There are many perplexing things about raising children, but surely the biggest is how they can possibly be so different to their parents.
We made them, we grew them, and yet here they are: a total, unsolvable mystery.
This is never brought home for me more than during parent-teacher interview season. Does anyone else dread it as much as I do?
Quick confession: I only dread it for one of my kids.
I get that a parent-teacher interview can be a
thrilling reasonable time for parents of conscientious, smart, hard-working, capable kids. No issues here, folks, nothing to see.
life-affirming rather nice to sit there soaking in the sunshine of someone praising your kids. You nod and smile along, taking credit for every blessed moment. You want to reach over the desk and clutch that teacher’s hand and say, “ All my own work. They get it from me. Thank you.”
And then there is the… other one.
The kid who could not give a shit about school and has been known to drop those immortal lines of teens everywhere: “school is a construct created by a sick society to control the minds of teens.” Or something like that anyway, I tend to tune out when my kids mention trigger words like “construct”, “control” and “teens”.
This is the child who is capable, but not hard-working. Smart, but not conscientious. It’s a lethal combination during parent-teacher interview season.
“They could do so well, but…”
“The potential is there, but…”
“This person could be my top student, but…”
The teacher skirts around the plughole of what’s actually going on. You know what they really want to
“It’s okay, you can say it,” you prod.
“If only they could find the time…” the teacher begins.
“Not quite,” you interrupt gently.
“I’m trying to find what motivates…”
“HOW COULD YOU RAISE SUCH A LAZY-ASS INDIVIDUAL?!” they finally screech. The torrent is like the unplugging of the Warragamba Dam. “HAVE YOU SEEN THEIR BEARLY LEGIBLE WORK?! DO THEY EVEN OWN A PEN?! HAVE THEY EVER MET A HAIR BRUSH?! DOES THIS CHILD CARE ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN THEMSELVES?!!!!”
Well, they don’t actually say or do anything of the sort, but you both know they’re thinking it.
“Please don’t yell at me,” you whisper into your chest. “I’ll do better, I promise.”
The thing is, I have no idea how I managed to raise such a
lazy-ass, good-for-nothing teenaged critter, yet here we are, cringing in front of the teacher as they flail about looking for a professional way to phrase the bleeding fuckin’ obvious. It’s okay – I know my child isn’t interested in school, won’t apply themselves, turns in work that even a mother can’t love and the only reason they haven’t already thrown their education in the bin is because that would require they lift their arm. I know.
“We’ve tried many things to up the care-factor,” you explain. “But it’s plain to see that without Moses, we can’t move the unmoveable.”
Of course we try to talk to the reluctant student, from every angle, in every way. We try to put them in the driver’s seat and ask things like, “What do you need to feel more engaged at school?” (answer: “whatever”); and “How does it feel when you don’t get the mark you wanted?” (answer: “whatever”).
The utter frustration that comes from hearing the words “whatever” uttered 20 times a day. Followed by whatever’s best friends “nobody cares”, “I don’t care”, “why do you care?” and the extra-triggering “I could care less” (#iykyk).
Younger kids sulk when you try to talk to them about something they don’t want to talk about. Older teens explode into a full-blown frenzy at the merest sniff of criticism. Still, you’re an old hand at staying calm amidst the storm.
“I care because it matters,” you quietly say.
“Whatever, it doesn’t matter, nobody cares except you, I could care less.” Cue storming off and door slamming.
“Couldn’t care less,” you tell the wall.
You also tell the wall how gut-wrenching it is to watch your kid throw their potential away. How overwhelming it is to parent a kid who dismisses your every utterance. And how stressful it is to not be able to see their future and know they’ll be okay. They’re not okay now, you tell the wall. Why would the future be any brighter when they won’t do a thing to change?
“They’ll change,” the wall says reassuringly. “Heaps of teens go through this stage and most of them come out of it just fine. It’s like a lightbulb goes off one day.”
I confess at this point that I’m waiting for that lightbulb to appear above my child’s head. DING! it will announce and I’ll race to watch my child magically transform before my very eyes.
“Aha!” they will cry. “Dear mother, why did you never tell me that an education is a privilege denied to so many, so I should treat it like the precious gem that it is? How could you never say that hard-work and determination are where satisfaction and contentment rest? What on earth were you thinking to bypass the critical goal-setting and achievement happiness chat? Mother – I can see the light!”
That’s definitely a thing that happens, right? I’ll be sure to ask the teacher at our next parent-teacher interview…