It’s been a long time since I got a report card. I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been. But the other day, I received a report card as a dad.
This isn’t a metaphor for something. No, my 8-year-old daughter Abigail plopped a nicely folded piece of paper with a ribbon closure down in front of me and walked away. I picked it up – it was blank.
Curious, I opened it – to my delight, the cover said “Dad’s Report Card” and had a drawing of a car and some hearts. How sweet, I thought. Suddenly, my heart dropped an inch or two. I closed it without reading further, wondering if I was “passing” as a dad. Or was I failing?
I opened it and read, with a little trepidation, what my child thinks of my parenting. It said:
“I am so happy to be your child. Love, Ab’s (side note: although I was horrified by the incorrect use of the apostrophe, I let it slide this time.)
P.S. look at your report card!
P.P.S It’s what I think about you
P.P.P.S. Yours is the same as moms”
All this was written on the left side, which is brilliant, because if you’re following the rules of reading, you still haven’t seen your report card, and so my nervousness grew as I scanned over it. On to the right side of the page, and the stuff that matters:
A carefully organized table (she is German, AND my child, after all) where it seems I’ve been graded on a fairly broad scale – from A to Z. I clarified with her that Z is the worst grading you can get. I suggested maybe she meant Z, as in ZEE BEST! But she vehemently denied this with a: “Daaaaaad!!! No way! Z is the worst mark you can get!” Alrighty then.
Here is what I saw:
|let us stay up…………….||B|
|helps me study………….||A|
|buy me things……………||C|
|smile at me……………….||A|
|happy about my art……||A|
After wiping my tears (including a few tears of relief) away, I realized how significant this document was.
I realized that I had just received the most important report card of my life. All the ones that came before this are of little significance, yet caused me much grief as I would wait for my parents to open the envelope and peruse it, occasionally looking up at me. None of them have had any lasting impact on my life.
Yet, this one – THIS single report – reflects what is critical in my life. I had never thought about it this way before. My parenting, while still limited in depth and experience, is something I do think about and want to be good at. But I’ve always considered it from MY perspective. Am I doing this right? Am I saying that right? Will I react appropriately to this? And on and on.
In the end, something that matters very much is what our children think. I realized this because of the categories I was graded on.
How often have I considered the importance of smiling at my children? Never. I try to smile at them as often as I can, because I want them to be smilers when they grow up. I want them to smile at me, at each other, at strangers on the street. Did I ever think it made a difference to my kids? Never. But apparently it does.
Did I ever think my children noticed that I care about them very much? Nope. Do I care about them? Of course. My wife and my children matter the world to me. I try to show them that I care. I care about them. I care about what matters to them. What makes them happy and what breaks their hearts. But this seems to be proof that it really matters. My child seems to notice that I care.
Did I ever think to myself, “Well, you had better express some interest in Abigail’s art, because some day you’ll get graded on whether you did or not.”? Definitely not. Do I care about her art and do I spend time with her to create it and to express to her how well she has done with it and how much I like it? Do I hang it on our walls at home and in my office as if it’s the greatest art ever made? Yes I do. I didn’t do it because I thought she would grade me on my reaction though. I have done it because I actually care about what matters to my kid. Yet here I sit – looking at a report card that shows me she has registered my reaction to her art. And it makes me so glad that I didn’t brush it aside.
I am infinitely grateful for this report card. I put it on Facebook, because I thought it was so cute! But one of the comments on it really impacted me. The person said: “You got an ‘A’ in all the things that you should as a parent!” I looked back on the card, and realized that, if I was to see these categories, and would be able to wish for my own marks, this would be exactly where I want to be.
I think they’ll survive without my mean-ness, or me being rude. I’m not going to work on improving those very much.
Will they be OK if I don’t buy them everything they always want? Yep, I’ll stick with my “C” there – same goes for the candy-giving. In my opinion, they’re getting enough of it and we’ll all make it through the day with the way things are.
And a “B” in letting them stay up? Well, it’s not a failing mark, but I’m quite happy that they are in bed at 8:00 PM every night except Fridays and Saturdays. Why? Because that’s the time that I need with their mother. It’s quiet time in our house then, and that’s just as important to me as the time I spent with my kids up until then.
I am so happy I have been blessed with these kids, and I can’t put into words how important getting this unsolicited report card was.
It showed me what is important to my child – right now. And some days, us daddies are what makes or breaks it for these little people.
Make sure you remember that your kids are grading you, and that what you think matters so much might not be what matters to them.
It’s up to us to figure out the right balance between the two, and give as much as we can to our little ones.
All the time we spend with them, and all the smiles we give them, and all the times we show them we care – those things will never come back to haunt us in a bad way.
You have my personal guarantee on that, my friend.
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