The Parenting Secret I Learned at a Parent Teacher Conference
‘Tis the season of the parent teacher conference...
...and I'm currently debating if it’s worth my time to attend my sons’ high school P/T conferences, which just aren’t the same as the P/T conferences of elementary school.
Somehow in those days of P/T conferences and pediatric well-checks, I became addicted to the charted progress reports confirming my children’s academic, social, and physical progress. I liked the measurable results that clearly validated all of my parenting investment. Any lagging behind certain percentiles was like getting a “D” on my parenting report card.
Because I firmly believed that my children’s success was in direct correlation to my parenting skills.
But in October of 2007 at 4:07pm, during my youngest son’s P/T conference in Mrs. Haugen’s second grade classroom, I learned a profound truth that forever changed my perspective on parenting.
I remember the time vividly, because I was running late for our appointment that started at 4:00pm sharp. P/T conferences were scheduled as back-to-back fifteen minute slots that started and ended firmly, and as PTA president that year, I’d been in charge of communicating to parents about the importance of honoring the schedule.[Side note—I believe I was recruited to be in PTA leadership because of my knack for party planning, but I secretly hoped by taking on this role that the elusive skills of organization and promptness would manifest upon me.]
Not. Even. Close.
Being a parent, or PTA president, didn’t change how I was wired. It just made my weaknesses effect more people.
I'm a chaotic whirlwind of energetic ideas and radiant creativity. In other words, I’m also chronically late, massively disorganized, confounded by clutter, and frequently forgetful.
Mean people would probably call me a flake, or even a total train wreck.
I know this because it’s what my inner mean girl has been whispering inside my head for decades.
So at 4:07pm, I illustrated how to be a train wreck by rushing into Mrs. Haugen’s classroom late, tripping and losing the grip on my purse, and scattering a crap-load of purse clutter everywhere.
I dropped to the ground and frantically gathered loose change and feminine products from underneath the desks. I even found Caleb’s tooth that I’d stashed in my purse weeks before, and suddenly remembered I’d forgotten to be the Tooth Fairy again.
And I also remembered the day I’d put his tooth in my purse, and my son's response when I’d told him we’d save it for the Tooth Fairy that night.
“Don’t worry about it, Mom. I know the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, because she always forgets to come. If she were real, she’d remember.”
So there I was, halfway into a P/T conference, on my hands and knees under a desk holding a nickel, a tampon, and a tooth, and trying not to cry.
Mrs. Haugen sighed, looked at the clock and told me there was really just one thing she wanted me to know.
She walked over to Caleb’s desk and invited me to come take a look.
Inside his desk were two meticulous stacks of books and folders. Perfectly sharpened pencils lay side-by-side, in order of largest to smallest, all exactly in line by their tips. Erasers and paper clips were organized by color in neat little rows.
She told me that Caleb’s desk had looked like that every day since the beginning of school, and that he was the most organized, responsible kid in the class. She’d also known his two older siblings, and said even though they had different personality types, when it came to organization and responsibility, they were just like Caleb. She explained that most second graders’ biggest maturity struggle was the increased demand for responsibility and organization, and many of her P/T conference conversations revolved around helping parents instill these skills in their kids.
“I’ve always wondered what kind of magical parenting strategy you used," she said with a strange smirk on her face, "and then I got to know you.”
And then she said the most profound thing ever:
“I've finally figured out your parenting secret. Your kids have learned to compensate for your lack of organization. They've had to build their skills in order to survive, and they are THRIVING because of it.”
I will never forget these words. And I’m still not sure if it was supposed to be a parenting compliment or a slam, but I didn’t care. Because I knew it was true.
These words have continued to echo inside my mama brain ever since. And they’ve changed my life.
I’ve learned to embrace a new perspective on my weaknesses.
And on the days I feel like a failure--on the days my inner mean-girl whispers I'm "not enough"--this is what keeps me sane.
- Our flaws are not failures; they're part of our authenticity.
- Our imperfections don't mean we love our children less.
- And our kids will grow because of what we’re doing, and despite what we’re not doing.
Parents—we can’t do it all. We can’t be it all. We're not perfect, and we’re not meant to be. We're not God, and not the God of our kids.
And our kids’ successes or failures are not a direct result of our parenting skills or a reflection of our love for them.
The most important thing we can do is be authentic and unconditional. We need to love our kids boldly, and model what it's like to love ourselves boldly too--imperfections and all.
And then we just have to hang on and remember to trust God with it all. Somehow He has this thing figured out. (If you're not sure, read 2 Corinthians 12:9 and rest with that awhile.)
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Amen and amen!
Thank you for this very helpful, encouraging and humorous article.
This has been my experience as well. I have a daughter (28) and a son (27) who are clever, witty, ambitious and conscientious. I have set the good example by being disorganized, lackadaisical, a great “starter” but not a great “finisher”, and not at all clever or witty. However, I have flooded them with lots and lots and lots of love and encouragement. Thankfully, they are out there in the world, doing just fine!
YAY Debbie! I LOVE hearing this! We’re clearly cut from the same cloth!
I loved this!!! So insightful. Wonderfully written…and the perfect medicine for the woes of my heart today! Thank you for making mothering real!!!!
Thanks Kami for the reminder of who’s really in charge! Made me smile and brought a little tear to my eye! I’ve always enjoyed how you tell your life stories!
Seriously? If you are as disorganized as you made yourself out to be, how did you manage to put together this blog??? Just because some parents are hyper-productive about some things, doesn’t mean that you’re not. We all focus on different things. For instance, I’m super organized in my professional world, but I’m the first mom to forget a detail about something at school, my kids sports, or other important details in their llives. Moreover, I’ve been trying to put together a website/blog for years and still haven’t figured it out, so score one for you!
As for teachers conferences, in our district they’re not very productive. Personally, I’ve found that it’s more important to stoke my own kids flame then worry about how much they perform in a system. That way they’ll have the fuel to ignite whatever fire burns inside of them.
It is so therapeutic and affirming to hear yourself perfectly described by the words of another. I can’t stop laughing. Thank you and amen! Now to pray that most of my kids compensate as well at school and the for one who absolutely makes me look tidy? May God’s strength magnify itself in our weaknesses and help her survive!
Oh. My. Goodness
“I am a chaotic whirlwind of energetic ideas and radiant creativity. In other words: I’m also chronically late, massively disorganized, confounded by clutter and frequent forgetfulness.” You just described the essence of my existence; and subsequently the single greatest internal battle I fight. Thank you for reminding me it’s ok to be this person- that God designed me this way, and in my weakness, His strength is made perfect… And that I am, therefore, NOT responsible for my children being “perfect.”
OMG! I loved reading this. Thank you Kami for wirting such a funny and insightful article. As a mother of two college age daughters it brought back many memories of attending these conferences. I laughed out loud at work reading the part about your purse spilling out as you entered the classroom. Been there and done that! 🙂
Thank you for reminding us that as parents we are human and we don’t always have it all together. Thanks be to God our kids do survive it and can also thrive from it!