** This week, here is a different kind of relationship post… the parenting post…. **
Dear Parents of Middle Class Child,
You came into my office today upset. Why? Because your son was marked down 1 point on a 50 point assignment for not adding a title to a presentation.
“That’s so petty” you said to me. “You never told the kids they needed titles.” (This was untrue – also, how would you know what I said in class? But that’s besides the point). You said that this -1 point deduction proved that I was “picking on” your son.
“I have no grudge against your son,” I said back to you, clearly. “I think we had a miscommunication.” You looked skeptical.
Why would I dislike your son? Your son is engaged, respectful, and works hard. And even if he were not these things, I am an adult with bigger problems to wrestle with than picking on a hapless 13-year old by deducting 1 point on a 50 point assignment.
When I explained to you how much I care about your son, you looked disbelieving, and brought up other imagined sins I have committed against him. Sins like: I didn’t instantly enter a grade for a late assignment. “I gave him” a “C” on his progress report, instead of the “A” you feel he deserves, even though he failed to follow directions.
You told me in no uncertain terms what you imagine of my poor values, my “pettiness,” and the “unfairness” with which you believe I treat only your son.
In the spirit of reciprocity, here is my feedback for you
1. What do you stand to lose by letting go of your demonization of me? Without me to blame, you would have to examine your parenting strategies, your family dynamics, and even the mental health of your own child.
Without me to demonize, you would have to come to unsavory conclusions like: you don’t know how to support your son, you don’t know how to communicate with him, and his adolescent misery is a question you can’t answer.
It is easier for you to have me, your scapegoat, the person who is the “cause” of all this misery.
2. Why are you so invested in this measly 1 point? You care about 1 point of this assignment because it serves as “evidence” that I am an unhealthy adult hell-bent on destroying your child’s life.
You care about 1 point of an assignment because it is something concrete that you can express outrage over. This 1 point creates a “stronger bond” between you and your son. A bond you’ve formed against me, a bond you need, during a time when your bond is weakening.
You care about this 1 point because it masks the larger issue at hand – that your son is unhappy, pulling away from you, and angry as are most pre-teens.
You care about this 1 point because you want to believe that your son is destined to be successful, all the time, no matter what, and if it weren’t for me — his obstacle — he’d be succeeding.
3. You will never admit it, but you would like me to simply award him an “A.”
However, you believe he deserves this “A” simply for being himself.
What is the consequence of this? I’ve seen it before. He will grow up and fear making mistakes, because mistakes might prove that he is “dumb” instead of the “naturally smart” kid you think he is. So instead of facing up to his errors, he will learn to blame others for his mistakes — the way you do.
What would it look like if you could teach him how to improve after each failure? You would not be in my office at all.
Instead, you would be speaking to your son. Reviewing directions with him. Pointing out where he tripped up and saying to him, “Now you know you have room to improve.”
You want to be angry at me, and that is your prerogative. I will love your son anyway; I will support you; I will listen and empathize and change what I can.
I can already see that none of that will matter to you. You will not see me.
So, here’s what I want you to know:
Someday, your child will fail again. It will a huge failure. A tremendous one. A much more heart-wrenching failure than 1 point on a stupid school task. An unforeseeable one. He will be coldly dumped. He will get a divorce. He will not get accepted to a college of his choice. He will get laid off unexpectedly. I don’t know exactly what, but it will happen.
Someday, it will happen. And when it happens, I will be long gone.
When you can no longer blame me as the problem, who will you look to blame next?
How long will you believe your family deserves more than everyone else by virtue of who you are?
(How far will you go to prove your superiority? Will you blame it on the poor? The immigrants? The “affirmative action kids”? The queers? “That slut”? The homeless?)
Finally: Who will your son have become while you told him his mistakes were everyone else’s fault?
Will you look inside yourself and make a change?
What will you have left?
Will you be happy then?