Lately I’ve spoken with several moms who are distraught over their kids’ college grades. They are threatening to force their children out of fraternities and sororities and demanding they no longer socialize as much or give up clubs and other activities. Some are threatening to remove their children from college if the grades don’t come up to their parents’ expectations.
I beg them not to do that.
My daughters’ grades belong to them. They are the ones who will earn, and live with, the marks. They will have to use the grades to show graduate schools that they can — or cannot — do the work. Grades will determine how much scholarship money they get in the future, or whether they can cite the dean’s list as an accomplishment on their résumés. Their grades will be a major factor in what happens to them after graduation.
Knowing that this is such a big deal, I should be like the mother who told me she wasn’t spending all this money on college for her child to be merely mediocre. Or the mother who told me that if she pays the bills, she should be able to see the grades, not to mention have expectations of what those grades should look like. Or the mother who sneaks onto her child’s college email account to make sure she is handling her academic life properly.
I don’t think any of those things is a good idea. I prefer my idea, the one where I sit back and let my daughters pass or fail on their own.
When our kids left for college, we told them that we wouldn’t be asking to see grades and that if they wanted to go to graduate school they should keep them high.
We also told them that we would pay for no more than eight semesters of college. If they drop a class because they think it’s too hard, they’ll be paying to make it up. If they mess up one semester, we won’t pay for an extra semester to fix it. If they don’t take all the required classes in four years, they’ll be paying for the extra time — with pricey loans. We made our expectations clear and left it at that.
My daughters have shared their grades with us when they’ve wanted to. We’re happy to hear about them and I do feel disappointed if a grade isn’t quite as high as I think it should have been, but I don’t share that disappointment. I just nod and say “Okay, fine,” or “What do you think about that grade?”
The rest is up to them. If they get Bs where they should get As, or a C instead of a B, I don’t threaten to take anything away or pull them out of school. The natural consequence will come when an employer or graduate school doesn’t work out quite the way they think it will.
I don’t know why parents get so intense about their kids’ college grades. Aren’t our children now technically adults? (Never mind that we are still teaching them basic life skills sometimes. Last week, for example, my daughter asked me what a money order was.)
As adults, aren’t they supposed to be making constant decisions about their lives — should I study for this test for an hour or make that a half-hour so I don’t miss the free ice cream and jam session on the quad? Should I start writing this paper a week before it’s due and visit the writing center to make sure it’s okay, or should I wait until two days before it’s due and work extra hours in the meantime, to earn enough money to go on a fun trip for spring break?
These are the skills and abilities we want them to have, and the only way they’re going to have them is to use them on their own, even if the consequences are painful in a few years.
So I’ll keep minding my own business about my daughters’ grades. Even though, yes, I’m naturally nosy and curious. Even though, yes, I think lower grades deeply affect graduate school scholarship money, and since we don’t pay for graduate school, they will need every good grade they can secure. Even though, yes, I want them to get the best grades possible.
But should I remove them from things they love to force them into good grades? I don’t think so. It has to be on them. Eventually, the hard way or the easy way, they will learn that it is.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of three novels. Her essays and blog posts have appeared at Writer Unboxed, Beyond the Margins, Kveller and the Tablet. She is the mother of two girls and lives in New Jersey. Find her online at judymollenwalters.com.
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