Like many parents, my husband and I will soon be receiving our children’s report cards and will be eager to see how they are doing. Throughout the years, I have stressed how important education is and that trying your best is always the goal. I clearly remember my own school years and struggling through some tough classes, like algebra, and studying as much as I could to keep my grade-point average up. My grades were extremely important to me. I felt that school was the one thing I really excelled at, and my education provided me so many wonderful opportunities. So when I had kids, I naturally wanted them to do well in school (in fact, very well). I’m no tiger mom, but I do expect good grades.
Growing up, my mother was my biggest cheerleader and always told me how proud she was of me, but she also told me she was proud of me even when I blew a test or received a grade lower than I wanted. No matter what, she related that it meant a lot to her when the teachers would say I was a nice girl and a kind person. She said that mattered even more than grades. Back then, I thought she was crazy — who cares about goodness when I didn’t get that grade I was hoping for?
You know how they say daughters become their mothers? Well, then you must see me raising my hand right now proclaiming, indeed, I have turned into my mother in many ways. And yes, as a mom myself, I now believe that goodness counts for more than grades.
When I read my kids’ report cards, I always pay attention to the teacher’s comments. On a regular report card, the majority of the spaces are reserved for grades with a very small portion for personal progress. That is where they list things like conduct, compliance with school policies, and respecting the rights of others, but the teachers can write anything they want in the comments section. So when I see the teachers have written that my children are kind, good-natured, and sweet, it makes me happier than their grades do. I praise them for their grades, of course, but I also make it a point to tell them that I am proud of who they are and how they conduct themselves in school, not just the grades.
Education is vitally important, but being a good person is essential in my book. It reminds me of when author Amy Chua was in the news a couple of years ago writing about extremely strict parenting ideals. Back then, many parents came out to say it was more important that their kids be happy than get into Harvard.
I agree but would take it one step further. Of course, we all want our children to be happy, but how about placing an importance on being a kind, engaged, and helpful person? I have known quite a few Harvard grads who may have smarts, but lack compassion and decency; I would never want my children to emulate them. Of course, one does not wash out the other. I also know quite a few Harvard grads who are using their talent to positively contribute to the world. They are people that I would be thrilled to have mentor my kids. You can absolutely be an intelligent and compassionately caring person. That should be the goal.
As parents, shouldn’t we strive to at least equate goodness and grades, so that our kids are just as valued for learning how to be genuinely kind and decent human beings as well as smart and successful?
I admit that I am pleased when my kids bring home good grades, but I am even more delighted when I hear that they are thoughtful and considerate people who will make a difference in this world, who will help rather than harm, and who will think about others. I do believe that compassion is taught in many, small ways from infancy on, and we should reward it right along with all those As on the report cards.
Like grades, compassion and consideration sometimes take effort and hard work, especially for young children as they grow up and start to think of others, rather than just themselves. Think of how many adults you know who still only focus on themselves, and what a better place this world would be if everyone learned compassion and empathy as a child. Acquiring a good education is vital, but developing integrity and consideration is fundamental.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find Sullivan on her blogs, Just Write Mom and Some Puppy To Love.