I have a friend who used to work at the BBC going through the raw footage of all the horrors happening around the world and picking out the bits that were acceptable for the public to see. Her job was intense, but she was ok with it… until she became pregnant. There is something about being a parent that makes us more sensitive to the terrible things happening out there and heightens our empathy for other parents.
So when we heard last year that two students committed suicide over their matric results we couldn’t help but put ourselves in the shoes of those parents and imagine the grief and regrets that they must have experienced That instinct to protect our offspring that wells up during pregnancy (and never leaves) goes into overdrive wondering how we can stop ourselves from ever being in the position of these unfortunate parents.
The truth is, no matter what you do, this can still happen. But there are some things you can focus on to reduce the likelihood and to teach your kids some important life skills at the same time.
Number one is to be a role model for failure.
Yes, go out and fail at things! Do things that challenge you… push yourself a bit… and then when you fail show your children how to do it well. What does that mean? It means having a cry or expressing your disappointment that things didn’t work out the way you’d wanted and then openly (so that your kids can see the process) looking at the good that came out of the situation – what did you learn? Be proud of yourself for trying. Then take what you’ve learned, see where you need to improve or adapt or readjust your goal… and try again…. And again…. And again.
Our kids have no idea how wonderful it is to learn through failure because we never do it ourselves. We live little safe lives where we don’t push ourselves beyond our current capabilities. And this gives them the impression that everything must be done right first time or that everything is easy.
Secondly, communicate, communicate, communicate.
Know what is going on in your child’s life. Discuss feelings and practical things and life lessons and anything else you can think of. Have family meals that are non-negotiable and do not involve electronics at the table. Set aside time to connect. You need to look for signs of depression (changes in appetite or sleeping habits, loss of interest in activities, social withdrawal, irritability, fatigue, etc), but also know that many suicides are not preempted by depression. So if your child is not showing these typical signs it does not mean that they are safe. In these chats with your kids tell them about your own past. Give them a reference point by sharing times when you have had to adjust course or make a plan B. Teach them how to explore alternatives.
And lastly, never ever ever equate who your child is with the marks that they get on a test.
Always be the champion of your child – the one who acknowledges their disappointment and helps them to find the learnings without lambasting them for their failures. Help your children to differentiate who they are with what they do. Help them to discover who they are and the connection between following your heart and success (which often is not part of the school curriculum). Lay off the pressure to do well in matric.
Matric is one year out of a potential 100 or more years of life that your children have on this earth. It is not the make or break for the rest of their lives. There are ample opportunities to redo matric, to discover another path, to find success.
Remember that nurturing instinct that arrives with your baby and reconnect with that now. Your baby might be a 6-foot teen, but your child still needs that love and care and support and protection that you offered them so easily when they were born.
It is love, kindness and communication that will help our kids through matric and beyond, not pressure, threats, bribes or stern motivational talks. Make absolutely sure that your children know that whatever their results you will always be there for them and will help them to navigate this difficult time.