Parenting a “Difficult” Child
I am a teacher. And a mom. So, my days are full of “Be nice!,” “Go get a tissue!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!”.
And, mind you, I teach high school students.
But, I am also the mother of two spirited little boys. The older of the two is in preschool right now.
Now, I am going to sound like a total asshole here pretty soon. Feel free to stop reading right now if you are easily offended.
In my career with high school students, I have tackled subjects from eugenics to Descartes to anitdisestablishmentarianism. We’ve discussed psychology, faith and String Theory. We read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Orwell.
Now, I do not believe that my job is necessarily more important than that of an Early Childhood educator. I don’t even know enough about Early Childhood to even speak intelligently about what it is that they do all day, though on more than one occasion I have snobbily remarked that they pretty much just pass out crayons.
But, my experience has led me to conclude that teachers of children of the ages 4 to about 7 just may try to blur the line between authority figure and parent a bit more than I find comfortable.
Whew. That was better than I thought it was going to be. First Grade teachers everywhere are probably a little pissed, but I am proud that I managed to keep my assholery to a minimum so far, though.
Let’s dissect a bit, however.
Personally, I do not feel as though my child’s teacher has the right or the responsibility to help me to “learn” to parent “correctly.” Now, believe you me, I would love to tell a few parents of a few ninth graders I know about how to do a better job at home. I’d probably be fired for saying some of the things I’ve been thinking. So, I am not sure why the teacher of a preschool student, for example, should be offering “advice,” either, really. In fact, I find it to be pretty inappropriate. And, frankly, if I want your fucking opinion, I will be sure to ask for it.
In the past year, my son’s teacher has done a phenomenal job of developing curriculum, keeping academic rigor high, and allowing him to develop intellectually to his own potential. She has also managed to send me “helpful” articles, suggestions, and daily “updates” that discuss the minutia of his behavioral “issues.” She has also lassoed our part-time nanny into picking him up early from school on days (which I have paid — a whole lot — for him to be present) when she finds his behavior too trying. Two days ago, she called the nanny 15 minutes into the school day to warn her that she may be calling to have our son removed from school that day. She did not end up requiring him to leave, though.
Before I had kids, I always sort of wanted parents of my students to know when their kids were real dicks. I’d write down the blasphemous, racist, insensitive, vulgar, sexist bullshit they would spew word-for-word on detention forms. I wanted to quote those little snots. I wanted parents to know that they were raising animals. I wanted some smug mom to know that her baby wasn’t the angel she thought he was.
Now, as a mom, I now realize that we all know that our kids aren’t perfect. We all realize that WE aren’t perfect, either. I suck at math. But, I am pretty bomb at Wheel of Fortune, for example.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
So, I feel now as though a child’s perceived weaknesses need not be recapped, reiterated, written about, reviewed and discussed freaking constantly.
TEACHER: “Your kid doesn’t really always play very nicely with others.”
ME: “Neither do I.”
And, yet I find myself concerned about the potential stigma for my child and for me if he should be labeled (albeit secretly in a faculty lounge somewhere where ladies in holiday-themed sweaters, gossip about MY kid, repeat the crazy, out-of-context weirdness he learned from his father and me, and share strategies on where to buy the best scented ink-stamp pads) “difficult.”
Am I parenting a “difficult” child? I don’t think so. He is his own little man and his ideas don’t always mesh with mine. His needs and desires don’t always align with mine. His interests don’t always connect with mine. And, every teacher isn’t going to think he is fabulous (just like every teacher isn’t going to think he’s a ghoul, either).
I go on the Super Nanny website. I have “house rules.” I set boundaries. I have clear and pre-defined consequences for negative behaviors. I have instituted a positive behavioral reward system. I have consistent expectations and have regular talks about respect, kindness, teamwork, sharing, calmness, taking turns and showing love. My husband is very much a co-parent in all of this, too. My kid is absolutely getting a united front before him.
We’re doing things right.
And, now I see that many, many, many parents of the “difficult” children I have taught were doing things right, too. It wasn’t my fault as a teacher that a kid failed a class or misbehaved in school any more than it was the parent’s fault. Our kids are all given tools to survive in the world. They choose, willfully, if, how, and when they will use them.
You are not parenting a difficult child. Neither am I. And, don’t let a teacher, healthcare worker, therapist, or judge tell you otherwise. But, when problems seem consistent, something we’re doing to manage our children’s behaviors and abilities isn’t working.
And, you should feel free and welcome to ask the appropriate experts for their advice on how to approach things in a more meaningful and potentially successful way.
But, no one really should feel the freedom to provide you with that “advice” if it is not solicited.
Feel free to tell your teacher that you would love to have a phone call at work if your child is, say, bleeding from the head, projectile vomiting, fist-fighting in class, or making terroristic threats to other youngsters. He or she should not call you at the office, though, to tell you that your daughter seems to need more structured playtime, your son should learn to share his toys, or your twins cannot stop pinching each other.
And, as a teacher, it is my JOB to deal with your crazy kids between the hours of 7:36 and 3:06. It is unacceptable for me to tell you to come get your kid at 8:00 because I just can’t deal with her anymore. I am paid to deal with her.
Labels are always wrong. Except on Campbell’s soup. We need those. I don’t like surprises. But, labels don’t belong on our kids. Unless I ask you how you’d label him, you should keep your judgmental attitude to your damn self.
We all know that there are crappy parents out there. Some of that bad parenting MAY cause some of our schools to contain horrifying little monsters. But, we should be clear that it is not a teacher’s job to judge a parent’s worth or ability. We can THINK anything we want as teachers. But, under no circumstances should I share my opinions of your shortcomings with you.
Even though more parents than I can count have shared THEIR opinions about MY teaching shortcomings with me…