When my middle son was in the fourth grade, he came home from school with a note for me from his teacher. The note was a request for an immediate conference to discuss the fact that my son had turned in no classwork during the third marking period.
In that same backpack, on that same day, was another note from the school for me. That note was from his principal and was effusive in its praise of my son’s kindness, poise, and generous spirit. That note ended with a request for my son to represent the school at a high profile public event.
Yes, that day really happened, and yes, those two notes from school perfectly sum up my middle son and his relationship with school.
My teenage son hates school. He’s just never liked the school part of school. He doesn’t have the temperament for it, and so, school has been a constant source of stress for him since, basically, the second day of kindergarten.
He has a ton of talents and skills—he’s smart, he’s charming, he’s fun, he’s kind, he’s funny, he’s inclusive. One of his special skills is that he can make a party appear out of nowhere, and everyone is always invited.
The part of school that is all about friends and activities, he is awesome at. It’s the sitting still, paying attention, and having to read boring stuff that is torture for him.
Over the years, I have suffered with, and fought with, and fought for my son who hates school, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
How We Handled My Son’s Love-Hate Relationship with School:
1. Accept it.
To begin with, I have learned to accept the fact that my son hates school. Note that I did not say that he hates learning because he does enjoy learning. I’ve seen him learn all sorts of things from how to shred mountains of pulled pork to how to do improv to how to make a website. But, he finds sitting still difficult, and that makes sitting at a desk and taking notes very difficult which makes school almost impossible.
2. Be a hands-on mom.
Being a hands-off mom isn’t for moms who have kids who hate school. My husband and I used to be shocked and sometimes angry at our son’s ability to sleep like a baby in spite of the fact that he had an unfinished project due the next day. I learned to be more aware of the assignments my son had coming due, and to help him manage them because—no surprise, yelling and being angry after the fact didn’t help at all. I learned through experience to help him manage his homework assignments before they felt overwhelming.
3. Get help.
I learned that he needed a safe place to escape to during the school day. We got him an in-school tutor beginning in middle school, and he was able to see his tutors not only for academic guidance, but also for a breather from what seemed to him to be a relentless demand to sit still, be quiet, pay attention. Those tutors were such good people, and they played a huge part in my son being able to get through the school day.
4. Remember that school isn’t forever.
Most importantly, I learned, that there are things more important than school. School is necessary, but it isn’t the only thing. Once school is finished, real life begins, and the skills needed to succeed at life, my son has in abundance.
The End is in Sight
My middle son is in college now. He’s at the end of his junior year which means he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am so proud of his hard work and his ability to overcome his distaste for school, and I know he has what it takes to make it through to the end.
That long ago day when he came home from the fourth grade with those two different letters, I could see that we were in for some heartache as far as school was concerned, but I also got to see something else. I got to see that those other skills my son has will open doors and take him far. It’s hard to believe, but he’s almost there. He’s almost at the place where school doesn’t matter any more, and he can do what he does best. I will be so happy for him when that day comes.
This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog.