a lifetime of misery. Getting good grades, making the team, being picked for the solo, winning the election and all the other anxiety that comes with growing up is stressful and competitive. I like to reward my children for the courage to try and the determination to work hard, not an outcome that is determined by some one else. An arbitrary test grader, peer voting choices or a teacher’s grading process shouldn’t determine our inner sense of achievement.
This is what I tell my children when it comes to school grades, “I want you to work hard and do your best with the gifts, resources and time God gave you. The grade you receive from the teacher is interesting but it shouldn’t matter most. The grade you give yourself matters infinitely more.” We all know we’ve received an A for sub par effort and a lesser grade when we worked very hard and gave it our best. That’s why I tell my children they should rely more on what they think about their effort. Too often we teach our children to look outside themselves for validation.
Too many of us think we are motivating our children when we are really teaching them that we should be rewarded for every good thing we do. If you get an A I’ll pay you fifty dollars. If you clean your room I’ll give you a trip to the candy store. If you get into the right college or choose a career where you can make lots of money, then I’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. So you end up with children of intellectually gifted parents stressing about every test and grade - children of athletically gifted parents scared to death they won’t make the team - children of stylish parents worried about their clothing labels. The reward we ultimately receive for good deeds and personal effort should be intrinsic or a good feeling about our usefulness to others.
My adult daughter called the other day. She was going to be graduating with her Ph. D in anthropology that week and we were making final travel plans.
“You know Mom you always told me I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard and didn’t give up. Yet it wasn’t what you said but what you did that influenced me most. I watched you work hard and achieve your dreams. I told myself, if she can - then I can. You didn’t pick my dream for me; you just showed me how to have a dream and then go for it.”
We are all one-of-a-kind human beings with unique gifts. Each of us has our own way to shine. It’s not our job as parents to pick out what our child will be good at – but to expose them to various opportunities then support them when they choose what to do and who to be. And we have to keep becoming and doing ourselves to show them how. There will always be two report cards – the one the world gives us and the one we give ourselves. The one we give ourselves always matters more.