Advice for my children: don’t believe them

My kids are still a long way off HSC, but the pressure about “good grades” now pervades every level of school, and prompted me to write this letter to my kids about what life might look like if they don’t believe what the system tells them to believe.

Dear child of mine,

Don’t listen when the school system tells you that you have to get good grades.

Good grades say nothing about you, about your value, about your trajectory. They will have you believe that you need to study hard so you don’t get left behind, so you can get into a good course at uni, then get a good job when you leave uni and, presumably, do that job until you retire or become dead inside, whichever comes first (probably the latter).flatline

That is not a life.

I don’t want you to get straight A’s and study medicine.

I want you to leave school and maybe get a job at K-mart, save enough money for a plane fare for Europe. Maybe you’ll travel around working in bars and fall in love over there and settle in London for a few years and work in a bookshop where the heating’s dodgy and your Australian fingers always freeze. Then maybe you’ll have your heart spectacularly broken and come home to lie on my couch and cry for a few months. Maybe you’ll pick yourself up and teach guitar lessons for a while until you find a job you can do and move out again. Maybe you’ll have a great flatmate who makes you laugh so hard that you snort coffee out your nose. Maybe you’ll drink too much some nights and listen to Led Zeppelin so loud the neighbours complain. Then maybe you’ll take a posy of wildflowers to the neighbour and say sorry and they’ll invite you in for tea and tell you about when they were in the army or when they nursed dying people or played in the symphony.

Maybe you’ll decide you definitely don’t want to be a soldier or a nurse or a violinist and you should do a TAFE course to top up your school grades. Maybe you’ll apply to study economics in Melbourne but get there and decide you’ll do arts in Adelaide instead. Maybe you’ll read so much Shakespeare that you start to think in iambic pentameter. Maybe you’ll become obsessed with the Spartans. Maybe you’ll take agin the existentialists. Maybe you’ll jump to science and find music in the elements. Maybe you’ll learn that the greatest gift of education is not a job, but a spirit of curiosity.

Maybe you’ll work in your part-time job too many hours to get great grades but you’ll pull through and take an internship somewhere interesting that leads you to a solid job you can work your way up in, with great people you like and one guy who pisses you off all the time. Maybe you’ll cautiously fall in love again (not with that one guy). Maybe you’ll have an unplanned baby on the way. Maybe you’ll get married in a hurry.fireworks

Maybe you’ll spend New Years Eves looking at a dozen different vistas: rivers, valleys, the ocean, the city, your lover’s eyes. Maybe you won’t always get home for Christmas. Maybe you’ll love too hard and not always people: songs, dogs, books, sports teams, ideas, smells in springtime.

Maybe you’ll have an adventure. Maybe you’ll sometimes find it hard to make ends meet. Maybe that’s okay. Over time, it will work out. It will all work out. Just live.

Your loving mother.

2 responses to “Advice for my children: don’t believe them

  1. Good advice. I distinctly remember my school careers adviser telling me to learn to type because then I might be able to get a secretary job. He’s the reason I had to spend a fortune and nearly kill myself juggling a part-time science degree and a full-time job.

    I tell my young nephews to do study what they enjoy doing – the rest will take care of itself.

  2. This is so beautiful – and captures the essence of everything a great mother should be. It’s not easy to let go, not pass judgement, temper expectations, withhold comment, release the reins and respect your child’s autonomy. Mine’s only six, but I think I’ll often come back and read your words to remind myself.

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