The Day My Daughter’s Best Wasn’t Good Enough

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As I dropped my oldest daughter off for her first day of Kindergarten, I lingered at the door, intentionally choosing the words I wanted to leave with her on such a big day. I hugged her and left her with an important promise, “Sweetheart, no matter what, as long as you do your best, Mommy and Daddy will be proud of you.”

My parents had made the same promise to me as a young girl and it positively shaped me as a student. I didn’t worry about achieving a specific grade and that freed me up to focus on doing my best and I excelled.

The next year, when she started first grade, we reminded her that her best effort was enough for us. She took it to heart and started the year with the desire to succeed. She organized her backpack, created systems for completing her homework, and set goals all by herself. We were pleasantly surprised by her intrinsic motivation and assumed this would be indicative of the rest of the year.

Then life became very busy. We added a fourth baby to our crew and she started missing words on her weekly spelling lists. After a couple of weeks, her teacher suggested she move to a different spelling list and see how she did with that. I felt like I failed her and chalked it up to me spending more time with our new little one and not enough time preparing our oldest for school each day.

But then she became increasingly frustrated with reading. When we read together she could confidently read some sight words, but if she had to decode and sound out a word, it would take a very long time. Words she read on the left hand page would be forgotten by the time she got to the right hand page.

She desperately wanted to read. She practiced sight word flashcards. She faithfully completed her homework.

She gave her best, but it wasn’t “good enough.”

Our school village became incredibly important and proactive for our family. Her teacher and our school’s reading specialist suggested we test her for learning differences. Our school’s reading specialist helped us navigate testing and introduced us to other families that had walked the path before us. These families poured out wisdom, encouragement, and practical advice. Two moms at our school with older children shared their phone numbers and took time to talk with me and check on us every step of the way.

A few months later, after a couple of days of testing, various meetings, and few weeks to compile data, I held the papers in my hand that detailed her official diagnosis of dyslexia. I sat on the other side of the thin wall and listened to the doctor’s calm voice rise and fall as she explained what it meant to my daughter. I heard my little girl’s precious voice interject questions every so often and my heart broke for her and the unknowns ahead. I sank deeper into the chair and thought about the extra hard work that will be needed, the nights of frustration, the possible labels, and the injustice of not grasping something easily the first time.  

But my promise hasn’t wavered.

By some educational standards my daughter’s best effort isn’t good enough.

But my husband and I are immensely proud of her best.

Her best effort may not win any academic awards right now, but her best effort is producing an incredibly persistent spirit, an amazing work ethic, and a heart for others that struggle.

Her grades might not ever qualify her for academic scholarships, but her best effort is developing a confidence in overcoming obstacles, an awareness of her own endurance, and a determination that will take her far in life.

The road ahead is a bit hazy. We don’t know when she’ll read, if she’ll retain her love of school, or how long she’ll need remediation, but we do know that we’re surrounded by a village that will continue support us every step of the way.

And each day I drop her off with a hug and familiar promise: “Sweetheart, no matter what, as long as you do your best, Mommy and Daddy will be proud of you.”

Another post on dealing with a dyslexia diagnosis here.