Sometimes I will say “I love you” to my mom, and she’ll respond casually by saying, “Good, because you’re stuck with me.” It always annoyed me. I didn’t feel that that was an adequate response – certainly she wasn’t matching my sentiment by saying something like that! But recently I’ve realized that it’s the perfect response – what could be more important to hear than that someone isn’t going away no matter what? What is more thoroughly demonstrative of love than refusing to walk away, regardless of how hard I may make that. In truth, it’s a statement of the unconditional. And what is more valuable than that?
There is a tendency to blame the parents for their children’s bad behavior. And in truth – there is a connection to be made. The parents who come to parent teacher conferences have the best behaved children. The same kids who give me a hard time seem to also give their parents a hard time. When I call a home, I can tell immediately what will be done to punish the child and whether or not it will work. When you look at the parents, you can tell a lot about the kids. Many of the students are in shelters, and living at various degrees of poverty, but even those who are in shelters can come to school and perform well when they have parents who are invested.
And because we know this – we do blame the parents. It’s frustrating to call a house and know that nothing will happen. It’s difficult to hear a parent say they don’t know what they can do to change their students behavior, or to call and hear them resigned to their children’s low performance.
Worst of all are the parents who will respond by threatening to get rid of their kids – to take them to court, to send them to their other parent, to send them away. These things sound unfathomable, and yet in reality they happen all the time. I will tell a parent that their child is acting up in class, being disrespectful, cursing, having an attitude, not doing their work, tagging desks, etc. The parents will get an angry look on their face and do what they think is the most responsible thing that they can do, which usually begins with them reprimanding the behaviors. This is normal, this is what is expected. What is not expected, is that that reprimand will decline into them disowning the child.
“I have warned you, you will be out of here, I took your brother to court, and Iw ill get you out as well if you do not change this.”
Or, at other times:
“You will be gone. You will be living with your father, is that what you want? I don’t want you around.”
These threats are tossed out idly, and it’s difficult to believe that there is any truth to them, and yet you have to think about the effect that hearing that has on a child. I always walk away and immediately forgive the student for all of the things that they did. You walk away and it becomes obvious why they are so desperate for attention – positive or negative – for some affirmation. You look at the parent, and you understand the child.
Everyone blames the parents. And then you think further – that these parents arent’ much older than I, at 23, am. That they had kids when they were still kids a lot of the time. At 23 I am fully unprepared to be a parent, and if I had a kid 5 or 10 years ago, when I was still just a baby, how prepared would I be? How good of a parent would I be? Is it really the parents fault that they don’t know how to be a good parent – don’t understand the importance of unconditional, because perhaps they themselves didn’t have it. We have had several pregnant girls in the 8th grade this year, and if they become mothers there is no way that they will know the first thing about how to set an example. They are still getting into fights in the lunchroom, throwing food and cursing out teachers when their temper rises. Blame the parents – but really blame the cycle. When kids are having kids, how do they become parents? If my students have babies, they aren’t parents – they’re just kids with kids.