With results due this week and next, we are now getting to the business end of the Summer holidays for anyone who sat A Levels and GCSEs this year – even more of an undertaking as this year’s cohort were subject to the most COVID-related disruption and seemingly endless rounds of interim assessments. I thought now would be an opportune moment to share what wisdom I have gleaned as a veteran teacher and the parent of three students, one of whom is waiting for Thursday, seemingly with the sword of Damocles over her head. So here is my guide to negotiating the potentially choppy waters of the next two weeks, if you are a parent of students.
- Don’t post your pride online: If all goes to plan, the results are fabulous and the pathway to the next stage is straight and clear, be rightly proud. Relax! Enjoy! You have done a great job as a parent and your child is secure in the knowledge that they have smashed it. I don’t know a parent who isn’t proud of their child and who wants to broadcast that to the world and believe me, there are endless opportunities to do it in the world of social media. My advice is don’t. These are their results not yours. Tell them you’re proud of them; phone up Great Aunt Ethel or your boss or the football coach; buy balloons and fill the house with them but have a heart and look out for your friends, neighbours and strangers whose children may be disappointed. Frankly you’ll be doing little more than rubbing their noses in it by clicking share. Why do you need to post it online anyway? Switch off the echo chamber of social media and bond with your child instead. They are the ones who need to know how proud you are of them and how much you love them. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.Trust me on this one.
- Don’t catastrophize but recognise it matters: If things don’t quite go to plan, you haven’t failed as a parent. It is not the end of civilisation as we know it. However, the chances are your child may not recognise this….yet. It matters to them and you should respect that. Your job is to validate their feelings but ever so gently to help them see that results are just one piece and not the whole jigsaw puzzle. Sure the pieces don’t quite fit in the way they were expecting but with patience and imagination a different and potentially even more beautiful picture will emerge eventually. They may be in catastrophe mode for a while. You should not be.
- Coach, don’t manage: Face it. For most of your child’s life you have been the manager, making the decisions, solving the problems, picking up the pieces. If you haven’t yet let go of that control, now is certainly the time to start. Stand alongside them, offer advice, ask if you can do anything to help but let them manage things. If you’ve spent the last few years gradually taking your hand off the tiller this will be easier but it’s never too late to start. I have seen plenty of university careers crash to ground because mum or dad decided on the course or the place. No university admissions tutor or course administrator wants to talk to you. Accept that gracefully.
- Preparation, preparation, preparation: This is a tricky one. If you have the conversation about a Plan B, be prepared for an angry accusation that you have no faith in your child. Nevertheless, a plan B is a good idea. Just don’t share it with them until they ask. There is plenty of advice online, on university websites and on the UCAS platform. Having the phone numbers of key institutions to hand would be a good idea. Knowing how you as parents feel about an unplanned gap year means that, if you need to have the conversation, you are prepared.
- Put the kettle on: give them space and keep them fed and watered whilst they come to terms with what has happened. One of my sons negotiated clearing a few years ago. He didn’t want a gap year. He spent the whole day on his own in the study through choice with laptop and phone. It broke my heart. The mother in me just wanted to hug him and make it better. But I bit my tongue and provided cups of coffee, snacks and sandwiches. He emerged at supper time with a few options and asked our advice. We did more listening and reflecting back what he said than talking. We were supportive, recognised his disappointment and advised that he needed to embrace the new opportunities fully rather than living on what-iffs. All was well.
- Be pleased (or disappointed) for them not with them: Results which are awesome or lower than expected are not reflections on you as a parent or your child as a worthwhile member of society. If you and they recognise that they could have worked harder, you know what? Now is not the time to air your views. Be reassuring that you do not feel let down by them but recognise that they feel disappointed. Your job is to encourage them to look forward rather than back. And NEVER say ‘I told you so’!
- Park the helicopter but keep the harbour lights on: You know what I’m saying here. Let them steer their own ship through calm and stormy seas knowing that there is a safe harbour with you, whenever they need it.
Like you I’ll be trying to live by these maxims on Thursday and possibly enjoying coffee and cake at one of our fave watering holes, Mes Amis in Beckington.
Good luck, everyone.