So we are ”that” family at church. Or at least sometimes it feels like we are. This last Sunday, as I sat next to my wife and kids waiting for Mass to begin, there was a nicely dressed older couple who came in and sat in the pew in front of us. We were sitting near the back of the church (for quick escaping if needed) and I glanced at my wife as if to say, “Should we tell them there is still time to move?” We have 4 kids; 8 and 6 year old girls and 3 and 1 year old boys. Being a dad is wonderful and I wouldn’t change a thing. But it’s hard… really hard. Waaaay harder than being a principal of an elementary school or anything else I’ve ever encountered in life. As someone who achieved well in school, extracurricular activities, and within my profession, it has been difficult to encounter the continued failure and struggle that accompanies raising a healthy, happy, and kind human being. The “no holds barred” wrestling match that we engage in each week at Mass is a good analogy for all of parenting. It isn’t always pretty. It pushes you to your limits, and then keeps right on pushing. Although it isn’t easy, I am grateful for those struggles as I seek to serve the families in my school community, many of them struggling themselves.
I am grateful for my own struggles as a parent because it has opened my eyes to the lack of humility that so many educators (if we are being honest with ourselves) bring to our interactions with parents. Although we say the right things in the parent teacher conference (hopefully), secretly we are thinking, “You never open your child’s folder or read a book at home with him.” Or, “I wish I could just take him home with me.” This statement seems innocent enough on the surface, but if you really think about it, when we make that statement, we assume that we are better parents than the ones our students have. That if they just had a parent as good as me, all their problems would go away.
My kids, although they have their moments, are typically developing (thanks be to God) and it is still really hard! As I reflect on some of the issues that families I’ve encountered have to deal with, it is truly overwhelming. Experiencing the struggles every day of parenting typically developing kids, I truly have no idea how those dealing with poverty, disabilities, serious medical or behavior issues, or abuse continue to move forward. I became an educator because I wanted to serve others, and although I can’t fix all the issues that families have to deal with, I can serve families and students with humility and respect. I can work with a great team and ensure that they get the best education that we can give them. I can approach each interaction with a parent knowing that I haven’t walked that mile in their shoes. We are all in this together. Until we stop judging each other, there will never be that trust that will allow us to be a true team that will ensure the best education for every student. We as educators need to confront the fact that we will never be as good as we need to be unless we engage parents as equal and valued partners in educating our students. Our students deserve nothing less.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” –Mother Teresa
P.S. I chose the above photo to go along with the theme of “struggling.” It is approximately take 47 of trying to get a picture of me with the kids after the birth of our fourth child. Everyone is in the frame though and no one is crying, so maybe there’s hope for me after all! 🙂