23 Oct 2017

You are the best parents for your child(ren): of P.S.L.E., Pain, and Purpose

Nothing gets us through like Purpose.

Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and went on to produce his groundbreaking pyschotherapeutic method, because he realised that a sense of purpose is what made his suffering bearable.

The suffering I am about to describe is certainly pale in comparison, but it is nonetheless real for nearly forty thousand children* and their parents: the Primary School Leaving Examination (yes, the dreaded PSLE) where twelve year-olds take standardised tests which results in where they get to go on to next in the educational maze.

Being Asian and living in a society where our state leaders are constantly reminding us of about how "no one owes us a living" (yes, that's a line in our National Education), underneath our sparkly exterior and world-class airport, is a nervous rumination: what if.

What if my kid does not do well?

God forbid. So the frenzy:
- to find out how the exams are structured and scored
- to diagnose where the kid is not making it
- to find the absolute solution that will turn things around/ pump things up so that an A is a given

I admitted in earlier posts (see below) that I too got sucked into the frenzy.

Seriously, it is a vortex, and forgive me for being a tad skeptical because I don't think there are parents (except those who should be charged for negligence) who would not agonize over this transition.

Despite our persistent efforts to reassure our little fella, he piped up during one dinner: "This is so important, it's going to determine the rest of my life!". Yes, incredulous. The school has succeeded, or should I say the system.

Over the months of being bombarded by Facebook ads about Tutors and Coaches who guarantee jumps in grade, going through his work at school, emailing teachers (who do not always reply), and dealing with my son's lack of motivation, anger outbursts and dyslexia, I was finding it really exhausting and pointless. The latter added to the sense of weariness, for both of us. The father who is trying to be 100 percent involved (as a busy working man can) helped but also created more work in a way. I had to explain and discuss and decide with someone who doesn't always see things my way. This is the necessary spill over effects of any major undertaking + a marriage-at-work.

Over the many sessions of silencing the cacophony of fear, anxiety, frustration and tiredness, I realised that if I was finding this quite overwhelming as an adult, my child is probably feeling worse. This was when I decided that Purpose needed to rescue us all.

So what is the point of this PSLE thing?

Of course, there is the overarching reality that life involves work. A good friend reminded us that we live for God's glory and live out our seasons with this orientation. These are message we transmit. But we also needed something more concrete and specific for this exam season.

With my son, grades would really not be a good thing to shoot for. He has exam anxiety and his overall performance is simply inconsistent. He wasn't mature enough for it.

We have many close heart-to-heart conversations. Already we had assured him that grades were not that important. But we all know "doing your best" is hard to measure. So we decided that for him, this will be a rite of passage for his maturity. This is going to be a period of a few months where he will grow, specifically, to be more structured and focused.

For a child with ADHD and dyslexia. these are huge challenges. So I pared it down to as specific details as I could for each subject (and trust me, I never knew I could do this!). Progress was slow, but he worked at them. We could not cover alot of ground in one day because we lacked the stamina, so I made the difficult decision to let him step down his second language, which would fill us with some uncertainty. But I knew that growing to be more able to spot his own flaws, take responsibility, create solutions and put in sustained effort is what helps him turn from boy to young man.

It was not an onward, upward journey. We dipped. Towards the actual exam week, he lost steam. But his growth is evident. I surrounded him with positive reinforcements from Scripture to posters to treats. We planned post-exam celebrations and "top things to do".

On the second last day of his exam, my back protested by locking up in excruciating spasms. I could not even take him to lunch and a playdate after his final paper! What a bum. Thankfully, his classmate's mom gamely took the few of them out, and he came home with a bright smile.

But it was a mom in constant pain that greeted him.

The last few days were the marking days for the PSLE and he did not have to report to school. Without the momma-commanding officer in action, he chilled a lot! He also did chores and went with me to the doctor's, to lunch and to the pool. He learnt to feed the cat and clean up after it.

We had many more conversations. As I listened to him and watch how his frame is growing lanky, his hands now larger than mine, I realised he is turning into a young man-to-be. My heart swelled with joy to hear his wisdom, his probing questions, his crazy humour, and his take charge exclamations such as, "Mom, you should definitely take the X-ray!".

Just over the weekend, we sat down and talked about the options for education that lay ahead. We had at first thought we would choose for him and just prevail over him about it, but I can hear the wheels turning in his head and the concerns of his heart, and I think he will make the choice with us supporting it.

Most of all, there is a Person who bestows Purpose and watches over our steps. This little verse which we used to sing in Sunday School has been ringing in my heart:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand. ~ Psalm 37v23-24, New Living Translation

Enjoy this oldie: The Steps of a good man by Jack Marti

What gives you Purpose for what you are going through now?
What purpose do you offer your children for going through a massive exam?

Related posts:
The confession earlier
The PSLE blues first time round
Power & powerlessness in mothering

*taken off MOE data from 2015

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