I believe that parents should be parents – not their children’s best friends.
During my middle school years I lived in Paris, where my father was diplomat. Every Friday in school, I had to recite a French poem in front of my class of 25 students. Afterwards, I had to sit down and write out the poem from memory, in flawless French. The following Monday, Mme. Lucas would hand the written portion back and I would see a big red C or D with an exclamation mark next to it. No frowny faces or “better luck next time”, just pure Gallic disgust. I had to get my parents’ signature on the poem and bring it back the next day. This was the French way; grades were posted outside the classroom and revealed to your parents immediately- no way out!
At home, I knew that there would be no sympathy or pats on my back. My parents loved me but also knew that I could be lazy. What they didn’t know was that desperation could also lead me to be deceitful. I began to forge my mother’s signature on the graded work. I am sure that Mme Lucas knew what I was doing from day one, but she wondered how long I would keep this up…answer: as long as I could. She finally hauled me in and told me that I had to confess to my parents. I was grounded for who knows how long, and I never did something like that again, once was enough.
As I look back on my childhood I realize that my parents’ greatest gift to me was their reactions to my failures. I knew deep down in my heart that while I caused them disappointment they still loved me unconditionally- one was not connected with the other.
Now, I have been a teacher myself for some twenty-five years. And I realize that in that long ago event my parents also gave a gift to Mme. Lucas: they did not see her as a minor functionary but a critical figure in the development of their child. Together they worked as a unit, not as adversaries.
I became a teacher because of my teachers, because of people like Mme. Lucas, Dr. Brown and Mr. Wright none of whom coddled me or let me slide. Instead they demanded the best from me and my parents were there to support them every step of the way. And I became the parent that I am because of my parents – who loved me enough to let me face my own failures.
As I look at the students and parents whom I work with, however, I see a disturbing trend. There seem to be a lot of parents who see their role in life to be their child’s best friend, no matter what they have done. A colleague of mine recently told me of a child who was suspended from school. The following weekend the parents took the child to the Super Bowl to cheer them up. In another instance the school disciplined a student for academic dishonesty and the parents reaction was that it was “no a big deal”. As department chair I constantly hear teachers complain that they have to justify a grade to a parent.
I believe that the tough part of parenting is to understand your child’s weaknesses and not cover them up. Instead parents need to help their child to understand that this struggle is a tough part of his or her overall education and growing up experience and that it is okay that he or she is not perfect. A significant part of childhood is the bumps that one encounters, those challenges that are not always resolved perfectly but are overcome.
When Mme. Lucas and my parents joined forces, creating a Reign of Terror with a single victim, they taught me to stand on my two feet, to hold myself accountable for my actions and, above all, that I had the ability to rise above the situation and become stronger. This I believe.
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