Parent-teacher conferences

Here's Maddie in some fake glasses borrowed from a Wheaton Academy student. They don't help her sight at all, but she sure looked cute in them!

I had parent-teacher conferences yesterday. I LOVE parent-teacher conferences, always have, except for those first couple of years when I was a rookie and a little terrified. It’s a few minutes of “aha”-type insight into why my students are who they are. It’s a reminder that my students are integral parts of someone’s life, that, in all except a very few heartbreaking cases, they are intensely loved, though that love can be expressed in good or bad ways. It is a wake-up call that the things I ask of my students and the way I treat them have a ripple-out effect on their families. I get to see both the bigger and the more detailed pictures.

It’s also a reminder that parenting is hard, hard, hard. I know this from personal experience, but every year I see the anguish and apprehension–“will this teacher just tell me more of the same?”–on many parents’ faces. I hear stories of their struggles with their kids, of past hurts either they or their sons/daughters have endured, of their despair that things will ever change. And always, no matter how difficult the case, I feel that haunting of hope that maybe, maybe things will change and perhaps I am the teacher/this is the school that can give them an answer.

As a young teacher, I was more hopeful for the quick fix myself, proud enough to think that I,I,I was capable of bringing about transformation. Years have taught me to commiserate, to sympathize—or empathize, if possible; four kids of my own certainly creates more shared connection—but not to offer quick fixes. It’s not that I don’t have hope; I do, but from the teaching perspective, it’s easier to accept that Paul’s blinding-light transformation is not the norm. Most of us follow a path a lot more like Peter’s, one step forward, a step back and slowly, slowly more positive movement. That’s easier to accept as a teacher than as a parent. Parents have more invested.

I see that more clearly than I used to. I am now a parent of growing kids, not yet teens, but old enough that I understand why it is so hard to parent children whom you can no longer pick up or put in time out, children who make conscious choices about the people they are becoming. One mother yesterday shared that for four years now she has watched her child waste gifts and talents and years with mere existence. “She has no passion. She is just floating through life, no deep friendships, no strong interests, just floating.” This mom’s heart is weary; her hope is almost gone. She wants to see a spark in her daughter, and she’s not sure why it’s not there. Was it ever? she wonders. Did I miss bringing it out of her? Did we move at a bad time? Did I do something wrong? And though as a teacher I feel that perhaps this mom is pushing too hard, from a fellow mother’s perspective, I understand her heart.

I met with a dad yesterday who actually teared up—and then ducked his head, embarrassed–when I described his son exactly as he sees him. He has watched as his quietly gifted (oh-so-gifted) son has grown into a very lonely, lonely young man. “He wants friends,” he told me, “but he doesn’t know how to make them. He’s different; he doesn’t feel like he fits into ‘teen world’.”

I know at least a little bit of how these things hurt. We want to make it all better, like it was when we kissed the scraped knee on the playground years before, back when we still had all the answers. But God doesn’t parent like that. He doesn’t ever leave me; He walks with me, but He doesn’t shield me from things that will help me to grow, no matter how hard they are. He KNOWS what He wants me to become, and He is willing for me to go through difficulties and pain for the greater, ultimate good.

I guess, in some very small, limited ways, He has invited us as parents to come alongside Him in this journey, though our children’s struggles become part of our own growth, and our own sight is so limited. We tend to fixate on the pain of the moment, and if that pain stretches out into extended time, we regret it and wish we could have avoided it completely. But God sees past that into growth, to our children (and us) becoming bit by bit more like His Son.

Father, sometimes it is more difficult to trust You with my children’s lives than it is my own. I want supernatural glimpses of who You created my kids to be (myself, too), but what I actually need is a clearer view of YOU! When I see how completely trustworthy YOU are, then I have hope even when the future is fully dark.

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31:24) “…for with the Lord is unfailing love, with Him is unfailing redemption.” (Ps. 130:7)

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