Tuesday, September 20, 2011


K and I were both good students growing up.  We both went to good high schools, a great college and have master's degrees.  It was a combination of basic smarts, hard work and doing what our parents expected of us.  I don't think I ever worried about what my parents or other kids in my class thought.  I was a good student and it's just the way it was.

Like most parents, I've always felt my kids were smart.  They are intellectually curious and have varied interests.  They love to read and do research about stuff that they are interested in.  Not to brag, but the boys are pretty cool kids and at the core of this is a bright, vibrant intelligence.

When A was in first grade he had trouble reading.  Nobody could figure it out.  His comprehension was great.  He could point out the verb and subject in a sentence, but struggled with reading out loud.  We had him tested, got tutoring over the summer and by the end of second grade he read all of the Harry Potter books.  I was reassured by his tutor that reading is a skill and was not a reflection of intelligence.  It was hard though to accept that A was struggling.  I just always assumed that academic success was a given.  For goodness sake, at the age of 5 A could list all of the venomous snakes in North America and was already designing his own golf courses.  A's academic performance certainly does not always reflect his abilities,  but for the most part he does well in school. Still, as an over achiever, it was hard to think that my child might not be.  It's hard to admit, but I just always assumed our kids would follow in our footsteps.

Then we adopted these two kids.  E is a great student, but to the point of slight neurosis.  Her being a good student and good swimmer is how she defines herself.  Anything less than perfect is completely unacceptable to her.  She'll argue with a teacher about a question on a test to go from a 96 to a 98.  Dealing with her school issues is an another post altogether.

M is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum.  As I've written before, her basic grammar and math skills are lacking. So, we had her tested.  We got a tutor.  We got a student accommodation plan at school.  We started her on medication.  I've set up a homework space.  But still M is struggling.  I try to help her and she just cries, screams and tells me that she doesn't care and she's just dumb.  I don't know what else to do.  I don't know how to help her.  I want to have the same expectations of her that I have for the boys.  At the same time, I sometimes find myself holding my praise for the boys in check because I don't want M to feel bad.  That's not fair to the boys either.

It's especially hard since she and A are in the same grade.   An 88 for M is good, but an 88 for A just isn't. Is it because she's not our biological daughter?  Is lowering my expectations for M wrong?  It's also hard to accept that M may not be a good student.  I worry about her as we get closer to high school.  It so hard to be able to focus on all of M's needs and make sure that I'm there for the other kids too.  I was hoping that this year would be different with all of the steps we took for her this summer.  I'm already seeing signs of the same issues.

Parenting is tough.  Parenting my sister's kids is even tougher.  I want what is best for M, but there are times when I want to scream and pull out all of my hair after trying to help her with basic math or grammar.  My 11 plus years of parenting just didn't prepare me for the challenges M is presenting to me. 


  1. I don't think that having different standards for different children is necessarily about their biological relationship with you. It sounds like you are judging them relative to their previous performances, their observable skills, and their own expectations. I don't think it would be fair for M to suddenly expect her to turn into A. I also don't think it would be fair to A to not be encouraged to do his best because of M. This is a tough balancing act, and I wish you luck with it.

  2. I had a saying when I taught fifth grade, "Fair and equal aren't always the same thing." What is "fair" for M wouldn't be what is "fair" for A. It's perfectly acceptable to have different expectations for each child based on their individual needs. It happens in the classroom every day. :o)