Earlier this week my newsfeed exploded with the same running theme: ‘O’ and ‘A’ level results were out and parents whose children had passed immediately took to FB to share the news.
What I noticed, however, was that most of them were women. Where were all the proud fathers I wondered? Did they not feel the need to go public with their praise? To say that the mothers were bursting with the need to tell the world, after all the anxious waiting, is putting it mildly. The extent of their relief that this crucial hurdle had been passed was palpable. One friend messaged me saying, “I am crying tears of joy”. Her next message was even more insightful, “I think I’m even happier than my son is.”
This got me thinking – are the people who stress out the most about exams the parents rather than the students? And more specifically, why do mothers seem to shoulder the burden of exams so much more than fathers?
OK, I can answer my own question here. It’s probably because society on the whole, when it comes time to pointing fingers about when children slip up and go wrong, always seem to direct the blame on the mother. She didn’t sit with them to do their homework, she didn’t ensure that they studied, she didn’t send them to enough private lessons, she wasn’t “there” for them, she was too busy with her own career (or her hobbies) and neglected her kids. The potential list of how women can be blamed is never-ending.
So when it comes to exam time, it is not just the children’s ability which is being tested; it’s also a litmus test of whether one has been “a good enough” mother and ensured that your child has been sufficiently drilled and coached to pass Malta’s nerve-wracking exam system which can often determine one’s whole life path. Not getting into Sixth Form, MCAST or University is seen as THE END; mothers are convinced that their teenagers will be doomed to a life of deadbeat jobs with no glimmer of hope in sight. Failing exams is so devastating in our culture that it is no wonder so much emphasis is placed to pass, pass, pass at all costs. Talk about pressure. (The fact is that it does not have to be the end of the world, for it is possible to go back to school or take courses at an older age when one is more mature and more capable of handling the pressure).
Where are the fathers in all this? I would say a good portion of them are still of the “it-tfal huma tal-mara'” school of thought. “The children belong to the woman” is how that roughly translates, which means they are her responsibility while the man’s job is to bring home the bacon and provide. Yes, even when the woman brings in just as much bacon, it is often taken as a given that the bulk of the child supervision duties fall down to her. And that, of course, includes that dreaded word ‘homework’ followed by that equally grim phrase, ‘studying for exams’. The reality is that children come home from school with complicated projects which are impossible for them to do on their own and the designated person who needs to gather all the material required is usually, you guessed it, the mother. Then, of course, there is that loathed word: revision. Who gets the pleasure of doing that with the kids, I wonder?
(Before I am bombarded with objections, I realize there are fathers who also do all this, but generally speaking, it always falls down to the woman).
So yes, of course, I perfectly understand why mothers weep with happiness when all their hard work, shattered nerves and constant nagging to “go study” finally pay off with the sound of a beep beep text message (that’s how results are being received these days, apparently). It is a victory for them as much, if not more than, for their blasé kids who wonder why Mum is making such a big deal and telling all her friends. It is a validation that she did something right, that her role in pushing her kids to do well at school has meaning, because here look, the results speak for themselves.
But there is also another side to this: what about the kids who did not pass? Does that mean the mother has been a failure at her role and should be harshly judged?
This is why I feel mothers really need to stop being so hard on themselves when it comes to their children’s schooling and cut themselves some slack. I realize it is difficult not to see your children’s results as a reflection on your parenting, but believe me, it isn’t. All children are different, some excel at academics while others find they are best at other things. So maybe rather than allowing exam results to define not only children, but also their mothers, we need to re-think our approach to education and instill children with the belief that each one of them can succeed at SOMETHING.