When my daughter started laughing at me, the kind of laughter that spills tears, I knew once again that an honest parent was the kind of parent I wanted to be. Before I even had her, there was something inside me that shared this perspective. I lost it as I reached for something I thought was better than who I really was and am.
I never thought I could be a perfect parent, but I wanted to come close. So, after failing at play dates and mommy meet ups, I had an epiphany. I would be a teacher. This was the answer to all of my problems. I would always be there for my children because we would be together, forever.
Do I need to tell you that this brilliant revelation backfired in more ways than one? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I will tell you that in my efforts to transform the essence of who I was, I learned that two perspectives are actually better than one as long as you stay true to yourself.
The Two Faces that Emerged
As a parent and teacher, I learned the joy but also the pain of walking in the shoes of both. When I first started teaching, 13 years ago, I didn’t have an education background. In fact, I didn’t really like teachers except for a few who took the time to listen and tell me what I needed to improve.
With that in mind, I taught students the way I would’ve wanted all of my teachers to treat me as a student. And, it worked. I won an Excellence in Teaching Award because I had helped students reach 50% learning gains for three consecutive years.
It wasn’t because I took a bunch of education courses or because I followed another teacher’s lessons, although I learned a lot from other teachers. It was because I focused on what I would have wanted for myself and my own children.
I taught the students as if they were already in college, which means they expressed themselves creatively and attempted to have fun. More than anything else, we were honest with each other. They told me what they liked to do and I tried to work their education around it.
Success and its Opposite
Although thrilled at the success I found with my students, I did the opposite with my own children. At this point, my daughter had a brother and in an effort to protect this perfection, I became an authoritarian parent instead of the honest parent that I was showing to my students at school.
My students and I became so comfortable with each other that they’d often accidentally call me mom. They’d come to my classroom at lunch to draw on my board and tell me about their problems. Some just came because they hated the lunchroom. Others came because they needed to finish work. Most of them came because they felt at ease around a teacher who they knew really cared about them.
With my own children, I created so many rules that they started rebelling. It started with small things. My daughter would purposely mispronounce words. I would correct her then she would continue to mispronounce them.
I would tell her she needed to start homework and she would go to the bathroom then turn on the TV. We would fight so much that we barely finished homework.
My son observed us and did not like the fighting or time outs, so he did his best to be good, periodically instigating a fight just for entertainment purposes.
The Rigid Kingdom of Rules
As the chaos of my perfect home life mushroomed into a rigid kingdom of power struggles, my students thrived. Instead of hating school, they started to almost like it. To me, that was an accomplishment considering that I had listened to them gripe about school for the first month.
They felt a sense of freedom that they hadn’t felt before and so did I. Although they were in middle school, I’d always have paper for them to draw or write and lollipops, candy, and snacks.
In contrast, my own children were not allowed to eat candy except for special occasions. I did let them draw but only after they were done with homework.
I hadn’t realized the most ironic part of my life until my daughter, who loved books and wrote stories on her own without any prompting, came home and screamed that she hated school.
The Virtue of the System
It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed the way she glared at me after I told her she couldn’t draw until her homework was completed or that she snuck candy into her bedroom. It was that I believed I was always right. After all, I was a parent and a teacher. I knew best.
As a parent, I wanted to tell her not to hate school, that things would get better, that she was just having a bad day. As a teacher, I knew all the rules and needed to enforce them or nothing would make sense.
My child wasn’t allowed to hate school. I was a teacher. What would it look like if a teacher’s child hated school? Madness. No, this was not allowed. I had become obsessed with rules.
I even brought my new-found philosophy into my classroom, demanding students obey all the nonsensical rules imposed on them, believing that there was virtue in the system that was just trying to ensure its survival.
My students began to look at me like my children. They started scowling at me instead of smiling. My world became smaller and I proclaimed it was for the greater good. The greater good being education.
The Mutant Parent Unleashed
As I inched toward being this mutant parent-educator, I lost most of what had won over my students in the first place and that had garnered my Excellence in Teaching Award.
But, kids are resilient. They simply ignored me and did their own thing, sometimes glaring at me, more often laughing at me.
They, though, were not the only ones laughing at me. In the midst of my proclamations and damnations, I discovered more.
The truth — a mangled mess of twisted versions of truth turned into lies — laughing at me.
I had come home after a particularly frustrating day and found myself still upset after trying to help a student who was having trouble with his essay. I couldn’t tutor him because I had my own children and too many essays to grade. I gave him an article to read knowing that he wouldn’t read it because he had confessed to an addiction to video games. I knew I couldn’t control it so I felt out of control.
I slammed my bags of papers down on the kitchen counter and felt my head reeling at the thought of having to make dinner and try to grade papers while working on homework with my own children.
I looked at the mess in front of me and blurted out, “I hate school!”
My children looked at me. Their jaws dropped. They gasped.
I clutched my mouth with my hand as if I had cursed in church.
I felt like the worst mother on earth, perhaps the universe.
Embracing the Colors of Truth
What happened next was not as much a surprise as a welcome relief from what had become some distorted mission of mine to convince myself and my children that somehow school was our place of worship, to be continued at home where snippets of happiness were rewards for following rules that made them unhappy.
My daughter pointed at me, giggled, and ran in place like a football player who had just made a touchdown. Tears of laughter soon fell. My son copied her and they danced around me as I laughed too.
It was the beginning of my journey back to myself and to them. My world opened up again. My classroom overflowed with students who felt free again. I felt free again.
I had become a mutant parent who had rediscovered the unrivaled passion of honesty.
It took a while to figure out how to talk to my children as honestly as I could without losing their respect for me. I had to grapple with the fact that I couldn’t always be as honest as I wanted to be, still knowing that I preferred honesty over lying.
It helped to know that all kids see right through most lies anyway.
Becoming a teacher had liberated me from being a parent who bowed down to education or any object or idea because I realized that the love and respect I craved couldn’t be forced. They would have to be freed. The starting point of that freedom swirled into colors of truth, embracing everything that was me and that was becoming me.