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.)