It is that time of year again, exam time!
With all of our three children presently in mainstream schooling it’s unavoidable, this term in the UK is all about the academic testing. And this year for the first time it is affecting all of them, and for our oldest it is a significant set of exams—her G.C.S.Es, which help determine what and where she can study next. It’s a pretty stressful time!
There are the usual stresses of the pressure to perform well in the exams, but with our oldest & youngest both autistic, I suspect there are additional struggles. Organizing time, self-motivation, through the roof anxiety, chronic difficulty getting to sleep, the anxieties of a change in routine. Difficulties with eating enough or the right foods, exhaustion from navigating the social implications of the changes of routine and seeing or not seeing people in the right or wrong contexts. There are also particular academic struggles that have been coped with and masked successfully for years but are now painfully evident; so many assumptions made about skills that most of us have learnt through inference over the years that are missing but till now had not been seen. And there is the pain of standing back and watching your beautiful, intelligent child trying to shine in a system which does not play to their strengths or fully recognize their needs.
It leaves me watching, and hovering with a full heart—guilt at what else I should have, could have done to support over the years; love, admiration and pride at her amazing strengths—she has not given up despite difficulties and others’ lack of understanding; a desire to stay close and protect, to be there ready to lift up and encourage; worry about the outcome and its effect on her emotional well-being, and perhaps also about the effect it will have on how others see her; and of course the many questions about what's next.
Of course we want what’s best for her, we want all of our children to thrive and grow. Our faith challenges us to seek and long for the things that Father God sees as important, not always to simply follow after all of the things our culture teaches us to need and crave. We want them to be well. To find purpose. To belong. To be loved for who they are, and to love. To be held close to their Father God. I want them to know that the grades a system allocates them are not what defines them. That their identity and belonging come from being a child loved by God. And that every single opportunity or path ahead that opens up for them can be one through which God can draw close to them, working through all circumstances for their good, growing Christ like character and love in them and spreading that love through them to many others.
Of course these thoughts and priorities are great on paper, but hard to work out in parenting practice with all the baggage we all bring. So I am praying for myself as we walk together through the exam time, that I will actively show that our love for our children is not conditional, that my most frequent questions of concern are for their health and emotional well-being not their hours of successful revision. I pray my words will honor their strengths and talents rather than expose their weaknesses. I pray I can be present and attentive to their worries and questions as they step forward, more than I am attentive to other’s judgments or expectations. I pray my hopes and dreams for my children, given over to God in prayer, can become the vibrant, colorful and extraordinary hopes and dreams their heavenly Father sees when he looks on them with love.
Cathy Porter is ordained, married to a vicar and together they have three children two of whom are autistic. Find her blog about family life, autism and faith at www.clearlynurturing.wordpress.com