Why I Don't Care About My Kids' Grades

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
Kid hiding a test with a C grade on it from his father who doesn't care about his kids' grades
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

The last time my kids’ report cards came home, I skimmed the letter grades and went right to the important stuff. The paragraph the teacher writes about my children. That’s the good stuff. That’s where you find out when your kid is passing notes in class or having difficulty with other classroom issues.

It’s not that I don’t care about the grade. I do. But I think sometimes the emphasis we are putting on our kids getting straight A’s is setting them up for lofty expectations that just aren’t realistic for some kids. Not everyone excels in all areas. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone is meant to be an honor roll student. I firmly believe that.

I was an honor roll student. I had many report cards that had straight A’s. I even made it into the National Honor Society in high school.

And then there was the year I took chemistry. Oh, how I loathed chemistry (still do). My brain just did not get it. I stared at that periodic table and had no desire to even know what it meant. I was an artistic bookworm, with little to no interest in science. It didn’t come naturally to me. I worked hard, but it was my first C in high school.

It’s not that I’m okay with my kids getting C’s. I just don’t want to emphasize the letter. It’s not a true reflection of what a child is learning or not learning anyway. What I care about is the effort, and honestly, I also care about whether or not my kid likes that particular subject. If they just hate chemistry, or if they really struggle with a certain topic, maybe a C is okay.

I loved writing papers in English in high school. I suspect that at least one of my kids will hate it. Because we’re all different, and we all have different interests. What I do expect is that they put in the effort that is required, and that they do their best, even if they don’t love it. Best doesn’t always translate into an A.

The idea of having my kids get straight A’s is still appealing to me — I won’t lie. But will I punish or be disappointed in the grade alone? No. Instead, I’ll be disappointed if I know they could have done better — if they didn’t try, didn’t ask for help, didn’t complete the work. In my defense, I don’t think I could have done much better in chemistry because I hated it. My brain couldn’t get it. Did I do what it took to pass? Yes. Did I make an effort? Of course.

And that’s what’s going to matter to me with my kids too.

Each of my three kids is so different in their likes and dislikes. It’s fascinating to watch them grow up and explore their world. I often like to wonder what they will be like as adults and what they’ll choose for their careers.

My oldest is really good at math, science, and loves to read and write. Maybe she’ll be one of those kids who can pull off straight A’s. Who knows? But I’m not going to drill it into her that A’s are the goal.

Several months ago, she got a low grade in math. We were surprised because she typically loves math and does really well at it. She admitted that she wasn’t exactly working as hard as she knew she could, and that she was often playing with things in her desk instead of listening to the instruction of the concept. For me, that was unacceptable. I didn’t care that she got a C, and I told her that. I cared that she wasn’t trying as hard as she could have been. She agreed, and the next report card that came home she had raised her grade to a B. We praised her not for the grade, but for the fact that she put in more of an effort in something that she could obviously achieve.

But I also think that not every kid is going to love school the same way. My middle child makes great grades, but he honestly doesn’t love school. He refuses to go a lot of the time, which is baffling because he’s so good at it.

I think that we need to take the pressure off of our kids to get only A’s and B’s and instead teach them about the importance of trying their best, and actually learning something. I don’t care if my child gets an A in history if she can’t remember who signed the Declaration of Independence a year later. I also don’t care if my son hates reading books. My husband does too.

Instead, I will teach him that sometimes reading books is part of the curriculum and he has to do it. One day in real life, he might have to read a book or two for his job. It’s not the end of the world. You do what you have to do. But as long as he gives it a solid effort, I’m happy.

Too often, we forget that our kids are people too. They have likes and dislikes, interests and things they loathe. They cannot possibly be expected to be good at everything. I’m not. I shut down when someone tries to talk numbers with me, and I’m a full-fledged functioning adult.

I also think that there are many successful people in this world who don’t graduate magna cum laude from a major university, and maybe go to a community college instead. There is nothing wrong with that either. We can all be successful at something. Yes, education is expected of my children, but it’s because I want them to find their path, and learn about the world, and hopefully do something one day that makes them happy.

So,why are we trying to set an unrealistic expectation of straight A’s and B’s on our kids? Some kids will be able to achieve that, and that’s great. But it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay too. I just want my kids to know that putting in a solid effort is an important part of school (and life) and that it’s okay if they hate chemistry too.

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