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Learning to Fail

A few weeks ago, I asked Tumblr the following:

So I want to talk about parenting a gifted kid. Because I don’t honestly know if I’m doing it right. Please know I’m doing my best and in good faith seek advice.

For the past like 3 or 4 years, my 13yo Lucas, who is autistic and has ADHD which he’s medicated for, has been in the gifted program. I almost didn’t let them put him in it because I know the horrors of being gifted, but I was assured he’d never be pulled out of class, he’d just be doing slightly different assignments. When questioned he didn’t even realize he was doing gifted program work, that’s how integrated it was. I was assured he was doing different things, even if he didn’t realize it. Ok. That’s great. I let him stay in the program all through intermediate school (4-6).

He’s always brought home good grades. I’ve never cared about grades. I care about effort, whatever that means for the individual child.

Then the pandemic hit and the end of last year and all of this year became online. I’m sure I don’t have to tell y’all that online school and ADHD don’t mix.

With a complete lack of structure, he’s putting my disinterest in grades to the test. I think he is trying his best but the executive dysfunction is a bitch and he just can’t get anything done except under complete duress that’s exhausting and traumatizing for everyone involved. And even then he was suddenly failing everything. Everything.

At some point, I’m not exactly sure when, but I was probably a really tired single mother in that moment, I just radically accepted that this year is a wash and he’s probably going to be repeating 7th grade.

I’m not even mad. I’m just tired.

And I haven’t stopped encouraging him to do the work. We talk about what it means to repeat a grade. We discuss these kids he’s grown up with leaving him behind. We discuss that it’s not too late to catch up. But honestly fam, as the autistic kid, he doesn’t really have any friends he wants to keep up with. (That part hurts my heart more than anything.)

But I’ve just radically accepted that this year being online was doomed to fail and instead of being angry at him, I’ve made failing ok. I know if he were in an actual classroom he’d be fine. But he’s not so I have to accept the consequences.

Is that the right thing to do? What would you want your parents to do in this situation? I’m asking in earnest!

Every response I received was filled with encouragement that I was doing the right thing by him. Overwhelmingly people told me how they wish their parents had taught them failing was ok and how to fail. Because you know what? Sometimes you fail in life.

Which got me reflecting on teenage me in high school. I was undiagnosed with ADHD and Autism, severely depressed, and blossoming into having Borderline Personality Disorder. My grades, my senior year especially were a mess! And while my mom didn’t yell or punish me, it was very clear I had disappointed her, and that hurt. Instead of being taught how to fail, I was taught that I needed to achieve a certain level to be acceptable.

Fast forward more than 10 years to when I started college. I had it in my head that failure wasn’t an option, only somehow I got the message that anything less than an A was a failure. Sure I graduated 6 years later with top Latin honors, but I also almost died repeatedly because I had stopped making my own blood. If I had been taught to fail or at least accept less than an A, I might have spent less time writing final papers while getting blood transfusions. The two should never mix.

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