I’m a current Freshman at the college of my dreams. I’m having a pretty great time and my grades are actually really good after my first year; I have a 3.3 GPA! But here’s where the problem comes in…
I went to private schools my whole life where the curriculum when you hit high school is actually pretty hard. I got fairly consistent B’s (and occasionally an A!) that I worked very hard for. Coming from that generation where everyone tells you you’re a “gifted” student and you always get straight As, adjusting to Bs was hard but I managed it. My mom always pushed me to get good grades and when I got a C she’d be disappointed. She was never too rough on me but it did get hard sometimes.
Now that I’m in college, those rigorous high school courses were actually harder than what I’m learning now. As evidenced by my GPA, these classes are, dare I say it, easier (with the same amount of work I put in throughout high school). With finals for the spring semester starting tomorrow, it’s nigh impossible for me to lose that 3.3 GPA. And what does my mother have to say about all this?
“Great! Don’t lose your scholarship.”
That’s it. I currently have a scholarship at this school that pays for half my tuition (it would be a full ride if I was in state, to put it in perspective). It’s the only reason I can stay here in the first place so it’s pretty important. And to keep it, I just have to maintain a 3.0. But after always harping on me in high school, I was so excited to show off these grades. And all she cares about is the scholarship. Never once has she praised how hard I worked. She’s said multiple times “I don’t care as long as you keep that scholarship.”
She doesn’t mean it in a mean way. But I feel like my accomplishments are worthless, and she doesn’t actually care. If all I need is a 3.0, why should I even strive for higher? If A’s mean nothing, then why bother taking the extra steps I’ve been taking? She’s never praised me for grades without mentioning the money and it really makes me feel like no one cares how hard I work. I almost wish I didn’t have a scholarship so she could just appreciate how hard I work because that’s the grade I want to get. Is there any way to feel like this work wasn’t worthless?
Why, yes! Yes, there is. Sparkler, I’d like to introduce you to the weird, wild, wonderful world of striving to achieve your goals because they are your goals, rather than for the sake of your parents’ approval.
Because much as we would all like to feel like our parents are proud of us, there’s a difference between wanting that and having it be your sole motivation in life, to the point where you apparently can’t think of a single, other good reason why you’d want to work hard and do well. Why bother, you ask? How about because doing the best you can is rewarding in its own right? Or because a great work ethic is one of the most valuable assets you’ll ever have? Or because a higher GPA will open doors for you down the road that a mere scholarship-sustaining one may not? How about striving for better than the bare minimum because you want the words “summa cum laude” on your diploma? Dude, how about being proud of yourself?!
For the record, it’s not hard to see how your mom’s heavy-handed approach to your high school academics have trained you to see winning her approval as the only real reason to do anything. That’s not your fault; it’s just something you’ll have to move away from now that you’re an adult. But at the same time, even I can read between the lines of your letter and see that your mom was pressuring you to achieve for a reason—namely, your good grades eased the financial burden of sending you to college. And now that you’re there, she doesn’t have to do that anymore, which may be as much a relief to her as it is to you.
In short, the dynamic between you has changed, as it should, because you’re a grownup now, and this is what that looks like. Your mom isn’t interested in harping on you, her adult daughter, about your grades. Now that you’re at college, she’ll be happy as long as you keep the scholarship that funds your education, and that’s a good thing. It means you get to decide for yourself what your priorities are, and make your choices accordingly—including the choice to put in the work it takes to achieve a mega-great GPA. You’re driving this train, kiddo; you’re responsible for hanging on to your scholarship, but beyond that, how you invest your time and energy is up to you. And when your mom says, “I don’t care as long as you keep your scholarship,” you might want to consider that the words “because I love you and I’ll be proud of you no matter what” are the unspoken second half of that sentence—and more importantly, that it is almost certainly not code for “You and your achievements are worthless to me.”
Of course, you can also tell your mom outright that it would be nice to hear that she’s proud of you, especially while you’re adjusting to this brave new world of choosing your own choices for your own reasons. But what matters more is that you take this opportunity to figure out what you want—now, and in the future—and what it’ll take to achieve those things. College is all about finding a balance between a life that satisfies you and an investment of energy you can sustain. Now is the time to find yours, and find fulfillment in it. I promise, when you do, you’ll also find that your mom’s approval takes its rightful role in your life: as something that’s nice to have, but not the most important thing.
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