Dear child starting high school on Monday,
Though I don’t know how it’s possible, as I still remember exactly what you were wearing the day you started kindergarten, I have a few promises to make.
I will not to compare you to others.
You’re entering a world in which your value seems determined by measurement against peers.
Your class rank will be calculated twice a year until you graduate. The number is significant to universities. It may affect some scholarship applications. But your number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you.
You will compete for a ranked chair in band. Your chair may dictate which part you play and where you physically sit, but that number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you. Your value is exponentially greater than can be calculated by your grades or your ability to play clarinet or how fast you run. Institutions and strangers may base their opinion of you on numbers and rank, but my love for you will never rise or fall based on points.
I expect you to do your best.
You are your greatest competitor. I won’t compare you to your peers, but I do expect you to work hard, to be kind, to push yourself. I expect you to steadily improve and to seek innovation.
Compete with yourself, dear child. Check your work. Don’t skimp when studying for an exam. Try to write every essay a little better than the last.
I will help you less often than I think you need and more often than you think you need.
I’ve spent the past 14 years helping you become independent. You are capable of preparing meals, cleaning the kitchen and transforming dirty laundry into clean, dry, folded clothes. You can change light bulbs, repair small electronics and follow written instructions for any number of systems. The more often you practice those skills at home, the more confidently you’ll handle real-life duties in college and beyond.
Yet, despite your good intentions, and in light of occasionally misplaced bravado, you still need my help. We still have four years before you leave, and I’ll keep teaching and supervising and gradually releasing until then.
I will ask questions.
Who are you texting? Who are you meeting? Who are you eating lunch with? Where are you going? When will you be home? How did you make this decision? Have you finished your homework? Did you review your notes? Are you prepared for tomorrow?
How are you feeling? How can I help?
The questions won’t stop, and I look forward to your answers.
I will give you space.
I don’t want to smother or hover. You need space to plan, to make decisions, to deliver on promises — and then celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.
You need to advocate for yourself. You need to solve problems by yourself.
You need to know that I believe in you and that you are capable. Healthy space gives you room to stretch and grow.
I will maintain boundaries and enforce consequences.
You’re on the road to adulthood, but you’re not there yet. I’m your mom first and your friend second.
When you break a rule, you’ll experience the natural consequences plus whatever additional discipline I decide is appropriate. I promise to be fair and consistent.
I will forgive. You are 14. You are human. You are going to make mistakes.
I will forgive lapses in judgment and rough manners. I will forgive broken curfews and messy rooms. I will forgive forgotten chores and unwarranted sulking.
I am 43. I am human. I am going to make mistakes.
I hope you’ll forgive mine, as well.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.