If you are the kind of mother whose cheeks hurt from smiling after a PTA meeting, then this article may not be for you.
If you are the kind of mother who does not panic when you see your child’s school’s number on your caller ID in middle of the day, you might want to turn the page and head straight to the recipe section.
Enjoy your goody two-shoes (for as long as it lasts). Really. I’m happy for you.
If you are like me, though, the kind of mother who breaks out in hives while walking into a parent-teacher conference or the kind who would rather receive a call from the IRS than from the secretary of her child’s school, this article is for you. Because, like me, you know how the rest of that phone conversation goes.
You know the voice on the other end is going to say, “Everything is okay,” but that perfectly rehearsed opener offers little relief. You’ll read between the lines to know that while, thankfully, your child is physically fine, you still have good reason to dissolve into a cold sweat.
“Your child is currently sitting in the principal’s office, and we need you to come down here for a meeting before he can be allowed back into class.”
Maybe that’s just the way it happens to me. Maybe I’m the only one who makes my way to the principal’s office with my heart thumping so loudly I wonder if the stern secretary sitting at the front desk can hear it.
I walk into the principal’s office, pretending to be cool and calm. And then my heart drops.
I see my child’s face: pale, contrite, panic-stricken. The very image of remorse.
And I suddenly know where the expression “between a rock and a hard place” comes from. Because I have no idea what role I’m expected to play.
Am I supposed to be my child’s most ardent defender?
Am I supposed to be the principal’s unwavering supporter?
I try to keep my face expressionless as I ask to be filled in on the day’s events. Of course, each side tells a story, and the stories do not line up.
My child is innocent, he insists, just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My child is not innocent, the principal insists, because he put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What’s a well-intentioned mother to do?
Maybe I should do what my parents always did. I grew up in a home where the teacher was always right. I knew better than to offer my feeble defense. I knew whose side my parents would take, and deep down, I respected their respect for authority. But I have a perspective that my parents never had – I am a teacher myself.
I’d like to think that I’m always right, and I love parents who insist I’m always right, but real life has taught me otherwise. Like everyone, I have those bad days in the classroom I’d prefer to forget, when I say something I know I should not have said, when I react one way when I wish I would have reacted another way.
So when the principal and teacher read their charges against my child, and when my child vociferously denies those charges, I am stuck. I know neither side is perfect. I know for sure that it really should not matter which side is right. What matters is what we choose to do next.
When I look at my child’s stricken face, I know that I am his only advocate. The teacher has his own crew of people who have his back. But my child, no matter what he has done to earn his spot in the principal’s office, has only me to stand behind him.
So I ask my child to wait for me outside. And I look both the teacher and the principal in the eye and ask for a few minutes of their time.
Let me tell you about my child. Let me share with you his strengths, his challenges, and what works well for me at home. Let’s strategize about what we ALL can do to be mechanech this child.
The good news is my son’s principals are immediately on board. My son is not suspended (though he does have to accept a reasonable consequence for his actions).
And I learned that I don’t have to choose a side.
As we start a new school year, blessed with the opportunity to make a fresh start, a healthy relationship between parents and teachers is the best gift we can give our children.
If we listen to each other – if we see each other as partners – we will be able to focus on what is really right: our children need to know we are in their corner – especially when they find themselves in a little bit of trouble.
Wishing all mothers out there a year of nachas and hatzlacha!