Some moms can make the grade, but not all

September 05, 1999|By Susan Reimer

I HAVEN'T SEEN MY final grades yet, but I think I'm going to be on academic probation. I sure as heck am not on the principal's list or the honor roll. I think I'm not eligible to play sports, either, because my GPA is almost zero. Something like 0.2.

I am afraid to open my report card. I don't want to know how bad it is.

And most of my fellow parents feel the same way.

Researcher Ellen Galinsky, in a new book titled "Ask the Children," recently excerpted in Newsweek, says grown-ups are afraid to do just that -- to ask the children -- because we don't want to know what they think of the job we are doing as their parents.

For too long, Galinsky says, we have been asking each other and ourselves and highly trained professionals what kind of job parents are doing -- and by and large we were pretty happy with ourselves.

But we have not asked our customers, our clients -- our kids -- what they think of our work.

"The answers of children are illuminating, not frightening," she writes. "They help us see that our assumptions about children's ideas are often at odds with reality."

Galinsky asked more than 1,000 children in grades 3 through 12 to grade their parents in different areas.

The results are revealing, but they also follow some stereotypes. The kids reported that Dad is a force in values education, but he is often clueless about what is really going on in their lives. And, they said, Mom's love is palpable, but she is grumpy a lot.

That's the way it is in my house and in lots of houses on my street.

But I am glad my kids weren't being surveyed by Galinsky, because my grades would send me to the guidance office.

"Being there for me when I'm sick." More than 80 percent of kids gave moms an A in this category. My kids give me an F after reminding me that I am no Clara Barton.

Apparently they have heard me when I have said, "Wear a jacket or I'm not going to take care of you when you get sick" and "Wear a bicycle helmet. You are enough work without a brain injury."

"Being involved in my school life." Most moms got high marks for showing up at school, but I don't. "I like to believe I am a test-tube baby," my son says. And because people know I am his mother even though I use my maiden name, I am punished with an F.

"Being able to go to important events." I said I thought "The Nutcracker" was important. My kids roll their eyes and I get a sympathy C.

I ask how I would do on "spending time talking to me," and before they answer I flash on the time my son leaped out of the van at a light and threatened to walk home if I didn't stop trying to talk to him about sex. You guessed it. F.

I mention "establishing traditions," and they start laughing at the memory of my Thanksgiving chicken. I point out that I only roasted a chicken that one year, and they remind me that I suggested take-out the next year. I finish with an F in home ec.

"Raising me with good values." Define good values, my daughter says.

I say it means family, faith and hard work. She says it's a sale at Abercrombie & Fitch, and we compromise on a C.

"Knowing what goes on with me." Tough to score an A when your kids don't speak above a grunt except to say, "You gotta get out of my face about stuff." Because I know what goes on in their lives, I get an F.

"Controlling her temper." No debate here. Automatic F.

Yep, I'm afraid my grades are pretty lousy. But I can't just drop out. I can't quit. My kids would kill me.

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