You’ve probably met those parents. Those parents: the ones whose children can do no wrong. It’s never their children’s fault; their babies are being wronged by the system or picked on by a bad guy.
I always prided myself on not being one of those parents.
I wasn’t one of those parents throughout Captain Science’s rocky pre-homeschooling educational career. When educators brought problems (or “problems”) to my attention, I didn’t immediately jump to the assumption that my child had done nothing wrong. In fact, I tended to err on the side of it probably being something he was doing that wasn’t quite right or, at least, not quite what they were looking for. When we had that horrible last year in public school, the third grade year of misery, I thought that perhaps, just perhaps, there might be a little something wrong with Captain Science. After all, if both his teacher and the gifted teacher thought something wasn’t right, it had to be him, right?
I was determined to not be one of those parents, brushing off concerns about possible developmental or behavioral problems simply because it was something I didn’t want to hear. Even though my gut told me that there was nothing “wrong” with Captain Science (even if he were different, different =/= “wrong”), I tried to listen with my brain instead. As a result, I not only jumped through hoops, but I made my child jump through hoops. He was assessed by a speech therapist. We asked my PT sister-in-law (who specializes in children with developmental/neurological disorders) take a look at him. We had my SLP brother-in-law and my PhD in early childhood education mother-in-law quietly assess him. We took him to a counselor to ascertain if he was “on the spectrum” as his teacher implied (“He reminds me so much of a boy I had in here last year who had Asperger’s.” “Having a label isn’t a bad thing! Everyone had a label these days!”) or if he had some deep-seated emotional problem that was causing his school problems.
After we’d jumped through the hoops, we discovered that the answer was that Captain Science was a quirky, incredibly bright boy with one glaringly big problem: the very school system that had insisted we had to jump through hoops to begin with.
At about that point, it hit me: maybe, just maybe, being one of those parents didn’t necessarily mean being blind to my child’s faults. Maybe it meant being my child’s advocate and supporter first, speaking up for him first, taking his side and believing his rightness first, instead of assuming that the adults were right and my child was probably wrong. Instead of presuming him guilty and allowing his accusers or detractors determine the means through which he would be cleared or condemned, perhaps I needed to presume him innocent until they could come up with some compelling evidence as to why I should believe he was anything otherwise.
Last night, I had a golden opportunity to be one of those parents when Captain Science’s soccer coach’s mother called to complain about his behavior at soccer practice (Captain Science is apparently one of “three or four” miscreants on the team). Instead of immediately becoming angry at Captain Science and assuming he had, indeed, cut up, I asked for some concrete examples. The coach’s mother could give me none, but said her son (the teenage coach) would. The coach had a difficult time articulating any specific examples, or articulating much of anything at all, other than one claim that Captain S had told another coach “you can’t make me” — something the coach I spoke to didn’t experience first hand, but only heard about after the fact. The only direct complaint the coach could give me was prompted by his mother, whom I could hear carrying on in the background: Captain Science had taken off his shirt during practice and hadn’t immediately put it back on when asked. This apparently greatly distressed both the coach and his mother, but is hardly an infraction I feel necessitated calling home.
I decided to be one of those parents. I know Captain Science pretty well. If he were being consistently criticized, fussed at, told he was doing something wrong, he would be complaining about how much he dislikes soccer when I got him at the end of practice. Instead, he’s bouncing off the field each day, full of joy, telling me how much he loves it. That doesn’t tell me my child is misbehaving and being corrected, so either he’s not the cut up he’s being accused of being or his coach lacks the authority to command respect and discipline the lack thereof. Neither of those makes me feel I need to “handle [this situation] at home,” as the coach’s mommy thought I should. In fact, that female coach Captain S had supposedly sassed? He brought up, unprompted, the brand new coach he’d had that day and how tough she was. He said she threatened to make them run laps, do pushups, etc. if they didn’t follow her instructions, and, Captain Science added, “I believed her!”
So, being one of those parents and assuming my child was NOT in the wrong lead me to investigate this further, without getting upset at him or about the situation, and discover that the source of the coach’s (and his mommy’s) dismay was probably the shirtlessness (their hangup, not mine), not the sass. Sure, I’ll keep an eye on him at the remaining practice and a half to make sure he’s not being rude to his coaches, but I’m not disciplining him for something I don’t remotely believe he did. I don’t doubt that the coach may feel disrespected, but after speaking to the kid, I think that any issues of respect problem lies in him and not in his players.
Yes, I know that this isn’t exactly the same as thinking my kid can’t ever do any wrong. It’s certainly more of a middle ground. It did, however, require a little bit of a paradigm shift away from thinking adults are right, children are wrong. More importantly, it involved a shift to thinking in favor of my child. Nothing wrong with a default of “I know my kid and he’s not a bad kid.” Nothing wrong with that at all.
If that means I might be one of those parents, even just a little bit, I’m ok with that.