We all have free will and the ability to maximize and actually increase our strengths, gifts, and intelligence
Hi,my name is Esti. Summer has flown by and it’s been great, baruch Hashem! I had a really great time in sleepaway camp with my best friend, Ruchi, and a bunch of other girls in our class. I’m really sad summer’s almost over. I don’t feel ready for school at all! I feel like I just put down my pen at the last final.
I don’t want to sound shallow, but there’s a bigger reason I’m not eager to start school again, something that’s been nagging at me over the last couple of days.
Ruchi has always been the genius of the class. She gets top grades on every test and report. She’s the one all the other girls go to if they need any sort of help with work. She’s the star student, the apple of every teacher’s eye, and, worst of all, my mother is always comparing me to her. “Ruchi’s mother told me she got As on every report this semester! I don’t understand how you can get Bs and B pluses! Isn’t she your friend? Can’t you get her to help you bring your grades up?” You can imagine how unpleasant it is to be Ruchi’s best friend during the school year. That’s why I love the summer so much — finally, we’re on even footing! We’re equally good at basketball, swimming, art, and all the other things that we do in the summertime.
But every year, school descends on me like a sledgehammer and puts me back into second place. This year is going to be no different. I do the best I can, but I just don’t do as well as Ruchi. And honestly, do I have to? I still do pretty well. I may not be at the top of my class but it’s not like I’m doing poorly or even close to failing! I wish my mother didn’t put so much pressure on me. Or I wish that Ruchi could somehow not get such perfect marks. It would make my life so much easier. But that’s not going to happen, so I need advice on how to deal with my mother and the way she compares me to Ruchi. Considering how our mothers are friends, it’s basically inevitable that she’s going to hear from Ruchi’s mother how absolutely wonderfully Ruchi is doing, and then my mother’s going to nag me about my grades. I’m so not looking forward to that. Is there any way around this?
Hi, my name is Ruchi. I’m 16 years old. I just got back from sleepaway camp and baruch Hashem, I had a great time. I was together with all my friends and we really enjoyed. Now school’s about to start.
Baruch Hashem, school’s always been great for me. I do well and my parents have always been very proud of me. There’s just one thing my mother does that I’d really like her to stop doing: I know she’s proud of me, and honestly, it feels good to know that, but she kind of brags about me to other mothers and it’s really embarrassing. The worst is when she does it in front of me! I turn red as a beet and try to make her stop but she just goes on and on and on. It’s really awkward. I’ve tried to tell her a bunch of times that it makes me uncomfortable, but she doesn’t seem to get the hint. She just tells me that I should daven to Hashem that one day, my own daughter should give me as much nachas. What can I answer to that?
My friends know that if they’re ever at my house, they’ll have to endure a good five minutes of my mother’s glowing and rapturous praise of me. A lot of times we laugh about it. But the other day, when my friend Esti walked over on Shabbos with her mother, and my mother and I sat down with them on the back patio, my mother went into a 15 minute speech about how she’s looking forward to every teacher in this upcoming grade knowing how brilliant I am. I tried to laugh it off with Esti, making eye contact with her and rolling my eyes, but I was surprised to find that when I looked at her, she looked miserable. Her mother also looked pretty stern, which is unusual; she’s usually pretty upbeat and easygoing. I tried to make my mother stop but when she wouldn’t, I motioned to Esti to follow me up to my room. I asked her why the long face. She told me it was nothing but I could tell it wasn’t. She finally admitted that my mother’s bragging makes her mother breathe down her back about her grades. I feel so bad. It’s one thing for it to just be embarrassing. It’s another thing entirely if my best friend’s mother is giving her a hard time because of me. I need to make my mother realize this has got to stop. Please help me think of a way!
I am so happy for you that you share such a wonderful friendship. I call your friendship a second-generation friendship since your mothers are friends and now you are, too. I hope one day you will have a third and fourth generation where your children and grandchildren will be friends!
Hashem created everyone differently with unique personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
After we eat we make a special brachah: Borei nefashos rabos v’chesronan. We are thanking Hashem for making us with chesronos. We are blessing Hashem that we all have something missing. Why?
Hashem can easily create everyone with nothing missing. We can all get 100s, home runs, solos, and draw masterpieces.
But life is not like that and we all have things that we don’t do perfectly. This is a gift because it enables us to help each other.
Our talents, strengths, and intelligence are gifts that we get from Hashem. However, we all have free will and the ability to maximize and actually increase our strengths, gifts, and intelligence. This is called having a growth mindset. I have a close friend that was never considered smart in high school, although she mostly passed all subjects. After school she surprised us all by earning straight As in her competitive college program! I know this doesn’t solve your problem, but I do feel it’s important to remind you that your abilities are not set in stone, and through hard work and perseverance you can reach heights that you never knew you were capable of.
Now to answer your questions.
Ruchie, you are kindhearted and sensitive both to your mother and to your friends. I know you wrote that you spoke to your mother many times about this, but I wonder if you ever really communicated with her. In the moment, when you blush and say, “Ma, please stop,” that does not necessarily give your mother the message to stop. This is similar to when one gets compliments and they deny them because they want to hear more. I recently noticed a mother praising her daughter-in-law for running a beautiful home. The daughter-in-law made half-hearted attempts to deny the praise, which just had the mother-in-law increasing her compliments!
The best way to communicate is in a planned discussion that is not directly connected to the current situation. Rather than wait for it to happen again, speak to your mother now. Stress the importance of the issue by saying, “Ma, there is something that is seriously bothering me. When is a good time for us to speak privately, without interruptions?” That introduction is crucial as it will prepare your mother for the seriousness of this issue. In a clear and respectful manner, explain to your mother that while you are so happy that she has so much nachas from you, it is still embarrassing and uncomfortable when that bragging gets back to your friends and negatively impacts them. Come prepared with possible solutions, such as having her call grandparents to brag, or giving her all your tests for her to keep in a private folder in her room. Regardless of the results of the conversation, make sure to maintain respectful and calm dialogue.
Esti, I spoke a little about growth mindset and I think it’s an important point for you to internalize. You have endless potential. Don’t sell yourself short.
Now to answer your question:
You need to compare yourself only to yourself. You need to measure your progress and effort in comparison to what you are capable of, and not what anyone else is capable of.
Follow the above guidelines I gave Ruchi with regard to setting up a serious communication session with your mother. Explain to her how you feel, and together, set up realistic goals of effort and work ethic instead of grades. Some examples may be: studying in advance, writing better notes in class, and completing all answers on a test even when not sure.
I would like to end with giving both of you a brachah that you should maximize your gifts, actualize your potential, and continue to have a healthy, long-lasting friendship.
Mindy Rosenthal M.S., BCBA/LBA, teaches social skills, executive function skills, and other skills to incredible children, teens, and their parents. She is also the lucky director of student services at Ilan High School and consults nationally and internationally on social skills, executive function, and behavioral programs. She can be reached through Teen Pages.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 875)
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