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Dealing With My Kids’ Academic Disparities

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I'm so proud of my daughters' academic successes that I used to frequently post about their success on social media. I did it because my family and many of my friends live abroad, and Facebook was the easiest way to share with all of them. Straight As, advanced literacy skills, the possibility of being gifted … I shared it all, not only online but in regular conversation.

Grades and academic performance were important in my family when I was growing up, so I suppose I wanted to feel validated as a mother by sharing how well my kids were doing at school.

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Enter my now husband, whom I met five years ago, and who has a son similar in age as my daughters. Well, it turns out that despite his being a patient, caring, hands-on dad, and a writer to boot, his son is struggling in school. This boy is now my stepson. While my youngest would do her week's homework in one sitting on Monday evenings, my stepson took a couple of hours to finish the day's tasks assigned by his teacher. My husband and I have spent hours coaxing him to read, helping him focus, each of us holding our breath on the day grades came home. He was held back a year in first grade, so now he and his younger stepsister are in the same grade.

I still post selectively about my kids' different accomplishments, especially now that all three of them have Instagram accounts, but I focus on their efforts.

I've also become more aware of friends whose kids struggle with ADHD or learning disabilities. I don't want to offend or hurt them, and I certainly don't want my children to feel awkward, discriminated against or on the contrary, big-headed.

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The way we deal with this at home is by discussing our kids' academic disparities, difficulties and accomplishments in private. We want the children to realize school is not to compete with others—and least of all to compete with their siblings. The only competition is with themselves.

When the eldest brings grades home, I tell her that's great, but that I'm most proud of her award for being a good citizen and a noble classmate. When the youngest brings home her effortless high grades, I do the same. And when the middle one aces a subject, I make a bigger deal of it because I know he made a titanic effort. I believe grades will only take you so far in life. Being good-hearted, empathetic and noble are more important to me than getting on the honor roll.

In our family, we've made it clear that we're a team: If one is failing, he or she needs our support. If another is achieving, we'll be happy, of course, but don't point him or her out as the model for the others to follow. And we certainly won't belittle or allow belittling for having a different personal standard.

The beautiful thing is that they all seem aware that they have different abilities and that it's OK. As long as they're good people and making their best effort, that's all that counts. Sometimes I catch a glimpse or overhear one of the kids asking the other for help, and receiving it, and that makes my heart swell. They will all develop at their own pace.

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I was once a straight-A student whose grades dipped after puberty. It took me a long time to bounce back emotionally from that. One day, many years later, I realized my school grades and accomplishments meant little in the real world. When school is over, the real learning begins. For now, all we need to do as parents is nurture our children's individual skills and let them know that they're loved no matter what. I'll take their best effort, nobility and goodwill over an A grade any day.

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