School: Expectations versus reality

School: Expectations versus reality

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Aug. 19 is Parenting with PTSD Day!
August is Parenting with PTSD Awareness Month

Another school year begins this month so I’m reminded school began the day after Labor Day when I went. In other words, things have changed and so have I.

My parents put fear in me at a very young age. They ensured I got a proper parochial school education. Therefore, my grades had to reflect a high level of achievement. In second grade, I got a less than passing grade on an assignment so the nun sent it home. In my best cursive, I forged my Mom’s signature. Apparently, I wanted to avoid getting in trouble.

Doing homework was stressful. Dad was an engineer and I sucked at math, while Mom loved math but had very little patience for me. Asking for help was a setup for rage-filled episodes with my father. If I kept asking him to repeat the explanation because I wasn’t getting it the first two or three times, I was doomed.

Report cards had to be signed. If I got a D I was in deep doo-doo. If I got a C, Dad would be upset I didn’t get a B. If I got a B, he would be upset I didn’t get an A. If I got a A or A-, why wasn’t it an A+? This would be a consistent pattern right through college.

My parents earned their Associate of Arts degree but never finished their bachelors degrees. Dad was one semester away from an engineering degree, while Mom was one class from a management degree and left it there. My parents would be happy if I got an associates degree but more satisfied and proud if I got a bachelors degree.

My college grades were stellar, so much so that I got my bachelors degree with honors. I had received many prestigious awards and scholarships including the coveted Dow Jones copy editing internship and scholarship. My parents were proud. However, you can probably guess my father’s reaction when I graduated.

I don’t remember what mom said but my father’s response spoke volumes when we got back from the graduation ceremony. Imagine my angst when Dad congratulated me in one breath then asked when I would be going to grad school. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to be first in the family to get a bachelors degree, win several awards and prestigious scholarships, wasn’t enough I graduated with honors. Nope. No matter how much I achieved, my father kept setting the bar ever higher.

Fast forward to my own rug rats
My daughter was learning disabled and delayed with serious cognition issues. Her first grade teacher said my daughter would not achieve academically as we might have hoped. She stated if my daughter got a high school diploma it would be the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree for her. Tatiana didn’t have the brainpower to compete academically. It was a punch in the gut for us. However, it was apparent she was right.

After my husband’s death, I set the bar low for my daughter because years later it was evident she wouldn’t achieve academically. My sense and hope was she would achieve differently, i.e., academics wouldn’t matter too much. So far, this has been true. She’s very involved in church ministry today including as a prayer servant. I’m very proud of her.

My normal child wasn’t so normal
My son, on the other hand, was seemingly normal so I held him to a much higher standard. After all, his father was Mensa material and I was designated mentally gifted, i.e., among top 5 percent of population in intelligence. My son was super infused with genius-level brainpower. Sadly, I successfully set myself up for a premeditated resentment.

I wanted him GATE tested, i.e., gifted and talented exam, but since his grades weren’t all that and a bag of chips, I didn’t make the request. Frustration was growing. His evaluations indicated Max was plenty smart but getting him to care, much less pay attention was slowly growing more problematic.

Neither child forged any signatures. However, my son simply wouldn’t tell me when he was struggling and needed more help. I’d usually heard about it from his teachers when it was too late. By seventh grade it was becoming obvious he was struggling.

Max was a science fiend. He was very engaged and teachers loved his enthusiasm. The challenge was getting him to turn in homework, complete group assignments and test well. My anger slowly was building.

I’d punish him for not doing well in school by leveraging his currency, e.g., video games, web surfing, play dates, scouting, etc. If he didn’t apply himself and turn in his homework–I worked with him on his homework so I knew it was getting done–he would suffer consequences of his poor choices.

Over one Christmas break I worked with him almost every day on math. By the time he returned to school, his confidence level was higher and his grade improved. It nearly killed me. It was exhausting because I was deep in the throes of psychotherapy. Waking up and breathing were tiring, so imagine the effort, energy and discipline it took for me to work with him daily. It was sacrifice worth making.

When your child’s high school is ranked in the top 20 in America
Frustration increased when he graduated from middle school without achieving in math like most of his peers. They took Algebra, Geometry or both before ninth grade. He couldn’t keep up. I felt defeated when I had to enroll him in Algebra 1 instead of Geometry for his freshmen year in high school.

Of course, I knew I was surrounded by a bazillion over-achieving students with parents who demanded advanced placement classes in their freshman year. They were worse than my parents.

I refused to do what my parents did: Either expect too much or simply not care at all. The latter is what my mother did throughout most of my high school career. She was busy have a nervous breakdown because she was about to divorce her high school sweetheart.

I made it a point to set the bar and leave it there. I asked he maintain a 3.25 gpa. If he did I would leave him alone. It never materialized. I thought a B+ average was reasonable. After all, it was more important he did his best rather than be perfect. I was determined to be a reasonable parent.

The moment of truth: My son needed help too
While I was raising my son to feel safe and trust me enough to say anything I was not prepared to accept my son had a disability despite a normal pregnancy and subsequent birth. My son was diagnosed with ADHD of the inattentive type. His neurologist prescribed Concerta during school hours with a Ritalin boost after school so he got homework done.

Halfway through his junior year, it was evident an even greater intervention was necessary because the 504 plan was not working. We had to escalate to a full-on psycho-educational assessment.

Once again there were several surveys I had to complete and several evaluation tests Max had to take. I authorized information sharing between the school district, his therapist and primary care physician. I was reliving Tatiana’s school experience. The difference? My husband was not by my side but, more importantly, my son realized he desperately needed help. His buy-in was critical to his success.

Yes, we can parent differently so our kids thrive
Today was the first day of his last year in high school. Having an IEP in place ensures his college career will include help and accommodations for success.

I encourage you to seek academic help for your struggling child. We don’t have to parent like our dysfunctional parents. If it is clear your child is having trouble in school, take a deep breath and talk to your doctor. My parents were not good at asking for help. To do so was admitting defeat. Get help.

Asking for help is the beginning of wise parenting. You and I have a chance to navigate the education system successfully so our kids thrive. Give it a try. There is hope at every level of education. Don’t give up. Parent differently.

Posts in 2016 series
Parenting by any means necessary
Foundations: Why truth matters
Let Patience have her perfect work
School: Expectations versus reality
Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Day
It’s okay to miss the target and hit the tree
Game changer: Prayer and Meditation
Cogtoolz brings much-needed resources to college students
Impact: Bless, release, declare over our kids

Posts in 2015 series
Parenting with posttraumatic stress disorder
Discipline requires training, love spelled t-i-m-e
Beatings/Spankings are abuse: plain and simple
Parenting, like marriage, requires work
Parenting is a lifelong-learning proposition
Stop, look, listen and ask yourself questions
The high art of juggling
Downtime: the golden goose of PTSD
Worldwide parenting with PTSD Awareness Day
Parenting is a high call no matter your lot
The drought before the drought
Being misunderstood is a symptom
You are being forged in fire
Awakenings podcast: Parenting with PTSD

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