There’s something about the A-level results that marks a change for the family. Claire Hailwood looks at some of the nuances
Although I know in theory that there’s no difference between someone who is aged 17 and 364 days and an 18-year-old, there is something about the 18th birthday which is a milestone.
I think the same is true of the results day that usually falls in that same year, whether that’s A-levels, highers or other technical or vocational qualifications. They feel different to exams at 16 which are broader in their subject range. At 18, people have specialised and focused on subjects or skills which are sometimes a pathway to what comes next. These exams come alongside the official arrival of adulthood and therefore hold a greater significance and weight because of what comes next - whether that’s university or other further education, or a step into work – it marks the end of compulsory education.
For us raising children, it’s a significant end of an era, even if the child remains living at home. We may find ourselves doing the final school run and whilst there’s a relief that comes with that, there’s also some grief attached.
And while it’s important not to undermine or downplay the significance of GCSE results and their impact, positively or negatively, for the majority of students, results at 18 carry a greater weight and significance for their ongoing journey. It doesn’t mean it’s final or irreversible because success looks different and happens at different ages and stages, but a failed exam at 18 can mean no place at university or having to retake before starting work or continuing further education.
As results day rolls round on Thursday, whatever that looks like for your young adult, there are lots of layers to how we may feel as the day approaches.
Here’s three places you could start.
1. Time for you
On an aeroplane I’m always struck by the instruction to put an oxygen mask on yourself before helping any infant you may be responsible for. Fortunately, I’ve never needed to do either, but the principle is important. As we approach results day and transition season, we must create space to process our feelings. Part of the reason why this is important is so that we can support our children well without our personal feelings becoming too connected in an unhelpful way
When my husband was at this stage of his life, his parents wrote him a letter. It detailed the things they loved about him, things they’d learned as they’d raised him, mistakes they’d made (largely about insisting he ate mushrooms!) and how and why they were proud of him. Critically, they wrote about their commitment to release him into what came next, acknowledging some of the grief they felt in doing so.
Writing a letter isn’t for everyone, but as a marker of that milestone it was significant for my husband and his parents, not least because of the process that they had journeyed before they wrote the letter so they could set him up to ‘leave’.
How do you process what you feel, the significance of the stage and the emotions it evokes? Whatever works best for you, create space to do it well.
How could you invite your young person into that in a way that is positive and marks the moment without being weird or unhelpful. It will be different for everyone but it’s important, firstly, to acknowledge where you’re at yourself to feel the feelings and process them!
2. Plan ahead
You may have a good sense of how the assessment period has gone and therefore what outcome you may be heading towards. You may not! Regardless of how much you think you do or don’t know…
- Talk with your young person about how and what they want to mark. If it’s important to you that part of that celebrating happens with family, then be sure to express that to them (as they’re not mind readers!) whilst acknowledging that some of their marking of these moments will happen first with friends. Talk about it beforehand to reduce the amount of ‘in the moment’ conversations which can sometimes be challenging.
- Know your options! If your child may be heading to university, are you aware of clearing and how it works if grades aren’t as hoped for? Do you know what happens next if grades are great and how to accept a place? If further training or a job is next, do you know broadly what next steps are – if you can arm yourselves with some basics then you can be a guide / fellow journey-er with your child whatever the outcome!
- Plan to flex! Planning doesn’t mean you have to (or should be) too rigid. Instead, the planning prepares you to be able to adjust accordingly to how it outworks in real life!
Are there verses that you’ve prayed for your child and family consistently or promises you’ve believed or held on to for them? This is a time to return to those and double down in that prayer life!
In the run up, as you get results and as what comes next unfolds, whether that’s good, challenging, unexpected or likely all the above! Perhaps this is a time to ask God to show you something new in a familiar passage? To speak to you through them for this time?
God wants to speak to and through us, in this season as in any other. To speak to the promise of calling that supersedes results. To our anxious hearts for and with our kids, to reassure them and us of His presence, and to a world around us consumed with all this without the peace-giving, loving, gracious, kindness of God that we get to know.
What if this time was one where we saw God more at work in and through us and our kids because of prayers prayed? What if in the tension of grief and release, opportunity and waiting, we knew God more deeply?
Again, on the emotional rollercoaster that is parenting, what a privilege that we get to be alongside our kids?
Oh. And always have chocolate on standby. It covers a multitude of results and feelings for all involved.