It was when my daughter returned to school after a lengthy COVID quarantine that the dam broke. The pressure of all of the makeup work coupled with the physical exhaustion of COVID added up to too much for her 14-year-old body and mind to handle.
She felt like she was never going to dig out of the hole she was in. We took appropriate measures to help her at school by requesting an additional study period. She was spending her athletic period studying, working on assignments, and taking makeup tests. Evenings were spent pouring over her studies and slowly chipping away at the mountain of work that had accumulated during her sickness.
My daughter’s school work accumulated while our family was sick
Under normal circumstances of illness, I would be on top of her schedule and would make sure she did a little bit of work every day, as she felt able. This time was different. The whole family was sick, and most of my days were spent sleeping and trying to regain my strength. The work that accumulated felt overwhelming.
Her school was generous, and her teachers did not pressure her. But she pressured herself. A straight ‘A’ student, ranked 2nd in her freshman class, she was not only accustomed to success, her goal was perfection.
When she saw her 100 averages slipping away as she struggled to catch up, she broke. The tears flowed, and she cried as I hugged her. I understood her despair completely. I felt overwhelmed, and I wasn’t even doing the work. Just the task of helping her organize and check items off her list felt like a tremendous responsibility to me.
I let my daughter express her anxiety and frustration
I let her cry and express her frustration, and then I asked a question I frequently ask. “What’s the worst that can happen?” Was it possible her 100 averages were gone? Yes. Was it possible she may not be 2nd in her class? Yes. What’s so bad about that?
So that led to my second line questioning, “What’s it all for? Scholarships? Entrance into a good college? Are you planning to go to Harvard?” I knew the answer was no. She had no aspirations of attending an Ivy League school. At that point she didn’t even know what she wanted to do in the future.
As I posed these simple questions her sobs subsided. She thought quietly and realized she had no idea why she was feeling pressure for perfection. My guess was that because she had easily attained perfection with little effort up to that point, she felt she was expected to continue.
Being sick was a gift
We were given a gift. A pause, a respite from the norm and a chance to reevaluate. After she gathered her thoughts, she was able to process and have what I thought was a very mature discussion. No, she didn’t have her sights set on Harvard.
However, she did think she was supposed to earn scholarships for whatever school she attended. Any of the schools she would realistically consider were easily within her grasp for admission. I explained to her that we were going to pay for her college. Her worry and angst wasn’t helping anyone.
I explained that I would much rather have a happy and healthy daughter who enjoys her high school years than force a burden on her that is illogical and quite frankly, not worth her mental well-being. As the recipient of a full ride scholarship, I know the benefits of hard work and dedication, but I never worked towards those rewards. I worked hard, simply because I felt it was the right thing to do with no prize in mind.
After we explained things to our daughter, her outlook changed
After she let the facts sink in, we had a new daughter. Her freshman year had been a year of tears, panic attacks and stress, culminating in the breakdown over the mountain of makeup work looming over her. After our chat about her future and the question of, “why are you doing this?” the remainder of her year and her subsequent sophomore year were met head on with a new attitude.
She started enjoying herself more. She stopped focusing on perfection and gave more attention to relationships and being intentional with her schedule. We saw her health improve and her outlook brighten. What I had previously chalked up to teenage girl issues disappeared.
All because I finally realized she thought she was responsible for her future and that she was expected to be perfect. Perfection was never our goal. I looked at the odds of getting a large scholarship, and I realized that I couldn’t allow our family to count on that. Even with great grades, high test scores and a full list of extracurricular activities the competition is intense. Any scholarship she gets will be a bonus but we can’t depend on it to fund her college education.
Once the burdens she was never meant to carry were taken away, she was able to perform at a higher level with lower stress. She was happy, and that made us all happy.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
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Why Our Family Didn’t Let College Take Over the High School Experience