Blursday for Parents

Raising and educating kids is hard work that requires a ton of resources and support. It is an investment in our future. So…

Why do we treat parents so poorly?

Last summer, I sat down to write a book to give parents what they were going to need to face a school year that would be like no other. I already knew that the schools were going to vacillate between hybrid and virtual learning plans. And I could tell how much that was going to disrupt and change families.

I published “But I’m Not a Teacher! A Parent’s Guide to Learning Under Lockdown” in September 2020 to give parents 20+ practical tips to confront learning under lockdown. I wrote that book for families who are ready to turn their families into the fun, playful, calm center of the health crisis storm.

What I didn’t know last September? That we would find ourselves back at the same place a full year later. Why does 2021 feel exactly like 2020?! Because today is another “Blursday.”

Facing another school year with the same challenges of social distancing, hybrid learning, and debates raging over masks, I return to the same question: “What do parents need?”

Why is no one talking about how much parents have been disrespected in the pandemic?! When are we going to have that conversation?

Of course, this is nothing new. Parenting children has a long history of being unsupported, shamed, and bullied. And the results have been brutal. Marriages break up, kids don’t get the nurturing base they need to launch successfully, and families pass dysfunction from generation to generation.

From my front-row seat as a school psychologist and a parent of two grown kids, I can see that no one has even asked parents for their help. Instead, school delivers bullying like none other, to both kids and their parents.

I shared a story in my book from when our daughter was in 3rd grade. I thought I could “manage” her homework load. I asserted my leadership with her teacher. As her parent, I knew what was best for her. What happened next? I learned a stark lesson: I was left with my jaw hanging open at how much parents were expected to concede… for homework!

It became clear that the teacher and the school would punish our child until they got our compliance. There was no discussion, no respect. Just demands.

Where is the effort to enlist parents to the “war effort?” Instead, schools have demanded compliance with each change of plans in the pandemic, ramping up the demands and offering no flexibility for families.

I take that back: for a moment that first Spring, some schools cautioned teachers to lower expectations on their students in case their family was in a dire situation. In other words, don’t yell at Suzie about missed homework in case her Grandma is ill. Don’t assume that you know what is going on at home. Just treat them as if … you know, the worst.

By last fall, schools dropped this practice. The resulting loss of respect tore down relationships, tainting the whole 20-21 school year. It was depressing to witness the disappearance of this very human offer of grace.

Schools have drafted parents to step in and play an enormous role in their kids’ learning for over a year now. I coach these kids and their parents. They are overwhelmed. And pissed off.

No one asked them for their help. No one asked permission to commandeer a huge chunk of their family space and time. And no one has asked them how it’s going. The result? Our trust in each other has taken a huge hit.

Continuing in the same direction, schools are eager to reopen this September with thick desperation for everything to “go back to normal.” The message is clear: “OK, break’s over, go back to work.”

This is intolerable.

In a few weeks, when schools reopen in person, nothing will be normal. Some of us will still not be vaccinated and all of us will be anxious. Teachers won’t know who is healthy and who should be/not be coming to school until too late.

That trust deficit grows between parents and schools, between administrators and staff. And the kids will pay the price when adults don’t have their shit together.

The lack of respect for parents will bleed into the classroom, lunchroom, and schoolyard. We need to go back to the stance where we treat all humans like we don’t know what’s happening in their lives. Because we don’t.

Over the longer term, we are going to need to restructure how school works. Schools aren’t going to remain useful unless we can get parents back on board. These effects from the pandemic are going to eat away at the relationships that form the foundation of each school and district.

What might we do to create working relationships between parents and schools?

I am going to try to apply this solution from restorative practices in my school district this year.

One place you can start: Open a dialogue with your teacher. Ask “how are you doing?” Pause to listen. Don’t take “fine” for an answer.

photo credit: Yogendra Singh/Unsplash