Anonymous: Thank you. We all had, and still have, a lot to learn from the past year and a half.
There's also the bigger issue of a finger-pointing culture, which I wish would just die:
If you're sick, then it's your fault for being irresponsible.
If you're poor, then it's your fault for being lazy or choosing the wrong line of work.
If your kids screw up, then you're a bad parent.
If you're lonely, then you must not treat people well.
Not only is this a fundamental breakdown of compassion, but it's also rooted in magical thinking — that if you just do all the right things, then everything will turn out right for you. That's not how life works.
We can do some things to help ourselves, protect ourselves, advance ourselves — but lighting still strikes when it wants to. Institutions and environments have their say. And we all make mistakes, but the price per mistake is often randomly assigned and rarely, if ever, the same from one person to the next.
It's such a tempting emotional habit to adopt, though, of seeing misfortune and then finding ways to tell ourselves why that couldn't possibly happen to us — or worse, why our superior selves and superior choices have lifted us above the possibility of such a fate.
We’d be warmer people and have a better-functioning society if we had the courage to look at misfortune and immediately connect to how that could happen to us — and be less self-congratulatory about why it didn’t. That’s how a society learns to act collectively toward a common good, instead of hoarding and yelling and culture-warring.
Dear Carolyn: My son is an okay-to-good student. He is 15 and was a high school freshman this past year. He had basic issues with motivation and executive function. I didn’t see a drop-off in performance — if anything, he kept up a little better because I think teachers eased up.
My husband seems to want to push, push, push for excellence. But part of me just wants to say, “screw it.” What’s the right balance? How much should I be pushing my child to do better in school?
Parent: Please direct all parenting efforts — including efforts to back off, not just push — at the health outcome of the whole child vs. the report card.
This applies in years when teachers back off and years when they don't, and it applies with school and extracurriculars and chores and friends and hobbies and special interests, and it's applicable at all phases of childhood and history.
Since your husband “seems to want” this, I’m deducing that you haven’t talked about it explicitly, so please talk about it explicitly. About your son’s health and the entirety of who he is, not just one narrow definition of who you want him to be.