When I was 8 years old, I woke up one morning and told my mom I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t going to school, that in fact, I quit.
As shocking as this may seem, my mom had seen it coming.
For years, I had been miserable at school. I was an average student, I was always the youngest person in my grade, and for the first year ever, I didn’t have any close friends in my class.
I had low self-esteem growing up, but I can vividly remember telling my mom with an air of confidence that I would not be attending Mrs. Cassell’s third-grade class any longer.
“I’m not going,” I said holding back tears. “I can’t do it.”Angie McPherson/Dearly
On any other day, my mom probably would’ve tried to cheer me up and get me out the door as she had the day before. But this morning she knew something was different. I was marked absent for the day.
My mom sat me down and asked what the matter was. “What are you going to do now that you’ve quit school?” she half-joked. “Can you get a job?”
I shook my head. “I’m terrible at everything. I couldn’t possibly get a job.”
She said, “Well, then you should stay in school until you find what you’re good at.”
I told her the one thing I enjoyed doing was playing soccer, but that all of my friends were in a neighboring school and a grade below me. As a late-September baby, my birthday fell on cutoff line for school enrollment. I was one of the youngest kids in the class, yet the oldest on my soccer team.Angie McPherson/Dearly
My parents had always wondered if I should have waited a year to start kindergarten. We regularly discussed it after I started making friends in my soccer league. I wanted to go to school with them.
As I got older, the conversation continued, but when I decided to “quit” elementary school, my mom knew something had to be done. She wrapped her arms around me, told me she loved me, and said I should get ready for school the next day — she was coming in with me.
For weeks my parents and I met with the school principal and my teacher. At the time, as NPR reports, studies had shown that children performed worse in school when they repeated a grade.
After considering a few options for how to handle my depression, my mom and dad ultimately decided to support my decision to be held back. We made a deal that they would submit all of the paperwork if I promised to improve my grades.
While I finished out the year at that school, we took steps to change schools and my parents fought our school district for me to be able to repeat the third grade. It wasn’t easy, or socially acceptable, but my family moved forward with the plan.
The next year, on the first day of school, my mom made breakfast at my best friend’s house. We got on the bus together.Angie McPherson/Dearly
I came home smiling and did all of my homework. After fighting hard to be moved to my new school, I wasn’t going to let my parents down by coming home with bad grades.
Slowly, but surely, things started shaping up.Angie McPherson/Dearly
My grades suddenly improved. With more confidence, I read more books and filled my notebooks with stories.
I ended up being a good student, I made new friends, and I even had the confidence to run for school president — and win.Angie McPherson/Dearly
In fact, I continued my education all the way to graduate school.
My mom and dad came all the way to London, England, to see me walk across the stage.Angie McPherson/Dearly
Now that it’s September, and all of the kids are heading back to school, I’m reminded of the big breakfasts my mom would make on the first day to get my sister and I excited for class.
In fact, I still think about our big back-to-school celebrations when I see commercials on television and kids lining up at the bus stop.
I don’t have kids yet, but I still get excited for my first day of work in the autumn, and I know I have my mom to thank for that.Angie McPherson/Dearly
I had always known that school was important. But when I was depressed, I had a difficult time paying attention to the lessons I was being taught in class.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, childhood depression is when a child feels sad or angry for a prolonged period of time. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders and it is treatable. Some of the signs and symptoms can include:
- A change in weight or eating patterns
- Not wanting to spend time with friends and family
- A drop in grades
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Thoughts of suicide
Parents can take many different approaches to help a child manage their depression. A few suggestions from AAP include:
- Encouraging a healthy lifestyle
- Fostering positive personal relationships, including a parent-child relationship
- Supporting good behavior
My parents ultimately chose to support positive personal relationships by placing me in an environment where I could succeed in school.
A new study in the Journal of Public Economics shows that, in contrast to earlier studies, children may see a boost in achievement if held back in third grade. It also doesn’t impact graduation rates.
I asked my mom if she would’ve made the same decision to hold me back if presented with the same situation again, she told me:
“What was important was that you needed to be happy at school, and you were most assuredly miserable. Being a good parent is about knowing your child, including all of their strengths and weaknesses, and being supportive. Sometimes it means listening and making changes even when those changes don’t seem to fit the mold.”
Did my universities mind that I repeated third grade? No.
Was this the right way for my parents to handle depression? I don’t know.
But I do know that our conversation that day led to the major changes that occurred in my life. It made a difference that my mom took time out of her day to talk to me about the importance of believing in myself and getting an education.