Echo Buzz: Dear Mom and Dad: I Am Sorry, I Wasn’t Smart Enough

In the tense silence of the classroom, time stretches thin, each second laden with anticipation. Beads of sweat form on your palms and stomach churns with acid, as the teacher calls out names, distributing the dreaded invitation cards to hell—exam results. As the paper is placed in your quivering hands, you dare not meet the gaze of anyone, fearing the judgement that awaits within the confines of that single sheet of paper. With a heart pounding louder than a drum, you cautiously unfold the paper, eyes darting to the grade stamped in bold letters at the top. Yet, strangely, your mind doesn’t linger on the result itself, but rather leaps ahead to the inevitable interrogation awaiting at home. 

Whether it’s a stellar 90% or a mediocre 50%, the looming shadow of parental scrutiny remains unchanged. Every mark carries the weight of unspoken expectations, the burden of familial pride, and the ghosts of generational trauma. In this battlefield of academia, every grade on the page becomes a measure of validation and approval, that ultimately leaves scars that run deeper than ink on paper.


It begins at kindergarten, a sanctuary of innocence and joy, becoming tinged with the weight of parental expectations, setting the tone for the years ahead. A simple English test on spelling wild animals feels like deciphering literary texts, and falling short of an ‘A’ brings about a sense of failure, deepening our insecurities and a belief in our own mediocrity. Teachers inadvertently fan the flames of parental discontent with phrases like “careless” or “too playful to focus”. With each admonishment, a small piece of childhood joy slips away, replaced by the weight of your parents’ thirst for academic perfection.


Transitioning to primary school marks a shift from vibrant colours to muted pastels. It’s a time of budding friendships, experiencing the first pangs of sadness, and feeling the surge of pride and ambition at every corner. Each day feels like a fresh start, until a moment shatters that illusion. One day, as you work on a math problem, you seek your father’s help, but his reaction is far from supportive. “How can you not even solve this?!?” and “Why can’t you be as sharp as your friends?!” His once-soft voice becomes a barrage of accusations, echoing around the room as he questions your intelligence and compares you unfavourably to your peers. Tears well up as you struggle to maintain composure, your trembling hands smudging the ink on the paper. After hours of struggle, you finally grasp the concept, but the victory feels hollow in the wake of your father’s harsh words. As he retreats to bed, you’re left alone at the dining table, grappling with feelings of inadequacy compared to your seemingly proficient friends. Defeated and deflated, now the weight of comparison hangs heavy in the air, casting a shadow over your budding sense of self-worth —”Why am I not smart enough?”.


Then comes high school, where most of your motivation has withered, and survival becomes the primary goal. The once bright light within dims, overshadowed by the fear of disappointing parents with anything less than top grades. Despite feeling demotivated, you press on, driven by the dread of parental disapproval. Enduring stress, panic attacks, and depressive episodes, all masked by a fake smile as you navigate the endless piles of homework and revision. Dark circles deepen under your eyes, and friendships fade into the background, because what does it matter if you’re not the smartest? Exam season comes and goes, and the results bring not relief but a gnawing anxiety about others outperforming you, a fear more maddening than the thought of failure. You reassure yourself it’s all worth it to make your parents proud, but in moments of exhaustion and isolation, you question if it truly is.

College is the final blow, the nail in the coffin. Just when you thought you had nothing left to give, you’re expected to act like an adult—but not so much that you seem too mature for your age. Transitioning from a nine-hour day in high school to a five-hour day in college should be easy, but it’s not. In fact, it’s much harder, especially when you factor in the sacrifices that come with it. Whether you like it or not, you’re expected to perform and be the best student ever. After all, you’re paying thousands of dollars each semester, so how can there be room for burnout? Then a moment of epiphany — a realisation that being smart isn’t everything. But, that is all you have ever known in your life, so you keep going. You burn, and burn, and burn, all for a simple “good job” from mom and dad. Burning to the point where your blood turns to ashes and your bones crumble under the weight of validation.


Now, while you sit at the end of the road, school days collecting dust on the shelves of life, everything comes crashing down. “Did I really succeed?”, “Were my parents ever proud?”. All you can recall is not their praises or reassurances, but them calling up relatives and friends to flaunt your achievements. It was never about whether you made it; it was merely a status symbol for them. The sudden, bitter truth seeps in — you were nothing but a shiny trophy.


