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Wide Awake: Good Grades
The craziest talk I’ve had with one of my kids

A conversation I had at the beginning of the school year last fall may nominate me for craziest parent of the year – some would say worst parent of the year. I was talking to my oldest daughter, Klein, the day after her first college class. She was describing how after that class, she got a migraine.

Klein has a history of pretty serious migraines. We’ve taken her to the ER when a migraine made her unable to place words in the correct order in a sentence. So instead of saying, “I don’t feel right.” She would say, “Right I feel don’t.” It’s scary when it’s happening, and even scarier to think it’s happening when she is away at college.

I was really alarmed to hear just one class had stressed her out so much that she got an incredible headache. Here is the you-might-think-I’m-nuts conversation that followed:

Me: “You can’t get stressed out. You have to learn to relax.”

K: “I know, but I really want to get straight A’s. I don’t know how hard that will be.”

Me: “Straight A’s? Why? You already got in to college. All you need to do now is learn. Enjoy it. Meet people. Have great experiences. Soak up everything.”

And okay, here’s the really crazy words that came out of my mouth:

“You don’t have to get A’s. It doesn’t matter.”

When this first child of mine was born, both Joe and I had grand dreams of how smart she would be – ah, the Ivy League school opportunities would be endless, we were certain, because she would be brilliant.

But by the time she entered ninth grade, I had a new perspective on school, because the stress she put on herself to get high grades was out of control. I soon realized that I didn’t value high grades as much as I valued happiness. If you’re a kid and you’re not having any fun because you’re studying all the time – doesn’t that stink?

Here’s my big confession: when I was in college, I was a C-student. Every semester, I would pick one class – usually a journalism class – and work to get an A. I succeeded every time. But I decided that between work (I had a part-time job as a bank teller from 2 to 6 pm every day), classes and having a life I enjoyed, I wasn’t going to shoot for more than one A. And I felt successful when I got that A. I didn’t let the C’s crush me. No, even better, I didn’t let the C’s define me. I believed I was talented and would have a great career. My grades didn’t affect my confidence.

There is something to be said for having a happy life and a positive outlook, and learning things outside the classroom, especially when you are in college and the world has opened up to you. I don’t want any of my kids to think the most important part of school is the A. That’s just not true. The most important part of school is learning. And since college prepares you for a career, Klein’s focus shouldn’t be her grades, it should be absorbing the material.

So the first semester is over. Results: Straight B+’s. No migraines. New friends. And she has decided on a career she says she will love.

I may be crazy, but that’s one successful semester.

February 2013
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