Not long ago my fifth-grader came home from school with the mid-quarter update of his grades. It’s a surreal parenting moment when your child suddenly has percentages and letter grades tied to their name, along with an ability to associate their own self-worth with said grades. 

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My kid is as perfectionist as they come. He lives to achieve and to please, and he cannot stand to disappoint. I am not this. But, I know this is how he operates.

And I also know as a parent, my job is to teach him to be successful by himself and for himself, not to be successful because his parents want him to be. 

A quick glance at the reports for each subject ranging from 92-99.7%, straight As, earned him a “Great job, bud!”

“But Mom, I only got a 92 in science,” he looked at me confused. “Don’t worry, though, I’m working on bringing that up because science just started up again.”

I was confused, “Don’t worry about it, bud. It’s an A, and I’ll always be proud of your grades if I know you tried your best.”

This is the truth.

“Really?” he said. “Some kids in my class were crying about similar reports to mine. They said their parents will ground them if they don’t get all 100%s.” 

As a parent, this makes me so sad for those kids. I see it in sports and in school and I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

Parents teaching their kids that their best isn’t enough. 

I believe strongly that failure is good. It teaches kids and adults that everyone makes mistakes, everyone has shortcomings, and some things are easier for some than for others. Kids need to learn how to fail. All of us need to learn to fail. And parents need to learn it is OK for our kids to fail. Good for them, even. 

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As a kid, one of the greatest lessons my parents taught me was just this. I have vivid memories of my mom telling me someone would always be smarter, faster, richer, or prettier than me.

“No matter how good you are, Shannon, someone will always be better. And that’s OK. Because if you are true to your character, if you are a good person, and if you try your hardest, then that is enough.”

It was harsh, but it was true. And it has stuck with me all these years later. As a society, we are teaching kids at 10 their best isn’t enough, that they aren’t enough.

We are encouraging them to be robotic, to live for perfection, and not to live a life full of contentment and relationships and joy.

I will always be proud of my kids for making great grades, for being great athletes, and for being successful at what they put their minds to. And trust me, I will always expect that their best efforts are put forth.

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But, I will be far more proud of them if they are good people who are kind to others, who recognize and accept their own flaws, and who embrace failure as a way of teaching them how to do better. 

There is no grade book in life.

I can assure you I don’t remember a single grade from when I was 10. I don’t know many people who do. I was a good student who worked hard and did my best. I also have a wonderful life to show after years of hard work for which I never earned a single grade. 

I have happy, healthy kids. Kids who fail a lot. Kids who will fail far more frequently in these upcoming teenage years. And kids who know how to get back up and dust themselves off when they fail. Because for me, and I hope for a majority of moms, I’m as proud of their efforts as I am of their successes.

Shannon Meurer

Shannon Meurer lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband Brett and her three boys Braden, Nolan, and Austin. As a family, they enjoy long weekends spectating swim meets and soccer games and many nutritious concession stand meals.