Dear Mr. and Mrs. _____________,
Greetings! I'm writing to you as a teacher, as someone who has taught your child, and also as someone who knows what it is like to bring up a child.
I know what it is like to send a child off to their first day of school. I know what it's like to pack a lunch box, check a school bag and groan at 7:10 a.m. when you find out that the weekend homework hasn't, in fact been completed. I also know what it is like to see that child grow up and become a teenager. I am acquainted with the joys of parenting and I am also well aware of the frustrations of being one. I also understand that parenting nowadays has become society's biggest unintended, undesirable competitive sport.
Which is why I wanted to write to you about your daughter. (Let's call her Geeta.) I've been teaching her and her classmates since they were in Class 8. She's a bright, funny, intelligent girl, and like scores of my other students, stays in touch with me via Facebook. Facebook, with all its attendant problems, has been rather a boon for me because FB Messenger, in particular, has provided your daughter and many of her schoolmates a safe space to open up and talk about their lives, their questions, their joys, their pains and their deepest, darkest secrets. And guess what? Once they've shared those secrets, they realise that they weren't that dark, really. In fact, they make the joyful discovery that they aren't irredeemable, hopeless failures, after all.
Facebook, with all its attendant problems, has been rather a boon for me because it has provided your daughter and her schoolmates a safe space to open up and talk about their lives, their questions, their joys, their pains and their deepest, darkest secrets.
My question to you, sir and ma'am, is — why is your daughter feeling like one?
Geeta, like lakhs of other students in India, gave her Class 12 board exams this year, as we are all well aware. I'm not sure what was more traumatic — preparing for the exams, giving them, or waiting for the results. In my opinion, all three were equally stressful. And then the results came and as you know, she scored 89.5% and stood first in her school in one of the science subjects. But do you know what her first reaction was?
"I haven't even scored 90%."
I couldn't believe my ears. Here is a girl who has topped a science subject in her school who feels like a failure. She feels like a failure because her classmates have scored in the mid and high 90s and are proudly displaying their mark sheets on Facebook. But Geeta, despite having scored the highest marks of anyone in her school in a tough subject, feels like she has let you down.
I'm not sure what was more traumatic — preparing for the exams, giving them, or waiting for the results.
Mr. and Mrs. __________ , is there something wrong with this picture? Would you agree that it is completely unfair for a young person who has almost scored in her 90s to feel like a failure? That too, because of one set of exam scores which measure absolutely nothing of her ability to live in the real world?
Did you know that in the last 4 years that I have taught your daughter, she has taken the initiative, again and again, to organise a number of events and programmes for needy and underprivileged children? She has a gift for entrepreneurship and organisation. Did you know that in November last year when the country was reeling under the scourge of demonetisation, and there was no operable cash anywhere to be found, Geeta actually managed to collect ₹5,000 in ₹100 notes for a Children's Day Mela my NGO organises every year for slum children? Do you know what I call that? I call that 'leadership'. I call that 'empathy'. I call that 'initiative' and 'perseverance'. I call that 'concern for society.' Those are the qualities one needs to succeed in life and your daughter has them in abundance. I think you should be very proud of that fact.
She's told me how she loves you two more than anyone else in the world and she is crushed to see you so disappointed. Mr. and Mrs. _____________, are you disappointed? I really hope not. But if you are, could it be because you compare her to her cousins and the neighbours' kids who have scored more than she has? Is it because her scores have made you look bad in front of your peers? I truly hope not. Because if she does not find unconditional love and support from you, where else will she find it?
But you know, our role as parents and caregivers is to be part of the solution and not the problem. Let's not make her feel like a failure when she is not.
I understand where you are coming from. I know what a big deal it is to get into a good college in India and I understand the competition is cutthroat. But you know, our role as parents and caregivers is to be part of the solution and not the problem. Let's not make her feel like a failure when she is not.
Mr. and Mrs. _____________, I know life is tough. But do we really need to make it tougher for our kids? I do not know your struggles. I do not know your particular circumstances and what you are going through in your lives. I do not know your sadness at the moment. All I know is at this point in time, your daughter needs your unconditional support. She needs your appreciation. She needs you to start seeing possibilities because right now, she is finding it very hard to do that.
That is why each of our children has the God-given right to never be compared to anyone negatively and why each of us also has the God-given duty to never compare our kids with others negatively.
May I humbly request you to sit down with her, maybe even hold her hand, and tell her how proud you are of her? And may I please request you not to compare her to others? We are all unique individuals. There is not one other person in the world just like you or just like me or just like her. That is why each of our children has the God-given right to never be compared to anyone negatively and why each of us also has the God-given duty to never compare our kids with others negatively.
Please be there for her. And please don't let the opinions of those who don't matter, matter. Your relationship with your daughter is much more important than any of that.
This feels like a difficult time, but it doesn't have to be. Let's focus on the positives, let's keep our eyes on the possibilities. Let's dwell on our children's strengths and I know when we do, something really good will open up for them.
I completely believe that. I hope you do too.
I wish you both and her all the very best.
With best regards,