I was walking the dog this morning and heard a mother shouting at her teenage son. It made me remember what a stressful time of year this is for families of young people who are embarking on their exams.
Sometimes parents think it would be easier for them to sit the exams rather than watching their children endure the process!
Why is that?
Being successful in exams seems to carry so much weight. As parents we worry that our children’s life chances are going to hinge on the results of this latest set of exams. The news is filled with doom and gloom about young people’s prospects. It feels as though the bar to success is set very high.
For anyone who suffers from a “not good enough” feeling this can be painful. It’s easy to compare ourselves unfavourably with others. So we’ll compare our children’s results with other children; we’ll compare our parenting support during revision periods with other parents and find ourselves wanting; and we’ll compare the imagined poor outcomes of our children’s work with the imagined brilliant outcomes of children with better parents than ourselves.
Our fears may be due to a deeper unease with ourselves. It could be that we wish we’d done better at school. We wish we’d worked harder rather than being distracted by boys, the latest fashions, or bunking off school. We want a better life for our children than we’ve experienced for ourselves.
Our fears may be very practical. We may simply want our children to be independent and off our hands. We may fear they will never leave home. We fear they’ll never have a job or be able to support themselves. We imagine them glued to their x-box in their bedroom forever.
When experiencing such fears parents can become very reactive. They may be hyper-vigilant, thinking about their children’s progress and revision efforts constantly. This may lead to controlling behaviour and lack of trust in their child. The constant tension and worry means parents are on edge, leading to impatience and angry outbursts. Then there will be the awareness of how unhelpful that is, the inevitable remorse, the feeling of failure. They’ll start comparing themselves again to other “better” parents and so the cycle of feeling “not good enough” – worry – control – anger will begin again.
What can help at times like this?
- Remember you’re doing the best job that you can, given the person you are at the moment. You’re not perfect. This is a tough time.
- It can really help to have a friend who empathises with your situation, perhaps someone who is going through a similar time with their children. Make time to chat with them. Knowing you’re not alone in your feelings can be very soothing.
- Think about what “success” really means to you. What are your values? Perhaps success to you means trying hard, helping others, taking responsibility for yourself. Are exam results really an effective measure of your values?
- Recognise that your fears may not be related to the immediate situation at hand. They may be due to deeper causes such as criticism you received about your own success at school. Is there an inner critic that is saying something like you’ll never make anything of yourself? Are you proving it to yourself by noticing all your failures rather than your successes?
- Is it possible that your anxiety is skewing your perception of your children’s efforts? Notice what your children are doing. Perhaps you’re so busy worrying they’re not doing enough that you’re missing what they are doing.
- Remind yourself that you survived. Your life may not be perfect but you’re getting through. It is possible to make mistakes and overcome them. Sometimes we learn the most from our mistakes and failures. The resilience such experiences give us can be the making of us. Can you think of any situations in your own life when you have turned something difficult into a win? How could you help your children do the same?
- Remember that whatever happens to your children, they’ve got you to support and help them. Despite any beliefs you have about yourself, you’re not a “bad” parent. You’re taking time to read this. You care.
- Taking time each day for yourself to “be” rather than “do” can help so much with stress. Just a few minutes of calm, slow breathing - perhaps to a count of five for each individual inhalation and exhalation - can help you feel grounded and more positive.
I covered this subject in more detail in this week's video. If you're reading this by email you can view the video at www.thegoodenoughmum.com