I’m not sure why parent-teacher conferences intimidate me so much. I just know that they do.
It’s like all my memories from 12 years of school all mush down into this lump of insecurity in my tummy and I have to haul it into the minivan and down the road and into the school parking lot with me. And it’s so much worse than when I was the student because I love my children with a fierce intensity I had no idea I could feel about anyone, least of all myself during the middle school years.
Going into those meetings is like welcoming conversation and commentary about the deepest parts of your own heart.
And I know that we’re not supposed to let ourselves be defined or judged or whatever by our kids and their behavior. But tell that to any mom who is sitting outside the principal’s office or in that hard chair outside the teacher’s homeroom and suddenly she’s 8 all over again.
I made hesitant eye-contact with the other moms in the hallways and watched them wait in their grown up clothes and high heels and make up but I knew that on the inside they all had pimples and braces all over again because there we were – back at the beginning.
My sons could not be more different.
One is your classic firstborn and one is your classic middle child.
I want to go to battle for them.
For all their glorious differences.
They are each these awfully unique parts of me. How do I squish years of loving them and understanding them into 20 minutes?
Because there’s a rather large part of me that wants to sit down at their precious, little, messy desks and stroke the wood and maybe lay my head down next to his name tag and howl about how BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL AND SMART this boy is and how I can’t even fathom that he no longer fits on my lap and how is it possible he is LEARNING SO MANY THINGS WITHOUT ME?
But instead, I simply try to remember four things when I walk into a parent-teacher conference:
1- I need to ask their teacher for at least one thing they did really GREAT. I make sure of it. Because I know I need to come home with something great to report (especially if it’s been a challenging season) Even if it’s how good they are at being the line-leader or washing all the paint brushes or eating their lunch. I know they’ll need that. And so will I.
2- I want to know one specific thing that we can embrace as a CHALLENGE – that’s what we call it at our house. A challenge – because that implies going to battle, heroics, courage – what can I say, I have boys. They love challenges. And prioritizing one specific thing helps achieving it seem less intimidating and way less demoralizing than coming home with a list of scattegories that are all failures. So I frame it like a challenge – instead of failure. We embrace challenges. Because everyone needs a good challenge to shoot for; to grow.
3- I want their teachers to believe me when I say that we are PARTNERS. I don’t want to be defensive, I want to be totally open to learning about my children from these people who have such a unique 6 hours a day with them. So if they tell me that my kid is showing attitude or using bad language or disrespecting the sub, I BELIEVE THEM. And then we work together to figure out what comes next in the plan.
4- I want to help WRITE MY KIDS’ STORIES, not simply resign myself to being a passive reader. This has made all the difference during years when a son has been particularly trying for his teacher (and, let’s face it, his mother). Taking the time to email and share a specific insight into my son, what his name means, how we’re nurturing his character, what goals we’ve set for him – these equip a teacher and remind a mother that she’s not a passive participant, but an active, radical story shaper.
And then I come home and make dates with my sons.
To root for them. To laugh with them. To share their greats as well as their challenges.
And to eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream.
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