“Mummy, will you scold me if I get poor grades?” one of my twins asked.
“Do you think I will?” I asked in return.
“No!” she said confidently, “But you may be disappointed.”
I paused to think of what she said, and realised that she was right. Our children have never been scolded for receiving poor grades. They have, however, been reprimanded for a lack of due diligence, discipline, and effort. I believe this girl of mine realised that her preparations for the examinations may not have been as thorough as she—or I—would have liked.
Soon, my twins will be receiving their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results. It’s our second time in two years—our eldest son did his PSLE last year.
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More to Life than School
In these two years, I have been confronted by the pressures and realities of what it means to be a Christian parent, living and raising children in an achievement-centric society.
Last year, when my eldest child received his results, he was evidently disappointed. Could he have done better? Perhaps if he had put in more effort. Would he have done a whole lot better? Probably not.
I had to accept that the grades he received were the grades of an average student who did not receive any tuition and was competing with students who were not only more academically inclined, but also underwent hours of extra classes.
I have been confronted by the pressures and realities of what it means to be a Christian parent, living and raising children in an achievement-centric society.
My husband and I consciously decided not to send our children for any tuition in primary school—not because our children were doing very well in school, but because we wanted to give them time to do non-school related things after school hours. Like playing at the playground, kicking a ball about, reading a book, getting their hands grubby with glue, crayons, and scrap cardboard, and most of all, just being among other family members. After all, weren’t they already spending enough hours studying in school?
Now, there is nothing wrong with tuition itself. In fact, my children may reach a point where we may have to decide that they need that extra help. But I often think about the costs involved—not only financially, but more so the opportunity costs of what they could be doing, and what might be the best use of their time. After all, there is surely more to growing up than studying.
Godliness above Grades
Thankfully, I have received positive feedback about my children from their teachers. Their teachers say they are diligent, responsible, hand in their homework on time, and in the words of more than one, “a joy to have in class”. I am thankful for how God has been helping them grow in their character to be a blessing to teachers and friends.
Yet, in spite of their regular, consistent work, they still struggle with scoring in their exams. Unfortunately—and this is the reality—we know that it isn’t a level playing field for students. Students no longer simply depend on what is taught in school. With tuition being the norm for most, children like mine (or at least those who are not academically gifted) will definitely not be as well-drilled or well-equipped to answer exam questions.
Such is the environment many children grow up in—where children are labelled according to their achievements, where failure is frowned upon, and where the pressure is crushing.
However, my children tell me their friends are jealous that they do not have any tuition. They have also shared about classmates crying immediately after handing in an exam paper because they didn’t think they were going to do well, or crying after receiving their results, saying their parents were going to “kill” them.
They’ve recounted how their friends worry about showing their parents their results for fear of punishment. Such is the environment many children grow up in—where children are labelled according to their achievements, where failure is frowned upon, and where the pressure is crushing.
This is something my husband and I are hoping to avoid. At home, we have open conversations with our kids about what went well, what went not so well, and what could be improved upon.
I hope that our constant reminders that we are not as concerned about their grades as we are about their godliness have shown them what we value as a family.
While we have never emphasised grades, we have insisted that our children be diligent at work, respectful to teachers, and helpful to friends. We expect them to put in effort, with a desire to excel. At the same time, just like how we tell them to play to win in sports or during family board game nights, we also tell them to learn to lose graciously.
In doing so, I hope that our constant reminders that we are not as concerned about their grades as we are about their godliness have shown them what we value as a family, and as Christians who follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Best Life for Our Kids
I completely understand parents’ desire to want the best for their children; I want that for mine, too. But I have had to discern what the best looks like in God’s kingdom.
What’s the use of a good life that neither saves nor sanctifies us?
I have struggled with desiring my children to do better in school, whether it is for face, or simply so that they will have more options available to them in future. Like it or not, the better a student does in school, the more choices he will have for further studies and future work.
Sometimes, I foolishly try and console myself hoping that my children are late bloomers who will find their niche later. Having read stories of people who didn’t fare well in school but succeeded later on in life (by the world’s definitions), I think: “Maybe this will be my child . . . or maybe it won’t.” But, I also ask myself: Is this really the most important?
Time and again, I am reminded not to put my hope in the schools my children attend, the grades they get, or the work they do, and not to depend on these things to give them a “good” life. What’s the use of a good life that neither saves nor sanctifies us?
My hope can only be in Christ, who gives us the best life we can have now and through eternity. Surely our good Lord who saved us will also keep us. Why do we fear?
Why We Need Not Fear
In going through catechism with our children, the first question that is asked and answered is:
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Saviour Jesus Christ.
I need to be concerned about helping my children live not for themselves, but for Jesus
Timothy Keller helpfully explains that “the basic motive [of what it means to live the Christian life] is that God sent his Son to save us by grace and to adopt us into his family. So now, because of that grace, in our gratitude, we want to resemble our Father. We want the family resemblance. We want to look like our Saviour. We want to please our Father.”
He goes on to say:
In light of the gospel, I need to be concerned about helping my children live not for themselves, but for Jesus who graciously and lovingly saved us to be a part of His family; and not trusting in their own efforts or manmade successes, but depending solely on Christ and Christ alone. This is enough.
As my children receive their PSLE results, they (and I) may be pleasantly surprised or sorely disappointed. Either way, we will celebrate their efforts, and remind them that this is merely a little road bump on their journey ahead.
We need not fear, because God is with us.
Adapted with permission.