Rethinking Tough Parents
A recent Instagram poll revealed an all-too common truth teachers face. I asked ‘Are parent relationships one of the most stressful parts of teaching?’ And hands down the answer was YES.
Can you relate? No matter if it’s your first year teaching or you’re a veteran, you’ve struggled with tough parents. No matter how awesome a teacher or amazing person you are, you’ve dealt with them. The ones that go against the grain and bring you down. The ones that are overly protective of - or completely nonexistent for - their kids that make it difficult for you to address issues. And the worst offender? The parent that attacks you, gossips about you or makes you out to be the bad guy to their student or other parents at school.
Maintaining Your Power
Let’s rethink difficult parents through the lens of power. And not the power to control others, but the power you have over yourself - specifically the power you have over your emotions, thoughts and feelings.
As I teacher, I sometimes let myself fall into a place of being a victim. Having a victim mentality is about giving away power and not taking ownership of the control you have over your actions or results. Your thoughts control your feelings, your feelings control your actions and those actions get results over time. e2e episode #31: How Your Thoughts Control Your Work Day, is all about this. Take control of yourself and your power - don’t hand it over to a tough parent.
Here’s an example: a parent sends an accusatory email that irritates you.
You worry about it during the school day.
You complain about it to your colleagues.
You go home and talk about it with your neighbor.
You discuss it with your spouse.
What you’re really doing is giving that parent - without them knowing it - all the power. You’ve taken up valuable headspace and energy talking and thinking about this parent and are now in a victim mentality. Remember: YOU have control whether you talk about and waste time worrying about that email.
So the next time you get an email or have a conversation with a parent that bothers you, stop it right there. Don’t give the situation power over your emotions. Just think about all the positive things you could talk to your colleagues, friends and spouse about that have nothing to do with that parent!
Fun fact: we have over 60 thousand thoughts a day. 60. THOUSAND. Think about that! How many of those are you willing to give to a parent who sent you an email? How about none? Your time is too valuable.
When a person gets defensive they are ultimately trying to protect themselves (and their power). If a parent approaches you to give feedback or ask a question and you immediately go on the defense, ask yourself:
WHY am I feeling defensive? Could they be tapping into something that’s true?
Here’s an example: a parent approaches you and says ‘José feels like you don’t like him and you don’t treat him fairly.’
If you start to feel defensive, acknowledge: is that true?
Do I maybe not like him as much as another kid who listens well and doesn’t interrupt me when I’m teaching?
As teachers we’re trained to love all kids as equally as possible - but we’re still human. There are always going to be challenging children. That’s real life. If we pretend that we never feel any type of favoritism, we can take ourselves down a slippery slope. (Though sometimes you’ll find that the kids who test you most at the beginning of the year become the ones you don’t want to let go of at the end of the year!)
If there’s no grain of truth to what that parent said, it’s easy to have a conversation of empathy with them and share that you’ll be sure to show their student some extra TLC.
If it IS true or partially true, it’s important to admit it to yourself. By doing so, you are better able to maintain power over your emotions and avoid being defensive. Cool heads most often prevail, so be honest. Try sharing ‘I’m sorry José feels that way. He tends to interrupt me a lot while I’m teaching, and I’ve spoken to him about how he can be courteous of me. I’d love to find a way for him to feel more included while showing more respect to me.’
This tenor of conversation benefits both of you! So food for thought: if you start to feel defensive, take a breath, dig deep and see if the parent’s onto something.
As teachers it’s easy to make things about us because our heart and soul goes into our job.
True vulnerability means leaning into emotions of all kinds - the hard ones and the happy ones. Vulnerability as a teacher means being introspective and asking questions. So when a tough parent situation arrises, asking questions and really listening helps you understand the parent’s perspective without being defensive. Being a great listener and prompting the parent for more details allows you to listen and get your own thoughts in order.
When you’re able to listen without getting defensive, you may learn something powerful about yourself. Being vulnerable - even if it doesn’t feel good - could be an opportunity of huge personal growth. Putting up boundaries can feel better at the time, but you’re simply avoiding criticism if you don’t deal with it.
So take your time and have a conversation. The hardest talks with parents are often the ones that trigger something you already felt. But keep it healthy! Listen, lean in, and understand where they’re coming from. Maintain control of your thoughts and feelings. Then, move forward.
Next time you have a difficult parent call, email or meeting, keep these three things in mind.
1: Rethink the power you’re giving away. Your mental health will thank you!
2: Acknowledge if you immediately got defensive. If so, remind yourself that’s a shift of power and the ball’s in your court to stay collected.
3: Be more vulnerable. Ask yourself why you’re triggered - and if they’re right, admit it and find a solution together.
Actions and results are the difference between being a happy person and educator and being miserable. Dealing with tough parents isn’t fun. But you’re in control of your feelings, thoughts and emotions. Remember that!