Saturday, March 20, 2010

Final exams are not final

One of the pitfalls of parenting is that we want our children to be better than us. The only problem is we don’t look at this goal from the other end. Because when they do become better than us, we don’t really like what happens. Oh there’s a certain amount of brag value as in my daughter is the Chairman of the Board, or my son is running this huge corporation. But it rings hollow after a while.

The fact is those cute little kids with grubby hands and trusting gap-toothed smiles, whose faces lit up like the sun when they saw you enter a room are long gone. They grow up, they do well and then they find this home, this town, too small for their ambitions. They leave. And we, the proactive parents who spent the best years of our lives taking them to a plethora of classes, activities and entertainment in our on-going effort to make them think outside the box, end up alone with a feeling I can only best describe as ‘what-the-hell’.

What-the-hell is an inglorious mix of feeling cheated, bewildered, foolish and consumed by a deep desire to kick yourself hard. Just imagine, if instead of pushing them to get better grades, sitting up with them till the wee hours of the morning to produce that perfect project, we just let them do enough to get through. If instead of stoking the fires of ambition, we just let them enjoy the day and live the simple life, maybe they’d be around close by instead of in a whole different state or country.

Some parents just sit around and dessicate. Others shake off the blues and say aha, my life is my own again. These take another stab at life and do better physically, mentally and more importantly, they get their groove back. Not so the empty nest victims. But I digress. Back to the examination fever caused by parents, fuelled by institutions, suffered by children…

Why are there so many counseling centres today? Why so many helplines to prevent stress and suicide? The reason is simple. It’s we the parents. We want to be proud of our children. We gave up our careers or probably soft-pedaled them so that we could give our children more attention. All that professional torque had to be channeled somewhere. It went straight to our children. They became our project and it was as if our lives depended on it.

There doesn’t seem to be much difference between losing your child to suicide or to another country. You are, to all intents and purposes, quite alone. I have seen and felt the empty-nest syndrome. It saps you of energy. So pushing them to perform for Board Exams and Final exams is in the final analysis self-defeating. They are miserable, you are miserable. Maybe if like water we let them find their own level, society would be a happier bunch of people. Failure in exams seems to be a fate worse than death today. And often death is the choice many traumatized children take.

It would be a good idea if parents too sat for a series of final exams on life priorities. My suspicion is the deep rural parents, who live close to the land with little money and fewer needs, would come through with the Distinctions. Parents like me from the urban middle class would sink like a big fat stone.

I was talking to the Man Who Knows Too Much and we both agreed that getting Distinctions in final exams does not mean life will be sunshine and roses for the child. There’s always that bogey of stress and its army of related diseases lurking in the shadows.

Life has a bad habit of grinding everyone together, the good, the bad and the ugly and only a few come through none the worse for wear. Those are the ones who don’t get crushed by setbacks and failures. For that to happen, you have to be used to success and failure in equal parts.

We must teach our children that final exams and board exams are a series of small steps we take. The final test is whether we weather both victory and defeat with grace. If we laugh in victory, we should also laugh in defeat. I know that now. Wish I knew it when my kids were growing up.

No comments: