Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m very disappointed in and angry at my daughter. She just started high school, and has always been an excellent student until now. Yesterday I received warning notices from her school regarding her grades. I was shocked and spent 30 minutes yelling at her. She tells me she finishes her homework but her teacher’s report otherwise. She has been spending most of her time socializing with friends, on the computer, and watching TV.
This is the first time I’ve seen her so happy since our move here 2 years ago, so I have not been curtailing her activities. Her friends appear to be good kids. I’m just hurt and angry that she has been lazy and irresponsible with her schoolwork. I’m worried that she will blow her chances for getting into a good college (or any college). I also feel that this is my fault and her father’s fault for not disciplining her enough.
Dr. Norquist responds:
As a parent, I can understand your feelings of disappointment and self-blame. What would be useful here, however, would be to start with an attitude of compassionate acceptance – for who you are and for who your daughter is and for where you each are on your journey in the school of life. Acceptance doesn’t mean one should not strive for improvement in the direction indicated. It’s just that an attitude of condemnation makes the path upward longer and more difficult. Goals must be set, and expectations made clear – but this can be done without condemnation.
Your daughter needs structure and support. See how you can make her after-school environment more conducive to studying. Set down new rules and expectations that are in alignment with this. If necessary, talk with her teachers to get their perceptions of her needs. Look at all the factors involved and see what you can do to provide structure that encourages good grades. Ask her what she thinks would be most helpful. The goal, ultimately, is to encourage her in finding the motivation and desire to do a good job for herself – not just to please or appease external sources of approval.
I believe our children come to us with their own gifts and life challenges. Our job as parents is to help them to grow into who they already are in the fullest, least compromised way possible. We need to learn to love them unconditionally, and to support their will to grow, create and express who they are and what they have to offer the world.
I also believe as parents, we need to teach compassion through example rather than through words. We are all souls in the process of refinement (with our own needs and idiosyncrasies). I like the way Kahil Gibran describes it – “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
Approached meaningfully, parenting is like a fire that melts our hard edges and transforms us on the inside through its lessons about love, acceptance, and letting go. It shows us our egos, gives us multifaceted experiences of the nature of loving, and teaches us one of life’s biggest lessons – the ability to know how and when to let go.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2019 Chaitanya Counseling Services