Why is it that every semester when the time arrives for school conferences for my kids I am the one who is nervous? I have terrific kids who are all working and doing their best, who have great relationships with their friends and teachers, who are not perfect by any means but are darn good kids. The kids have amazing teachers who appreciate their quirks and strengths and gifts and weaknesses. I know the principals and teachers pretty well and yet I get butterflies in my stomach as I wait outside in little kid-sized chairs that line the hallway near the classroom.
We all get nervous about things that are on their face not worthy of anxiety. Maybe you are anxious about flying or elevators or public speaking or thunderstorms or dogs. Maybe you get worried about what your friends will think of your new haircut or short story you have written. Maybe your concerns are about large crowds or reading aloud. Whatever your anxieties, they have to come from somewhere…..so I began to wonder where my anxiety about school conferences comes from. I was a great student in all subjects and never a conduct problem. I was well liked by my teachers and peers but as a child I felt an inordinate need to be ‘perfect’ at school and conferences were designed to highlight not only a student’s strengths but her weaknesses as well. Having my weaknesses exposed (and to my parents no less!) was very difficult for me. I wanted to please my parents and teachers and craved their approval and in my little kid mind I assumed that any visible weakness would shatter the patina of perfection I had crafted so carefully.
The irony is that my parents knew my weakness and it was no surprise when they heard from teachers that I tended to procrastinate or write my essays hastily. And even though they knew about these weaknesses, they were not discussed with me in any real way and as a result I was less able to admit them to myself and less able to imagine that my parents would accept me with these faults. My parents were not trying to make things more difficult, just the opposite! They saw what a perfectionist I was and didn’t want to focus on my weaknesses for fear that I would feel terrible. As a result though of not talking about them, it became necessary to hide from my parents (and myself to some extent) any weaknesses and this game of hide-and-seek became a pattern. I felt I needed to maintain this image of perfection as much for them as for me.
With my own kids, I am trying to do things a little differently. I am trying hard to show them my weaknesses and daily mistakes. I am trying to discuss theirs in the context of love and affection and to let them know that I love them not in spite of their weakness but because of them. In some ways it is their weaknesses that make them real, unique and human. Of course I don’t minimize their gifts and strengths, but I want them to understand that they are made up of both parts and it is that combination that makes them who they are and that I love them just for that. I love them not for their great grades or their fantastic sense of humor or even their kindness to others but for the whole of who they are, warts and all.
School conferences aren’t so scary after all.
Try, fail, and sometimes succeed and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center