Now that I have been on maternity leave for a few weeks, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on Term One, and how it went for me as a professional teacher (as opposed to a pregnant teacher, haha), and I can honestly say that Term One went very well. I do love my job as a high school teacher even though sometimes, when you are in the thick of the term, it can be a bit hard to see the good for all the work there is to do, with all the planning and teaching and marking goal-setting and inquiry-setting-up and reporting and parent-interviews, and the millions of other admin things that come with the job.
On the last day of Term One, two of my Year 12 girls gave me flowers. And in that last two weeks of the term, during parent-teacher interviews, I met so many grateful parents, who sincerely thanked me for teaching their children. In those last two weeks of term, I received numerous compliments from students and parents alike. It was all so flattering and lovely. And it made me realise just how few compliments and praise parents receive, in contrast.
Like, almost no-one ever praises anyone’s parenting.
OK, that’s possibly not entirely true – I’m sure there are people out there complimenting other people on their parenting…I just never really hear it. I have had a select few friends - who are particularly supportive and amazing people - compliment my partner and I, by saying super-kind things like, “You guys seem really onto-it” or “Parenting is so hard! You are doing a great job!”
And I guess it’s not really like you expect your children to praise your parenting…most of the time they are not really thinking about it, and when they do, they are disagreeing with your decisions, heh. My daughter is affectionate, and tells me “I love you, MumI” and has even started saying, “Thanks for cooking dinner, Mum/Dad,” on occasions, and of course she wants cuddles, and endless amounts of stories read to her, every day. It’s wonderful, but again it’s not actually praise for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Oh, if only 3 year olds (teenagers? Possibly all children?) could reflect and verbalise and say, “Thanks for staying calm when I yelled at you for not catching the balloon as I instructed you to,” or “Thanks Mum/Dad, for not losing it when I threw a massive screaming tantrum and tried to hit you with a toy, and then you had to take the toy away, all because you insisted I wear shoes and jacket to play outside in 9 degree weather”; then we might all feel a bit more valued, and like our efforts are appreciated. But kids don’t notice that stuff; and I don’t really know if we can expect them to (at least not until they are older, maybe).
Let’s face it - parents mostly receive criticism about their parenting. And I am ashamed to say that I have been guilty of criticising other parents - especially before I had any kids of my own. But now that I am a parent, I realise just how hard the whole job is; I know how much thinking and reflecting (and reading) I’ve done to inform my own parenting choices; and I can now see just how much relentless criticism parents face.
It’s not always overt, to-your-faced criticism, but there is a fair amount of it out there. In my experience it’s mostly the stuff that gets published in media, talked about in workplaces, and discussed amongst friends and family that is particularly dominant. This constant negative dialogue about parenting does affects us (well, it affects me – I wish I could be all, “water off a duck’s back” about it, but I can’t). It makes you question your ability to parent, even though you know, in your head, that you have chosen the right way to parent for both you and your child (because really, who else would know better about those things than you???).
And the other thing that really pisses me off about the general criticism of parents…it’s nearly always the mothers that take the flak, because, well, mothers still do a vast majority of the childcare in most households (in NZ). Thus the onus generally falls on mothers to defend themselves to the rest of the world (as well as doing so much parenting). It's like it's just another way of disparaging women, and that makes me sad and angry.
So one of my things that I’ve pretty recently decided - over the last year or so - is that I will try to use more supportive language when talking to parents; to acknowledge the challenges they/we face, and build up their/our confidence and self-esteem. I don’t want to be part of the culture of criticizing others’ parenting, no matter how much I might disagree with their approach and/or strategies. And sometimes that’s hard to do, because we don’t all agree on what we should/shouldn’t be doing as parents. As humans we observe, and we compare, and then we tend to judge. And I guess that’s normal..? But I think those judge-y thoughts should be kept to ourselves, and not expressed through critical comments, or ‘disapproving looks’, or unsolicited advice, or poorly written ‘articles’ (or stupid viral videos that make gross generalisations about whole generations).
Society should provide parents with information and support when they want it, and support them to seek help when it is needed. If we are really concerned then maybe we could ask them, “Is there anything I can do to help?” And ultimately, we should try to be more positive in our discourse around parenting; after all, *parents are paid even less than teachers.
*Yes, I realise parents are not paid at all. And I think that sucks majorly.