I Want My Children to Struggle

Does that make me a terrible future parent? I don’t mean that I want them to struggle at everything in life, but I would rather have them struggle than excel.

Recently, I have noticed something that is completely against what my teachers tried to tell me growing up. They say that the kids that do well in school are the ones that are going to succeed. Well, what have I noticed a year out from undergrad graduation? The kids that were the top of the class or frequently got As without trying are still looking for jobs or are in jobs that they do not like. Those of us who struggled in school? The majority of us are working at jobs we enjoy. In this economy, jobs for graduates fresh out of school are very hard to come by and many grad school programs are not much easier to get into. I don’t think that the work world is hating on the school achievers. Those of us who struggled have advantages that school can never teach.

I have never officially been tested for dyslexia, but it is possible that I have a mild case. I have never been good with reading comprehension. Yes, I read for fun, but if you asked me what actually happened in the books, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I am able to pick up pieces of characters and follow story lines when I am physically reading, but once I am not actively reading, I can’t tell you about what I read. It is like a dream that seemed so vivid when you were sleeping, but when you wake up, you only have a vague shimmering image of what it was. This doesn’t only happen to me with fun books, it happens with almost any passage I read unless I am reading something and performing a specific action at the same time.

Memorization is also nearly impossible for me. I have to connect it to an action. I can’t tell you how many dances I choreographed when trying to remember little facts for various tests. Connecting the tidbits of information to the movement would help me retain it. In high school, I am pretty sure that if someone would watch me take a history or geography test, they would see me making weird twitches that in my mind was me doing a mental run through of the dance to access the information.

Considering a lot of school involves reading comprehension and memorization (especially English and social studies) I had to become extremely good at problem solving. It didn’t matter on papers that my writing skills were above par or that my grammar was either. What I was mostly graded on was my ability to analyze the literature. As you can imagine, when you can’t remember exactly what you read, it is impossible to analyze the passage in a way that was acceptable to a person whose passion is analyzing literature. It wasn’t until my third year of college that I realized I actually was a decent writer. So, I had to develop the skills to work around this major blatant weakness.

Somehow, none of my teachers picked up on my inabilities. Why? Honestly, I have no idea why. Even my mom, who had training as a special education teacher, never picked up on it completely. She knew that I became frustrated with my sister and her whenever they would analyze whatever book I had just finished reading. To make matters worse, analyzing literature and reading comprehension are two of my sister’s biggest strengths, leading me to believe I was extraordinarily stupid. It didn’t matter that I was copying her worksheets and doing her math homework even though she was 3 years older than me. I was stupid. I couldn’t do something that everyone around me was capable of. It wasn’t just hard for me: it was inaccessible pieces of information that, no matter how hard I worked, I could never actually do the skill on my own. That is when I developed a new strategy: using others’ brains to do the work for me.

Finding people who love to talk about certain topics is actually incredibly easy, especially when you have two people in your house that are passionate about doing the exact skill you are incapable of. It would usually take less than 3 minutes to get the two of them interacting about whatever passage or book I read that I would need to analyze, then I could just sit back listening and taking mental notes. Tell me some minor tidbit about your life, I will remember it forever. I still remember the birthdays of a lot of my elementary school friends. Erica’s is April 17th, the same as tax day and usually in the middle of passover so she can’t get a normal cake. One Lauren’s is February 12th, the same as Abraham Lincoln. Another Lauren’s is May 16th. Tony’s was March 18th, same as Elizabeth’s. Erin’s was March 15th. Except for Erica and Lauren #1, I haven’t talked to these people since high school or earlier. Anyway, I digress. I would take the information that others would provide me without realizing it and put it into a paper. I wonder why my mother never thought it odd that when she would edit my papers that she always agree with my views, considering how much we disagree on several things.

I was not the only one who struggled with some piece or another in school. What did the struggle give us, the oddly lucky ones? Struggling when we were young forced us to develop creative problem solving skills starting at a very early age. Most of us, we have to actually actively think about why the problems we had didn’t stop us. I didn’t realize how I had solved my reading comprehension problem for school until last year when my mother and I were having a conversation about why she never noticed. We have different expectations. We don’t expect to be the star of a project, and if we are we are completely and honestly shocked. We don’t get stuck when things don’t go our way. We don’t get upset and just stop there. We put our heads down and figure out a way to work around it. If one method doesn’t work, we try something else. We expect to work hard.

In contrast, the kids who excelled in school and at most things in their childhoods, they never developed these skills. That is not to say that they are not as good. I have lived and had close friendships with several of them. They were the kids who could skip class and then come in to an exam and be the top scorers. Often, they will be able to get things done that they know how to do twice as fast as anyone else. And, they will learn new concepts in a matter of minutes. Explain something to them once, and usually, they have it for life. The downside to these abilities? They have to start developing the skills the strugglers excel at now, nearly 20 years after we, the strugglers, did. It takes them longer to put their heads down and try other solutions after one does not work. If they don’t understand something right away, they will shut down for a bit before they are willing to try again.

In 10 years, I am sure the strugglers and excellers will be on an even playing field. But, right now, in our early to mid twenties, the strugglers have the advantage. And why do I want my kids to struggle? I want them to get a jump start when they are off on their own. I want to be able to send them out into the world, knowing that they can conquer any challenge that faces them. That means more to me than As on a report card.


About Danielle Beranek

Life can get away from you when being young, married, and still fairly fresh out of college. Taking on a pet, student loans, going back to school, and soon a new house is enough to leave ones head spinning. For me, life is crazy, but only on the outside.
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