A Childless Parent: What Being a Teacher has Taught Me About Raising Children
As a single, nearly 30-year-old female, I am starting to feel the nudges at the back of my mind from Ye Olde Body Clock that plagues every woman who wants children at some point in their lives. As a single, nearly 30-year-old female who is also a middle/high school teacher, I am constantly being made aware of the increasingly higher stakes that surround having the title of “Mom” or “Dad”. Bringing a child into this world is a privilege that I am excited to posses in the future, yet my years in the classroom have opened my mind to some of the deep damage that can be inflicted if we allow ourselves to make our children’s lives the battleground on which we fight our personal demons.
Kids Need You There
I remember one day last semester taking one of my 7th grade girls aside to talk to her about her missing assignments. She was immediately apologetic, and told me how her family had been trying to find her dad that Friday night because he hadn’t come home so she didn’t get enough sleep, and then she had a dance recital the next day, and she tried to do it on Sunday but she couldn’t because “I realized that my dad wasn’t at my recital and I got sad *breaks down* I worked so hard and he didn’t even come.” Here was this tiny slip of a girl, so eager to please, so thirsty for love, yet crushed because her father didn’t take the time to show her that he cared.
Children need us to be there for them. As tough as they may act, as stonewalled as they may try to become, or as hateful as they may speak, every single child has a deep yearning for their parents’ attention and approval that never goes away, no matter how much they fight against it or try to hide it. As a teacher, I can give them a meager substitute, which some students latch on to eagerly, but it will never compare to a mother’s reliable hug or a father’s consistent “well done.”
Kids Are Always Watching
Being a middle school teacher means that I often hear lots of unfiltered conversations. Most of the time, it’s about the latest gossip or grumbling about the various hardships of middle school life, but my students also make some very telling comments about their home life. My favorite to deal with is when I tell the student I’m going to make a phone call home, and the kid responds with “oh my mom won’t care.” Another fun one is when I am regaled with tales of what the parents do when drunk, such as “My step-dad used to hit my mom when he drank so that’s why he stopped” or “They always argue about politics when they’re drunk” and other such tidbits.
Growing up in a dry household, stories of parents imbibing are extremely foreign to me. However, it has made me realize how much our actions, not our words, impact our children. The “Do as I say, not as I do” maxim is quite possibly the most disregarded sentiment in parenting history. If we have an image in our heads of raising strong individuals who make good choices, we need to model that behavior first.
Kids are Not Pawns
This year, I have a student in my first period who comes in every morning and asks me how I’m doing that day. Of course, I ask her about her mood in turn, which is how I found out that her parents are going through a divorce and a custody battle and that she is basically in the middle of a legal shouting match with no voice of her own. “My dad tells me one thing, and then my mom tells me another, and I just want to be able to know what’s really going on!” said with a face of exasperation but also sad exhaustion.
As adults in charge of our ‘Littles’ and trying to juggle the various curveballs life loves to throw, we have the capability to use whatever means possible to get our way, including using those entrusted to our care as pawns. However, this means that we also have the grave responsibility to absolutely not stoop to that level, which means that we have to work through our shit on our own without using our children as a practice field or card up our sleeve. While you may think that you are being subtle or that kids are simply obtuse because they are young, the stories that I have heard prove that this is absolutely not the case. Children don’t deserve to become just another wrench in our box of world-navigation tools; they are on a separate adventure in their own right, and not acknowledging that fact by our words or actions could set them permanently off course.
Kids Have a Voice, Too
I have recently implemented “Talk about it Tuesday” where we gather in a circle for the first ten minutes of class on Tuesday and discuss various topics; our discussions have ranged from current events to whether or not aliens exist to romantic relationships and marriage. I have seen some amazing debates take place and witnessed an impressive ability to “agree to disagree” with their classmates (which I am sad to say most adults lack). I also recently assigned a persuasive letter in which my 8th graders were tasked with persuading the principal or myself to change an aspect about my class or school as a whole. I was very impressed with some of the letters that I received; the ideas were thoroughly thought out and well-articulated. In fact, I am planning to implement some of the changes they suggested. We as “old folks” like to sit and bemoan the fate of our country and what it will become when the next generation rises to take our place, citing dependence on technology and social media and laziness as reasons for ruin. However, I have witnessed time and time again young people rising to the level that is expected of them, which begs the question: what are our expectations for our children? And, does the way we treat them align with those expectations? Our job as parents is to give our children a foundation off of which they can springboard into a fantastic life as strong, stable, fully competent adults. However, if we don’t honor them as strong, stable, fully competent children, they will never reach their true potential as they grow beyond our family borders.
Overall, every day is a constant reminder that every single child who sits in my classroom is consistently being shaped by what his or her parents do at home. Parenting is truly one of life’s greatest blessings, but with that first nuzzle on the soft infant cheek comes the grave responsibility of continuously working on ourselves so that we may present the clearest path for our children to follow. With all that my work as a teacher has taught me about being a parent, this is the most important: we must take care of our own bags of shit so that our children will not have to take on that burden on top of their own bags of shit that they are given simply by virtue of being a human. Our responsibility is to parent ourselves first, so when we have to parent another being we can do so with a clear head and full heart.
Hopefully, I can find out the highs and lows of the parenting journey for myself before my own clock ticks its last tock.