Something happened a week ago and I can’t get it out of my head. That usually means I’ve got to write about it so it’s out here instead of running a track through my mind. During a recent visit to the doctor’s office, I was in the waiting room when a mother and two young boys entered the room. Immediately these two little guys took over the office. They were running around, sitting in the middle of the floor, breaking up some small toy and throwing it around the room.
What was mom doing? That’s the part I can’t get out of my head. She sat passively and looked at a point on the wall without talking to, scolding or acknowledging them. I was quiet as long as I could be, thinking “this is none of my business” but when the older of the two worked feverishly to shove one of the pieces of the toy into his ear, I couldn’t take it any more.
I engaged both in conversation saying, “I bet I can guess what grade you boys are going into!” First and third grades, I got it right. Neither boy made eye contact with me (much like their mom). When I said, “don’t stick that in your ear! That’s going to hurt you!” The mother looked at the boy and then at me and I said in a friendly way, “my niece once stuck a lego up her nose and they had to go to the emergency room!” At least the young man stopped when I told him to do so.
Once in the examination room, this family was placed in a room next to mine and I could hear the chaos continuing until the physician’s assistant walked in and said, “stop that and sit down.”
I’ve been thinking about parenting as a skill set ever since. This woman was completely lacking in any parenting skills with no idea of what to do. We end up with children in a school system who have no idea how to behave because they’ve never been taught. I’m not pointing fingers at her, I’m saying she appeared to have no skills as a parent, much like I have no carpentry skills. Only I can hire a carpenter to build something correctly and in her case, she can’t hire anyone and it’s her children who suffer.
I’ve certainly known over-indulgent parents in my work and personal life, this was something beyond indulgence. Goodness knows we all parent differently. There’s nothing that says my way of parenting is better than someone else’s. But my own mother did a really good job and the proof is in her two productive children who have loving families and pretty good kids too. Somehow along the way my role models figured it out and I parented the way I’d learned from example. What about this woman and the others like her? Who helps her learn what to do?
As a school system I would love to reach out to that mom and others like her. Not to say “I’m an expert and this is what you must do” but to say, “I know parenting is hard, I’ve got some experience and some ideas that worked with my kids—can I help you learn what to do with yours?” No parent EVER has done her child a favor by NOT teaching him or her how to behave in this world. Parenting is positively the most important job any of us has to do.
How do we reach those parents who are the neediest? How do they admit to someone like me what they don’t know? Do they even know what they’re doing isn’t working? Does it take Child Protective Services or the county getting involved? And even when the school gets involved, we walk carefully on that line of helping vs. telling parents what to do. I know our elementary counselor is wonderful at supporting our children and families but more often than not parents end up angry and feeling like we’re meddling in their home life.
To further complicate my thinking on this is my strong belief that I want the freedom to make my own decisions and choices without “big brother” telling me how much soda I can drink or which guns I can own or dictating exactly what education must look like at RCS. Does my desire to help that mom who looked so lost and alone and helpless equate to government’s desire to dictate everything to us?
I’d love to hear your thinking on this one! If we offered parenting classes in the evening, I don’t know who would even come–how would we get this mother to attend without insulting her?