Why I Laughed When My Son Flunked His Midterm

I’m tired. Tired of seeing how so many parents in our culture mess their kids up in two words: unhealthy expectations.

I’ve never understood why parents pay their kids to get good grades or reward them with cars. For years I thought: well, I must just have easy kids who are self-motivated. If my kids weren’t motivated I would start taking out the cash and hanging out at car dealerships in anticipation of my child making me feel good by getting top grades.

Wait – making the parent feel good? Yes, to me, that’s exactly why parents are bribing their children to do well. The pressure we put on kids today is pure parental narcissism. Sure it’s couched in “it’s all about my kid,” but really let’s be honest. Parental pressure on kids to get good greats is virtually always about the parent’s need to meet unhealthy expectations.

The other day my son, who is a tenth grader and attends a special school because he’s dyslexic, flunked his Spanish mid term. When I saw his grade I decided to call him down from his high-towered room.

BT.FB.Banner“So you flunked the midterm?” I said.

“Yes,” he said, head down.

“That’s hilarious,” I said with a smile.

And then I started to laugh hysterically. At which point his head raised and he started laughing too.

We belly laughed for nearly five minutes that my abdomen hurt.

“You know why I’m laughing?” I said afterwards.


“Because you’re dyslexic and you flunked the Spanish midterm. How could anyone expect a severely dyslexic kid to excel at Spanish?”

Cue more belly laughter.

You may be thinking, oh well, he’s dyslexic so parental expectations will be lower because he has learning challenges. It’s okay for a dyslexic to flunk a Spanish midterm. But here’s the crazy truth: most parents of kids with learning challenges would not be laughing at a failing grade. There would be no money paid out, threats of ‘no car’ would be exchanged or whatever the bribe price is in that particular household.

If this is the treatment kids with learning differences are getting imagine parental reaction to the typical high school student.

Why are we beating our children up when they fail? Does this all stem from an unhealthy parental (and school) obsession with expectations? I think so.

Sure, I agree we should have a standard of expectations for our children, schools should too, but unfortunately today’s expectations are unrealistic and unhealthy for children. Parents want to have a kid they can brag about. Schools want to have kids they can say make them a great school. In this effort to brag our expectations for children have gotten out of whack. Whether it’s expecting them to get good grades to get into a high flying college we’re seeing an alarming number of teenage suicides and teenagers cutting themselves in my community – and nationally – and this should tell us something. We’re placing unhealthy expectations on children and they’re suffering as a consequence.

If there is a flag that needs to be flying in every home and every school today it’s a peace flag. How can we bring more peace into the lives of children, and especially those who aren’t meeting academic expectations?

It starts with parents. Peaceful parents place healthy expectations on their children. Of course I want my son to do well in school. I don’t want him flunking a midterm. Even the Spanish midterm. But I also recognize that trying to get him to be successful at something that is not his sweet spot only makes him feel less peaceful inside.

I’m a big fan of parents using mindfulness practices in their home. This new wave of teaching mindfulness in school seems to have it all wrong. First teach mindfulness to parents and teachers. Then students.

Once parents and educators are practicing it themselves, then start bringing it to kids. Starting when kids are young is optimum. We’ve been taking three deep breaths before we eat since my kids were toddlers. Today, as teenagers, it’s automatic and as my kids tell me, essential to feeling at ease.

A great book to start with is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step. This book should be required reading for all parents, educators, and children. It puts life in perspective.

Who cares if your kid flunked their midterm. The bigger question is: are you raising a child that’s passionate and engaged in life? That’s no laughing matter.

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