There are few things in life compared to the intensity of a mother’s (father’s) love for a child. Falling in love is full of wonder. The joy of friendship a gift. The feeling of being a cherished son or daughter- a comfort and a consolation. But the love one feels for their child is without compare. It is raw in complexity. Primeval. Complicated yet so very simple.
Understanding this kind of love has opened up a whole world of relational connection for me- as a parent, a friend; as a child myself of two loving parents. Whom I still look to as stalwart pillars in my life. And I understand this connection of relational love in my role as a wife, sister, aunt; and further, as a teacher to kindergarten students. For each of these roles allows me a glimpse into these various worlds of love.
With reference to the connections I feel as a teacher, loving my own four children has allowed me a window of opportunity in my professional life to briefly glimpse inside other parents’ lives and the love they feel for their children. It has allowed me the rare opportunity to identify with the parents who twice yearly sit nervously across from me- waiting for the fate of their child’s academic journey to be revealed. And this position of privilege is not one I treat lightly. I am all too aware of my accountability to the ones I represent. I realize that I have a position of responsibility.
I remember when Parent-Teacher Interviews first became a challenge for me as a parent. A bit of an anxiety. I remember when hot words stung me like a bee’s venom. I remember, for I am still there, sitting on a small chair at a semi-circled table: listening as words are flung at me, defining my beloved child. Words that might well have been true. In a certain context. For we all have moments when the guard rails are lowered and we reveal thoughts and feelings in less than savory ways. We all have moments when we speak words about the ones we love in ways that are truthful, yet harsh. Moments usually defined by a lack of patience or understanding, if we were to be honest. And if these same words had been spoken lovingly in truth, by me- the mother (as within private conversation with a close ally or best friend- someone who understood the child I was referring to…), well, I could understand them better. But in this context, to hear words like “rude”, “ignorant” and “bold”- they just seemed ill-chosen, hurtful and insensitive, especially when delivered in the sterile vacuum of an empty school classroom.
It took me a few moments to register that this was my child we were talking about- not someone elses’ kid. This was my child the teacher was labeling as problematic. This was my child she seemed to have a general distaste for. My child she seemed to think was an issue. This was my child.
And I know my child well. Believe you me. It is not that he, or any one of them, for that matter, are perfect. They are not, as I am not. As none of us are. But to hear words used so loosely compelled me to believe that the essence of my child had been ignored. Had been left unheard. Unnoticed. And while this child can at times be rude and ignorant and bold (it’s true)- he is also patiently kind when talking with his grandparents. Is meticulous in manners and etiquette when out in public. Is thoughtful and careful to please family and friends. Is loving in understated ways. Is helpful. And compassionate. And above all, is my beloved child. Is my beloved child! Whom I love regardless of those moments when he slips from the path, errs from being/living up to his ‘best self’.
It is love that defines our relationship- not a narrowly constructed set of terms used carelessly to define him.
As a teacher, I am careful to use words that are kind. I want to weigh my choice of words against the ways in which those words might be received. For I realize that once a word has been spoken, it can never be retrieved. It is gone out into the atmosphere to be swallowed up by ears that are ready to receive. Ears that are waiting to hear.
This is not to say that words cannot speak truth. I am in no way saying that we must withhold truth to protect the hearer. There are words that need to be spoken. Need to be said. There are words that must be offered. Because they lift, support, aid and assist the hearer in understanding the truth. So that they can go forward and become a better person for having heard. For having listened. But the ways in which we offer our words- our presentation. Our pitch. Our tone. Our voice. All these work together to influence the receiver in understanding what the true message is. Is it the message? Or is it the underlying message that is being heard?
For me that day, in that empty classroom with nothing but books to separate me from her, the message I heard spoken across the divide was this: “Your child is a problem. And I don’t like him enough to see through the behaviors- all I see are the issues. And those issues are also becoming a problem too.”
Had the words been spoken in another way, delivered in kindness and compassion, perhaps this one Parent-teacher interview among many might not have left such a significant, lasting impression in my memory. Had the words been cushioned in love perhaps they might have been easier to swallow. Like a pill smothered in honey. Not to say I couldn’t swallow that pill otherwise- it’s just that it would have been an inconsequential pill for me to take had it been done in a caring manner.
Instead, it became a mountain of pills to ingest. A mountain of words to absorb.
When the words are fitly chosen, it is at times a pleasure to be the listener. A joy. It builds the hearer up to greater capacity- to greater possibility. It builds bridges. Mends fences. Words chosen to affirm and encourage are the lifeblood of our relationships with people- particularly people outside of our closest circles of influence. And without the cushion of intimacy, as afforded in an intimate relationship such as a parent-child relationship, words that harm and wound have no place. And they certainly have no place in our professional vocabulary. Particularly as it concerns the children.
Especially when it concerns children.
I sit across from them- the many parents I have the privilege of working alongside in the development of their children’s academic, social and emotional well-being. And I breathe. Exhaling out anything that might hinder this important conversation. For I feel the responsibility of what will be said over the course of the next twenty-minutes. And I realize this for sure: nothing I say will ever make that parent love their child any less. And some of which I choose to speak can open the door for both of us- both me and them: to come to understand and love those same beloved children even more.
To love them even more.