Let’s Start Here.

I spend a lot of my time with educators of every sort. Teachers, administrators, daycare providers, librarians, coaches, counselors, etc. There is no common theme to their roles or even much shared experience except for two things– they all work with kids and they all work with parents.

Every person I work with does the work they do because they love children.  That is obvious. They wouldn’t keep doing it if that wasn’t the case. But the more I keep conversing, interacting, and working together with all these educators I find myself wondering what we could accomplish if they loved parents as much as they love children.

I was at an education conference recently and I was listening to discussions from many different groups about different challenges they were facing. The overarching topic that I continually heard grumbled about again and again wasn’t assessment, or funding. It wasn’t graduation rates or new curriculum. It wasn’t even standardized tests. It was parents.

The biggest obstacle many of these educators were facing was parents.

Parents who didn’t care. Parents who didn’t show up. Parents who interfered. Parents who criticized. Parents who were dramatic and parents who were completely absent.

On many levels I understand this. As someone who works with children there is no better hope for a child than to have involved and loving parents. But on many levels I also don’t understand this, because as a parent who loves my children dearly there are many times that I feel like I just can’t win.

If we don’t check the homework folder every night, if we don’t help our children with their math, if we don’t show up at parent teacher conferences, if we don’t encourage them to go to college and help them apply for financial aid, if we don’t keep them home when they are sick, if we don’t read to them every night and sign their spelling words and countless other tasks then we risk being viewed as negligent.

And if we show up for every field trip and volunteer to decorate bulletin boards, if we ask for a conference with our child’s teacher to discuss their classroom behavior, if we investigate college choices to help guide their decision, if we do email checkins and keep them home every time their nose is running and their forehead feels hot then we risk being viewed as a helicopter parent. 

Being that I can serve in both the roles, educator and parent, I get that there is a line between negligence and hovering that we hope parents can find. But even knowing that the line exists, I frequently feel like I am trying to find it while blindfolded with nobody to guide me. Even when I do reach the middle, it is so difficult to stay there.

Later in the conference when we were talking about data collection someone asked a panel how we can better get parents to cooperate with us and give us the information we are looking for without resistance.

I almost spit my coffee out.

I can’t IMAGINE why parents wouldn’t want to cooperate with us.

Nobody on the panel had an answer. Nobody could think of a single way to gain the cooperation of parents.

As a parent, I wanted to say this. Well, I wanted to yell it really, but I would have settled for saying it.

Let’s start here. 

Anytime you feel the urge to criticize a parent– no matter what the reason– first find some common ground.

Empathize.

Imagine yourself in their role for a full twenty four hours. Not a minute. Not ten. An entire day. Think about what they are doing when they aren’t doing what you want them to do to help their child succeed. Are they working a second job instead of helping with homework? Or think about why they are doing so much more than you think they should be doing if they are doting on their child’s every move. Are they scared that their child might be harmed?

Rationalize. 

There are some bad parents out there. It is tragic and undeniable. But for the most part, every parent I have ever worked with had one thing in common. They love their child and want them to succeed. Not everyone knows how to materialize that feeling into success, but that is where we should be able to come in.

Compliment. 

It might sound crazy that you should compliment someone that you want to criticize, but if you have imagined yourself in their shoes and come to the conclusion that they love their child and want them to succeed, you should be able to find something to compliment them on. It shows parents that you see them and recognize everything they are doing. It builds trust and lowers barriers.

It makes us feel like you are rooting for us to succeed. 

When my children are fighting, which is a lot of the time, my husband will yell at them “SAME TEAM! SAME TEAM!” It is an attempt to remind them that they really should be working together, not against each other.

Each time I hear an educator complain about parents, or parents complain about an educator I want to yell out “SAME TEAM!” And to be honest, sometimes I need someone to yell it at me. I have been guilty on both fronts.

We really are on the same team. We want the same outcome. We need each other to succeed.

So if you are in a profession because you love children, then know that you could better their lives if you love parents as well. They are your best teammates in this game.

Let’s start here to make this work.

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