Monday, April 14, 2008

School Kid vs. Home Kid

The cartoon “Baby Blues” ( has been running a series of strips on the “school kid” vs. the “home kid.” For example, the child who keeps her desk all orderly at school is the same kid who tosses her clothes on the floor at home. The child who eagerly raises his hand to answer questions asked by his teacher, will stare at you dumbfounded when you ask him where he left his sneakers. You attend a parent-teacher conference only to wonder, “Who is this mystery child and where does my child actually spend those 6 hours each day because we are most definitely not talking about the same person?” Most parents would agree that we would prefer our children behave outside of the house. If they have to misbehave, let them do it at home. And so it is with my younger son and his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. Yes, he has those teachers fooled! But, at least I know from their reports that he does know how to behave himself. Even if I don't always see the fruits of my labor, I know that the message is getting through. I hope that he will always behave himself at school.

It isn't so easy when the reports from school come home bad. My older son is very consistent. He has his moments of great goodness and great difficulty both at home and at school. Chances are, his report card will never read “A joy to have in class!” Somehow, with students like him, teachers always seem to focus on the bad days. They don't tell you when your child has had a great day at school, leaving you to wonder if those days ever actually exist. No, instead you hear about the moments of frustration and of not getting along with others. You hear about the hard time that they have learning and the need for more effort. And as much as you know that the teacher has your child's best interests at heart and wants them to succeed, what you hear as a parent is some version of the following: “You are obviously a bad parent. You have failed in your duties because your child is incapable of x,y, and z.” It is enough to make a parent want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out, or at the very least, run and hide from your child's teacher.

Sometimes, I think that teachers, especially those who have no children of their own, seriously overestimate how much control we have over our children's behavior when they are not under our immediate supervision. Yes, of course, we are responsible for teaching them right from wrong and to be kind to others. We are responsible for making sure that their homework gets done and helping them study. Ultimately, though, our children are given to us by God with their own set of issues to work through. Some children get frustrated more easily than others. Some children just aren't ready to master a certain skill at the same age as everyone else – they need a little more time. Sometimes, no matter how many times you tell a child to be kind, model correct behavior, and discipline bad behavior, they are still going to have moments when their self-control is lacking and they do the wrong thing (don't we all have those moments?). These aren't excuses. They are just statements of facts. Our children, much like us, are works in progress. As much as we like to take the credit when they do something wonderful, and beat ourselves up when they do something horrible, a lot of their behavior really has very little to do with us and everything to do with them.

Sometimes, we simply need to take a deep breath and step back from the situation, to remember that our children are ultimately in God's care. He made them. He loves them. And, He has a plan for them. We can only do our best as parents. Sometimes that means trying lots of different parenting techniques until we find the one that works at that particular time for that particular child. Sometimes it means waiting out a particularly challenging developmental stage. Sometimes it means leaning completely on God because we simply haven't a clue. One of the most famous prayers is “The Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr. It can be particularly applicable to motherhood, especially on the hard days:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

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