The Parent and School Relationship: The Blame Game for Adults
“Why do they go into a lecture mode?” complained my husband.
We were at a parent session on children’s health and fitness, organized by my son’s play school. The meeting had started out well enough, both interesting and informative, but soon the tone became prescriptive, almost accusatory, as though everything we knew and did as parents was wrong. Halfway through, my husband stopped grumbling and simply walked out, unable to handle the condescension.
Most of us in attendance were first-time parents, keenly aware of our limitations; I freely admit to often being clueless and wrong in my judgment, giving into the “no-nos” out of desperation or convenience, and I’m not that different from my peers. We certainly needed the guidance, which is why we were there.
But it didn’t feel good to be treated like children. And worse – to be made to feel that we were failing our own.
Backed into a corner, parental hostility was not surprising.
“What do you think of the school?” a parent casually asked the group waiting to pick up kids on a day not long after the session.
“Too expensive!” said one.
We all made clucking sounds — like we could see her point, but that was not on the top of our list.
Then, the can opened and out came the worms– all our expectations from the school, as parents, in the form of a complaint.
“They don’t teach enough!”
“They don’t take them out into the sun at all. The kids remain cooped up the classroom all the time!”
“We don’t see our kids in action enough. They should send us videos.”
If the teachers had been present, they would have walked out, just like my husband.
The funny thing is, I like the school. I like that my son comes bouncing out of the gates, chirpy, excited, and joyful. I like the teachers’ care and the effort — evident in their handmade, theme-based decorations and in the activities they designed for the children from my very first visit. It was clear that they intended well, wanted to do their best for the kids.
But as my son began to attend regularly, I had a nagging feeling that their best was not enough, not for my son. My son was getting toilet trained at home – an effort I felt should have continued during school hours. Instead, his time at school was chock-a-block full of activities (fun, I am sure, but less critical to our family). I took some time to come to terms with the fact that the teachers and attendants probably didn’t have the bandwidth for what I thought was most important for my son; they were too busy doing what they thought was most important.
This is what the other parents were complaining about, too. Not the exact same skill or issue, but the mismatch between efforts and expectations: the working mother who didn’t have time to take her kid outside during the day wanted him to spend more time outdoors at school; the mother whose son was not very communicative about what he did in school wanted videos documenting his activities. We all wanted the school to be an extension of our home, ourselves.
We wanted the school to fill in for us where we lacked.
In many ways, this is what the school wants from us as well. The “parent-child projects” (those perpetual thorns in my side) and the innumerable expectations from teachers regarding clothing (“dress like a flag for Republic Day,” “dress in yellow for baisakhi,” – which I gave up five festivals back at orange), and even the diktats from the health and well-being session were the school’s ways of getting parents to carry forward its effort.
The school, parents – we both want the same thing; unfortunately, we come at it from very different perspectives, which wrecks havor on the parent and school relationship.
The teachers have a classroom full of children to care for, a template and pedagogy to follow. Their mandate is to do the best for the collective, and can’t always attend to the individual. When I see it from their perspective, I can see how, in a class where my son is among the oldest, potty training may not be a priority for the group.
On the other hand, parents have more opportunity to see children as individuals, to know and respond to their specific and unique needs and peculiarities. So, while I fully subscribe to and follow the health and wellness advice imparted by the instructors at the school, every so often, I give my son some of the forbidden foods. He’ll eat them anyway, eventually, and it makes our lives easier.
Schools and parents can’t be extensions of one another — but maybe that’s not so unfortunate after all. We each have a role to play and we need each other. I need the school and my son’s wonderful teachers to continue helping him learn to socialize, to be part of a bigger group, to interact, play, share, laugh and sing with other children and adults. And the school needs me to provide individualized care, nurturing and discipline so my son is healthy, alert – ready to learn and enjoy it. We might all be happier – and lecture, and complain less – if we keep this in mind.
And, who knows, when the two biggest influences in their lives quit being at loggerheads, our kids might benefit, too. Seems possible.