“Stop running!” your mom yells as she chases you around the house, a cane in her hand that feels like a red-hot iron ready to bruise your skin and soul for eternity. Terrified, you frantically search for a hiding spot, finally locking yourself in the bathroom, praying she’ll tire and give up. Instead, you huddle behind the door, absorbing the onslaught of her verbal abuse. “You failed after I paid so much for tuition!” she screams. You try to reason with her, snot running down your nose, tears smudging your face, “Ma, I promise I tried.” Her anger is somewhat understandable — she did work overtime to pay for that tuition — but, if she had paused to consider your own sleepless nights and relentless efforts, neither of you would be trapped in this cycle. Yet, she’s impervious to your pleas, her wrath fueled by exhaustion and stress. Defeated, you muster the courage to unlock the door, ready to bare your back for the cane’s imprints. 

In the aftermath of her rage, she is consumed by regret for her harshness, while you melt into a realm of self-doubt, questioning your worth. Sure, this might drive you to try harder until you’re utterly spent, but is it truly a motivation, or just fear?


“She’s scored straight A’s”, Dad boasts to a friend he bumped into at the supermarket. You cower behind him, wishing the floor would open up and swallow you whole. His friend congratulates you, radiating admiration for your supposed ‘achievement’. After what feels like an eternity, they finally wrap up the conversation, and you and Dad proceed to the next aisle. He remains silent, and you desperately wish he would address the blatant lie he just sold to his friend — straight A’s. You didn’t get straight A’s; you got a mix of B’s and A’s, to which your parents responded with a tepid “alright”. Witnessing the falsehood, you question: Did I embarrass them? Am I not good enough? They said, “You did what you could,” but, was it for your reassurance or to ease their own disappointment? Maybe passing the education system wasn’t enough. Perhaps studying more despite your deteriorating mental health could’ve helped. Maybe you shouldn’t have silently spiralled into despair. Perhaps… you shouldn’t have been born?

A deluge of questions flood your mind, each one relishing in the dismantling of your sense of self. Education, once lionised as a pathway to success, now transformed into your darkest nightmare. The classroom morphs into a battlefield, homework becomes a loaded gun, and exams resemble ticking time-bombs. With each new semester, each passing year, you find yourself thrust into an unrelenting war. Survive, and you’re hailed as a model child who honours their parents’ sacrifices. Fail, and you’re cast as the ultimate disappointment, accused of disregarding all they’ve given for your education. However, should you falter and fall, it’s at that moment, amidst sympathetic tears and murmurs of regret, that they ponder, “Perhaps we pushed too hard”. But what comfort does hindsight offer at the funeral of the future?


From a parental standpoint, school days often appear as idyllic as rainbows and unicorns. After all, to them, we aren’t consumed with worries about bills, putting food on the table, or ensuring there’s enough savings to weather life’s storms. Our primary concerns should only revolve around excelling academically and upholding the family’s reputation. To a certain extent, this viewpoint seems valid. They toil day and night, striving to provide the best education and sustenance, fostering an environment where success seems within reach. However, despite their best efforts, life has a knack for injecting poison into even the well-guarded apple. 

The incessant refrains of “I sacrifice everything for you, so you’d better make it worth it”, and “I deprive myself at work for your sake”, can serve as a potent driving force. However, they also sow seeds of deep-seated fear of failure — a fear that doesn’t offer opportunities for growth but rather threatens to consume one’s very existence.

Their desires for our well-being are genuine, yet when the topic of mental health arises and struggles are laid bare, blame often shifts to modern culture and excessive internet usage. Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault; they were raised under similar pressures by their own parents. In Asian culture, where education and talent have historically been the only avenues to ascend the societal ladder, success is often measured solely by the knowledge one carries within their mind. This mindset is passed down through generations, ingraining the belief that failure to excel academically equates to being relegated to the bottom of the food chain.

Hence, the pressure for academic perfection birthed a generation of students who base their self-worth with the letters on their report cards. They may refer to themselves as academic weapons, but in reality, they are simply children who once felt the sting of being deemed inferior for scoring lower grades than their peers; a casualty caused by the restless pursuit of academic validation. 


Sadly, this pressure doesn’t dissipate with graduation; it carries on into working life, where academic validation transforms into performance validation. Many are willing to endure overtime for meagre wages, just to garner a nod of acknowledgment from a boss who measures their worth by their output. Enduring hardships, clinging to the hope that their sacrifices will culminate into a coveted promotion. However, as they watch others ascend the corporate ladder while they remain on the sidelines, everything goes back to square one, when they were once that defeated child awaiting the punishment from their mother’s cane. 


Dear Mom and Dad,

In this poignant conclusion to the narrative of academic pressure and parental expectations, may today mark the day we see our children through a new lens, one that illuminates their individuality and unique passions. Let us cast aside the confines of narrow expectations built solely on academic achievements, and instead embrace the full spectrum of their potential. It’s time to see beyond grades and nurture a future where our children’s happiness and fulfilment take precedence over conventional measures of success.

With Love,

Your Child.

Written by: Ruby
Edited by: Poorani

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