School Grades and Letting Go of Parental Expectations

Our children, who are average...but sweet!

Our children, who are average…but sweet!

“I’m sorry to inform you that your child is not yet reading in first grade.  We are going to put him in the remedial reading group until he makes progress.”

We received these devastating words at Josh’s first parent/teacher conference.  We were still under the false notion that we are tiger parents and that our offspring was going to be a genius.  We never expected this assessment from his teacher.  A part of me wanted to go back to the private kindergarten we sent him and ask for a refund.  We paid all that money, and Josh can’t read? Are you kidding me?

Not only was Josh behind in reading, he was also behind in math and science, the two subjects that David and I both loved and excelled in.  Homework took forever each night, and there were lots of tears that year — both Josh’s and mine.  Eventually, Josh did learn to read and began to move along in math, but he always dawdled in the average-grade territory throughout his elementary school career which, to his Asian parents, was frustrating and discouraging.

Not wanting to make the same mistake with our younger child, we sent her to the kindergarten at the neighborhood public school, thinking that they specifically prepared kindergarteners for their first grade curriculum.  Meg ended up with the same first grade teacher whom Josh had two years prior.

And again, we heard the same words at our first conference:

“Meg is not reading either, so we will also put her in the remedial reading program.”

Okay, so maybe it’s not the kindergarten — public or private — that’s the problem.  Could it be with our kids?  Or worse, is the problem with…their mom?

I looked back at both of their preschool days with regret at how I did NOT do flash card exercises with them like I should have.  I let them play all day long, Josh with his cars and trucks, and Meg with her dress up costumes.  Why?  Because I didn’t want my kids to pressure themselves at school as I did!  Well, if I wanted to help them avoid stress, I’m afraid I was way too successful at it.

As the years went on and our kids continued to be “just average,” I began to let go of the grip of my expectations for their academic success.  I decided to just enjoy their respective achievements in music and art, as my future for them went from Ivy League school to a state university to a local junior college in my mind’s eye.  As long as they’re contributing citizens and not serial killers someday, became my new mantra.  We began celebrating all of their achievements, big and small.

In time, our kids slowly began to turn the corner.  They began to show progress in their learning!  Homework didn’t always extend into the wee hours of the night.  And, best of all, their grades began to slowly improve, along with their self-confidence.

Josh was the principle trumpet player in the middle school band, and he is spending his freshman year in the marching band and jazz band.  He is repeating algebra which he nearly failed in 8th grade (Grrr — don’t get me started on this one!), but he is completely acing the class now.  He is even having fun in Latin!  I think high school education suits him more.

And Meg, for the first time ever, got all-A’s on her report card this semester.  We don’t know if it is going to be a regular occurrence for her from now on, but her taste of success just might continue to motivate her.

All this happened when we stopped hovering and fretting and let them just be.  Who knows if this pattern will hold, but I do know that if it does, it will come from them and not me.

I heard that high intelligence kids do well as youngsters and peak early, whereas true geniuses have a slow rise and eventually surpass the regular smart folks.  Could it be that our kids are the latter, and that’s why they had a slow start…

Nah, I’m not gonna go there.

Report Cards and Regrets

Photo courtesy (i.e., not my kids' actual report cards, though not far from them)


The mid-semester progress report cards came out last Friday.

I was sitting in the waiting room for Joshua’s oral surgery when I decided to check on my email.  I should never check email when I’m anxious — the surgery was running well over an hour behind schedule — because it could bear bad news. And I won’t handle them very well.

“Dear Parents, you may now go to the parent portal website to check your child’s grades,” announced the email from the school principal.  Now that I have an iPhone, I can surf the ‘net anywhere, so I did.


Neither of my kids’ grades are stellar, but Josh’s math grade was particularly alarming.  It was in a territory never explored by me nor my husband David.

When we were Josh’s age, we were both spending our weekends competing in local math contests.  And winning.  David was a valedictorian for his high school and went on to become a math major at UC San Diego.  I was a computer science major.  As immigrants, we were both late English learners, so math was our lifeline throughout junior high and high school.  In fact, we both LOVED math! Math should be genetically encoded to be our children’s favorite topic.

And they’re both getting their lowest grades in this subject.

Pardon me, but I can’t help asking myself this question: what did I do wrong?

I look back at my past 14 years as a parent, and I start to doubt myself.  Here are some of the things I find myself asking:

  1. Should I have waited another year before starting my kids in kindergarten?  As young parents, we were so eager to send them out of the house.  I hear that these days, most Tiger Parents wait until their kids — particularly boys — are at least 6 before starting them in kindergarten.  Maybe I should have waited until Josh was 6.  Or 14.
  2. Should I have had him repeat kindergarten?  This would have been relatively easy and inconspicuous to do, since Josh attended the kindergarten which was at the same place as his preschool.  At first grade he switched schools. Another boy who also attended that same preschool and kindergarten went on to our neighborhood public kindergarten the following year.  No one had to know that he repeated kindergarten.  What an advantage that would have given Josh.  So what if he would have been introduced on the high school athletic field by the announcer, “Forward, Joshua Cheng, senior, age 23″?
  3. Should I have worked more with him on all subjects at an early stage or gotten a tutor, at least?  I hate to admit it, but it’s true — I didn’t work with him very hard at home.  I was always self-motivated, so I never even imagined that our own kids would need extra help.  Yes, I was busy with my own career and running the household, but I should have stopped and taken notice when his grades began slipping…in preschool.
  4. Maybe I should have been a helicopter parent, after all.  I fought that notion like crazy.  I didn’t want to hover over my kids, because I believed one should take ownership of their own lives.  But maybe, for some kids, they need more guidance.  I should have ignored his plea to get out of his personal space during homework.  I should have installed that hidden camera to verify that he actually was doing his work while I took off on errands when, in fact, he was probably on E-trade.
  5. Should I have sent him to a different (and easier) middle school than the one he goes to now?  He wanted to stay with his group of good friends so didn’t want to switch schools, but maybe I should have insisted.

So many regrets.  But then I know a God who can still redeem any situation and eventually bring Him glory while making us grow.  High school is right around the corner.  Good thing middle school grades are not on college transcripts.  I think we can still redeem this situation…

Ya think?