The Bad Parent Files

Parent teacher conferences are weird. They are performance reviews for a job you didn’t do. They are not about you and all about you at the same time. And they are terrifying.

After arriving too early for ours (“Oh no!  We’re early!  Did the teacher see us?  She spotted us!  Act casual as we look at this poster about the life cycle of a monarch butterfly!”), my husband and I sat down awkwardly in student chairs.  My knee slammed the underside of the little desk as I tried to cross my legs.   The teacher sat down across from us and I worried she would pull out a list of all the ways we sucked as parents.  “Based on this drawing your daughter made of a three-armed robot trying to bake cupcakes while riding a dinosaur,” she would say.  “I have determined that you are a helicopter parent who sets unattainable goals and withholds love at critical moments. You probably also fail to separate your laundry into lights and darks and occasionally don’t recycle properly because you are lazy.”  I knew she was going to say that.

Ok, she didn’t say that.  And I know these conferences aren’t about us, not really.  The only thing the teacher knows about our parenting style is what she sees of our child in the classroom.   But when my daughter gets teary trying to solve a difficult math problem, I imagine the teacher pulling out a bad parent report card.

And this year, I was more nervous than before. We are at a new school and I really didn’t know what to expect. As my daughter gets older, I’m not in the classroom as much volunteering.  This means I don’t get to see my daughter in action in class. It also means I don’t get to see the teacher very often. Walking into the parent-teacher conference is like stepping into a black box.

I try to get reports from my daughter about how school is going, but kids are notoriously bad reporters. One day my daughter will tell me she got five out of eight questions right on a test, and explain that’s really good because she didn’t flunk. The next day she will fret that she did perfectly on her spelling test, but it probably wasn’t good enough because she doodled on the page (she did fine).

Of course, the actual parent-teacher conference was different from my imagination. The teacher told us our daughter is doing well and shared some ideas on how to help in some areas. She didn’t comment on our parenting at all (although my husband wondered later if he might have said something wrong- dads are not immune from worry).  During the whole meeting, she never pulled out her “bad parent file.”

And I’m sure teachers get nervous before these conferences, too. After all, parents are coming into their offices and judging how they do their job. But for the record, I think my daughter has a great teacher. I think she is doing a good job in the classroom, and I hope she thinks I am doing my job well, too. If we have another conference, I don’t think I’ll be so nervous.  Unless she asks about my laundry- then I’ll be on the bad list, for sure.

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