Will you love me if I fail?

The A level stress continues, with worry about failure, but A Levels are by no means the be all and end all of life in a world of constant change.

woman sitting alone in dark room


The A Levels keep on coming. There was a brief respite during half term, when the revision timetable went slightly off course, but we’re back on track now and powering through.

The other day, however, daughter three asked me tentatively: “Will you still love me if I fail the A Levels?” You what? I wondered where on Earth that came from. Noted, she had had a bad day during the first English exam and was a bit upset. But I have spent many months telling her that A Levels are not a judgement from on high. They are a snapshot of a few hours on very particular days. People have bad days all the time [‘everyone has those days’, to quote Hannah Montana]. She has been through more than most in the last few years. So why she might in any way think that I might love her less if she gets a C in Politics or fails was worrying.

Partly I think she was preparing me – and herself – for lower than targeted results, and partly it was because some of her friends seem to have very strict parents who shout at them if they get anything less than an A*. This is despite the fact that this year’s cohort have not sat a serious exam before and feel under a lot of pressure. This is despite the fact that we know that many young people are very much on the edge these days. Do those young people think that their parents will love them less if they don’t get an A* – and are they actually right? Perhaps those parents would argue that putting pressure on them is their way of showing love, and after all, parents are as much at sea about their role these days as everyone else, but I’m not sure if that’s how it is translating to their kids.

Daughter three has been through a lot, as I said, and that has put much of the world into perspective. Exams are nothing compared to losing a sibling, just like that. That kind of sudden bereavement makes you question every single thing about life, its purpose, its fragility.

I pointed out that the world is a very uncertain place right now, that jobs are changing overnight, that we will have to keep learning every single day and that schools seem to some extent to be living in the past, preparing people for a world of certainty that no longer exists. Daughter three agreed.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try your best and I might use different tactics if I didn’t know daughter three is doing that, but in a fragile scenario, where everything can change and so much is out of your control, A Levels are not the be all and end all of life. What you need is a strong sense of who you are, what gets you through to the next day and what truly matters to you. The other stuff may help you through to the next round of exams, but at the end of the day it’s only an add-on.

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