Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to help him feel understood. As a parent, it’s the biggest goal I have when it comes to my interactions with our school – to help my kids be understood by their teachers. Of course they’ll have issues, conflicts, misunderstandings, maybe some tears. They have those things at home, despite living with their perfectly understanding and unflappable parents (ha!). So there’s no way to think they won’t encounter bumps everywhere else too. But if those issues can be framed in the context of their unique challenges, if the “why” of their behaviors are at least considered when consequences are meted out or proactive plans are hatched, I’m a happy camper.
Unfortunately, like so many parents, I find goals and realities don’t always walk hand in hand. Awhile back, I wrote about the disappointment of some teacher conferences I’ve had (http://www.easytolovebut.com/?cat=361) and how I wished all teachers had to attend a course that helped them understand what it felt like to have ADHD, OCD, anxiety, sensory issues, Tourette’s, bi-polar or any of a dozen other challenges. The feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. But privately, I received emails from friends who are professionals in school systems. Their enthusiasm was far more muted. Even though they themselves struggle with anxiety or their own kids have 504s or they work with students with special needs, they let me know that while sometimes teachers don’t “get it,” sometimes parents don’t “get it” either. Continue reading
Another parent-teacher conference has come and gone and this year, I find myself a changed woman. You see, in years past, I have always seen conference time as an opportunity to advocate for my children. It’s been my time to check in to make sure their teachers understand what makes them tick. I’ve enthusiastically shared tips for reading the body language of anxiety, patiently tried to explain how OCD can look like ADD, and pleaded for an email at the first sign of any behavior changes (which for my kids can mean a PANDAS relapse is on the horizon). Over four years, my audience has sometimes indulged me and sometimes even been genuinely interested in learning and sharing. Sometimes, I’ve been met by that polite yet pained smile that tells me I’ve just been labeled “the neurotic mom who clearly needs a valium.”
This year, spring conference found me jaded. Whether it’s me who’s changed or just an unfortunate failure to connect, I haven’t been able to click with my kids’ teachers. Instead of wanting to use my fifteen minutes to foster understanding, I just followed the typical script, heard how my kids were making progress and made a timely exit.
Where did that naïve, driven, committed mother go? Could my passion for wanting to change hearts and minds really dry up in only four short years? Or am I just past the point of having the energy to re-explain everything year after year? When I first learned about OCD, I was eager to share what I knew. Now, after so many failures to reach my audience, when I hear “Gee, he doesn’t seem to wash his hands any more than the other kids. I really don’t see any OCD,” I should realize that this isn’t said to be hurtful. It’s a sign that OCD remains poorly understood and that teachers aren’t being given the training that could help. But in that moment, after being on the receiving end of so many similar comments, I just want to stand on top of the desk and shout “You ninny – not everyone with OCD washes their hands!” How I wish I could find a way to explain that long goodbyes in the school lobby do not make me a helicopter mom but instead allow my child to slowly disengage at her own pace; give her the power to start the day with a small sense of control instead of having the noise and chaos of a bus trip overwhelm her before she’s even set foot in the building. I guess I’m not losing my passion so much as I’m getting discouraged. Continue reading