Letting Her Fail

As the keepers of two teens, we are deep into the people making factory.

We are also very much aware that we, like most parents, struggle to know if we are doing it right.

For the most part, we probably are. The pendulum that once stood firmly (in our minds) on the side of ‘this sucks and we’re screwing it up,’ now sits consistently (in our minds) on the side of ‘oh man, we might actually make it.’

Kid One, Zoe, just turned 17. She’ll start her senior year in a little over a month. Twelve months from now, we’ll be sorting out piles of what will go with her on her next adventure. We think. We hope.

We don’t know.

I spent the first six months of this year busting my ass on college prep. Researching schools, researching curriculum, researching requirements. Researching, researching, researching. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Spreadsheets, I loaded the family share drive with boxes to be filled in and questions to be answered. We talked grades (current and future), extra-curriculars, SATs, ACTs, APs and IBs. And, since it is Zoe, all of this was done in the most non-pressuring, non-anxiety producing way. Because, given more than one thing on her plate, the kid implodes.

Now, before I go on, let me disclaim the piss out of this by saying how proud we are of Zoe. She’s a fairly easy kid. Very little attitude or sass, quick to do things when asked, kind, compassionate and incredibly smart.

We were a little surprised by some drifting grades mid-junior year. We talked about it, reminding her gently that her grades really counted now and were assured that things would get back on track. We were asked not to ‘stalk’ her performances through the school portal and so, we didn’t. We’ve eased off on the stalking each high school year actually – making her more and more responsible for her own homework, due dates and test schedules.

That was hard for me, the Master of Organization. I mean, how else would the kids succeed if I wasn’t reminding them daily of what was due and when? Do it themselves? Be responsible for their own success and failure? Okay, well, yes…seeing it in writing…it does make some sense. Now I’m kicking myself a little.

Zoe took her first stab at the SAT. Results arrived. Not terrible, but not quite the right number for the schools she was showing interest in (all out of state, all with fairly low out-of-state acceptance rates). We were advised to sign her up for the ACT as a different style sometimes brought out strengths the SAT didn’t show.

School ended with more drifting grades. The ACT scores came in – again, okay, but maybe not where she needed them to be. AP and IB exams showed more of the same.

We paused for our first and only college visits. Somehow we’d reached the summer of visits with only two scheduled – both ones that I’d set up. Off we went to Penn State (no thanks) and Pitt (loved) with high hopes that the trip would spark the college searching, prepping and planning fires.

We had hours to talk (is there anything better than having your kid trapped in the car where their only options are listening to everything you say or jumping out onto the interstate?). We talked primarily about how we, the parents, had completed our part. Zoe was to take the ball – searching, prepping and planning. Zoe was to find more colleges to visit. Zoe was to set up a study schedule for the August SAT. Zoe was to get herself signed up for that SAT. My only job became shifting our vacation so that she’d be back in the ‘Ville for the exam.

During the last month, our pendulum swung to a bit of freedom while Zoe’s swung to getting something done.

I did look at Rich with my ‘but…’ face many times. His response? We have to let her fail. Uh, what? How would I secure my Mom of the Year trophy? We have to leave it up to her, he’d say, and if she doesn’t get it done, then it’s on her. Um…but…did that mean the award for best mom martyr was also off the table?

It was (and is) an adjustment for me – not pushing, pestering or commandeering. Looking the other way as the days ticked by and hearing no other colleges mentioned. Resisting the urge to check her laptop to see if she was studying for the next SAT. Swallowing reminders that the deadline for it was nearing. And now passed. Rescheduling our vacation to the original dates upon realizing there would be no need to back back for the exam.

We have to let her fail, Rich repeated.

Oh boy.

Poor Zack. We’re learning so much through Kid One. Kid Two is finding his life very different as we veer off from the same mistakes (we’re going to try other ones). He is already dabbling in calendar use, setting up reminders and making to do lists. Small scale seed planting. We resist the urge to answer his questions of ‘why???’ with ‘because we didn’t do enough of this with Kid One and now…’

I know Zoe will end up somewhere next year. She’s too stubborn not to. And I know we will be proud of her. We already are – proud of what’s she done so far, excited to see what’s next and anxious to step back and leave the ‘next’ up to her. We’ve just also realized that we maybe did too much for too long – planting a slightly unproductive seed.

Not a total fail, doing things for your kids. But with its own lessons.

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