Frustrated boy looking over homework


I Freaked Out At A Failed Math Test But It Led To My Biggest Parenting Revelation Yet

Jun 14, 2019

Growing up, I put an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself. I constantly felt as though I wasn’t good enough, mentally beating myself up for anything less than perfection. Sometimes it made me work harder, determined to yield the best possible result. Other times, it made me give up, convinced that I just wasn’t capable. Often times, my quest for perfection caused me to not even make an attempt because that gave me an excuse if I failed.

When my son brought me a failed math test, I knew how I shouldn’t react. But that didn’t stop me.

That type of self-deprecation is exhausting.

I hear the same disparaging attitude coming from my son. He’s very hard on himself. When he struggles with something he will give up, claiming that he can’t do it without even giving himself a shot.

The hard part about parenting is knowing what you shouldn’t do doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what you should do.

When my son brought me a failed math test, I knew how I shouldn’t react. But that didn’t stop me.

From A Psychologist: How Parents Can Help Their Children Succeed At School

He came to me holding his test, his hands shaking and his eyes turned down, and whispered, "I need you to sign this." When I realized that he had failed two math tests in a row I was furious.

“What is this?” I demanded loudly.

He shrugged his shoulders, afraid to meet my eyes.

My fiery temper got the best of me and I stood in front of him waving the pages in the air, yelling that it was unacceptable. I threatened to pull him off his soccer team and ground him from playing with his friends. I vowed that his Playstation was getting packed away. When he didn’t give me any response, I screamed, “These grades will never get you into university!”

Study hard, read, get good grades and that will lead towards a good university, which in turn will take them into a successful career. Then — bam! — they will be happy.

Luckily, my husband stepped in. He took the papers from my hand and whispered to me that I needed to take a moment.

As I stood there in front of my nine-year-old son, breathless with anger and frustration, it hit me that I had this all wrong. He was nine. Why was I worrying about what university he would get into?

Yelling at him wasn’t going to make him get better grades. Losing my temper wasn’t going to make him magically understand fourth grade math nor would it make him suddenly realize that if he studied and stopped rushing through his homework, he would see better results.

But my reaction was about so much more than how I could help him succeed. My reaction was about understanding what success meant for a child. A failed math test in Grade 4 did not mean that he was going to be a failure at life.

I have been pushing my kids down this path of what I thought success looked like. Study hard, read, get good grades and that will lead towards a good university, which in turn will take them into a successful career. Then — bam! — they will be happy.

I’m forgetting they are just children. At nine years old, my son shouldn’t be worried about getting into university. I just gave him that worry.

We are living in a world where we expect our children to excel at everything they do. We are leading ourselves to believe that excelling at everything will lead to happiness. That is an enormous amount of pressure to put on a little one and it simply isn't true.

There are people of all different levels of education working in many different types of careers and jobs who live happy and productive lives. There are also people of all different levels of education and different careers who are far from happy.

Related Reading: It’s Not Just Adults — Kids Struggle With Impostor Syndrome And Low Self-Esteem Too

If you ask any parent what it is that they want for their children, they will most likely answer that they want them to be happy. That’s truly what I want for my kids. I want them to find their passion and follow it. I want them to feel as though they are contributing the world.

Never failing isn’t the key to those things. The absence of failure is not the secret to happiness. What will help them become more content with themselves and their lives is being able to overcome failure. Being able to learn and grow from your failures takes that pressure off.

But truth be told, I’m only just figuring that out now, at 40 years old. How do I expect my children to grasp this concept?

We are living in a world where we expect our children to excel at everything they do.

The best ideas and experiences don’t usually come from the perfect moments. They come from the struggles and difficulties. They come from the moments that don’t go exactly as planned. Rather than yell at my kids for struggling with something, I need to try and help them learn how to deal with their struggle and move past it.

I apologized to my son for losing my temper over a failed math test. I know that doesn’t undo the damage that I did, but I hope it shows him that we can recover from our mistakes. We came up with a plan, together, on what we could do to help which led to a weekly tutor.

Math still doesn’t come easy for him and, to be honest, sometimes he still rushes through his work. But his last math homework came home with a bright red B on it. I made sure to let him know that I was so proud of him, not just for the B, but for the effort that he put in to get himself there. Only so much of this is on me. He has to want it.

Who would have thought that a failed math test would have led to one of my biggest parenting revelations yet?

Article Author Natalie Romero
Natalie Romero

Read more from Natalie here.

Natalie’s passion for writing was reignited as she blogged her way through the pain of her son’s health issues and NICU stay. She is the wife of the world’s greatest foot rubber and mother to an amazingly loyal little boy and a fiercely independent little girl. An HR professional by day and a freelance writer and blogger by night, Natalie is getting a crash course in the juggling act that is the life of a working mother, though she does occasionally drop a ball or two! After spending much of her life trying to be perfect she has learned to rock her shortcomings and is not afraid to admit when she’s failed. This parenting thing can be tough and Natalie believes the best way to survive it is by keeping it real and by leaning on your tribe.

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