Dear Problem Parents:
I care deeply about kids. As a volunteer who provides an arts education program to children and adults with special needs, I've chosen to invest my life in them. Like other teachers, coaches and volunteers, I do my best to make sure every child gets the attention he or she deserves. I'm taking the liberty of using the collective "we," because I'm fairly confident that others who work with kids will agree with me. We want you to know about three issues you create for us -- and by default, your kids.
By no means is this a blanket statement about all parents, nor is it an indictment of parents who raise legitimate concerns or want to share constructive ideas with us.
No, those of you who are Problem Parents are the ones who raise questions but never offer answers. You're the ones who fixate on the small things so much that you miss the big picture. You're the ones who think everything is someone else's fault.
We understand that you probably don't realize how your well-intentioned actions are actually detrimental to your child. There aren't many of you Problem Parents, but you can be found everywhere. There are one or two of you in every group of kids, from classrooms to ball teams to cheerleading squads. If you're reading this and feeling defensive right now, then you're one of them, so you should probably keep reading.
You're that mom who complains about the classroom teacher to anyone who will listen... but you never think to ask if there's anything you could do to help him or her.
You're that dad who rails at the coach at t-ball games... but you don't care that the way you act might bother others on the team and in the stands.
You're the one who finds fault with everything the scout leader does... but you aren't willing to volunteer for the position yourself.
As you are preparing for the next year of school and extracurricular activities, we thought you should know about how your behavior affects us -- and can get in your child's way.
1. You think yours is the only child who should matter to us.
We know who you are right off the bat, from that first open house or registration... and we tell our co-workers, fellow volunteers or employees about you.
You're the one who simply must pull us aside the first time we meet so you can tell us about your child, to make sure we understand that your child is different than the rest and to tell us, sometimes directly and sometimes through thinly-veiled demands, that you expect us to go out of our way for your kid, even at the expense of other kids.
You have certain expectations of us and how we interact with your child and when we don't meet those expectations, you are quick to call us on the carpet. Do you know that we wait with dread when class rosters, team assignments and group membership is developed, hoping we don't get your child on our team or in our troop or in our class? Because word spreads fast about parents like you. Maybe you would be embarrassed if you could be in the teacher's lounge or the office of the ballpark... if you could hear how many people are saying, "Please don't put that child in my group... I can't handle that parent."
It's not your child we dread... it's you.
2. You don't know how to tell us what we need to know about your child without also telling us how to do our job.
You know how whenever you want to talk with us, we are swamped with paperwork or in a meeting or on a call or heading out the door? Yeah, we're really not. We just don't want to talk with you because we know your broken record and we're tired of listening to it.
Your complaints, your demands, your unsolicited advice on how to run the classroom or the squad or the team... this is what we hear if we give you that quick minute you ask for and we will do anything we can to avoid it. Your negative energy dampens our motivation to cultivate all that is wonderful in your child. It's you and your treatment of us that is preventing your child from getting what you want -- the chance to make the all-star team or get the lead in the play or be featured in that choral concert.
No matter how devoted we are to kids or to our jobs or to our sport or to our art form, you make it impossible for us to see your children as the unique individuals they are because all we see when we look at them is you. If we give your child that break -- the one they may need or deserve -- it means we will have to interact with you even more and that's the last thing we want.
Maybe you think we have favorites or teacher's pets... and we do. They are the children whose parents partner with us. They are the kids whose parents appreciate our efforts, or appropriately tell us how we could improve. Our favorites are the children who may not be the brightest or most talented, but their parents are the ones we all clamor to have on our side.
Our favorites are the children whose parents come to us with legitimate concerns or conflicts or needs that we are happy to meet because they don't accuse us, they don't blame us and they don't irritate the hell out of us by acting like theirs is the only concern that should be important to us. And just to be clear, we quickly recognize those insincere suck-up types. We know which parents think they can curry favor with us by buying us gifts or heaping gushing praise on us and consider them to be Problem Parents too.
3. You don't realize that we take it personally... because we genuinely care about your child.
When you fixate on that small detail instead of looking at the overall picture, when you complain about things we have no control over, when you blame us for things that just might be your fault -- like that email we sent, but you never read -- we are truly upset.
We fret, we worry, we drive ourselves crazy trying to find a way to satisfy you... not because we care about you, but because we care about your child. But your persistent negativity eventually wears us down until you finally extinguish our desire to mentor and nurture your child... and we move our attention back to those kids whose parents are our partners, those parents who don't accuse and point fingers.
We're telling you this now... because we genuinely care about your child.
We know you want the best for your child. So do we.
Let's work together to be our best for them.
Follow Debra Jenkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/debradreaming