I have a few teacher confessions to shamefully make public now that I am a mother.
I used to really enjoy my days as a first grade teacher, but they sure were a handful. Every day I would wearily lead my line of jumpy little students to the dismissal area and watch them as they made their way towards their parents, smiling and happy to see them.
As I would watch those parents walk away with their one or two or sometimes even three children I would think, “That’s gotta be so nice, to just have two or three children, instead of 15. I’m sure it’s much less intense. Moms are so lucky because they can really sit back and enjoy their kids. They can let them be free and jump around because there are only a couple of them.
How hard can it be to hang out with two kids all day?
If you are a mother, stop laughing and keep reading.
Every once in a while I would see a child break down in tears soon after their initial hug. Sometimes because the mom didn’t bring the right snack or because the kid didn’t want to go to tennis or because a play date got cancelled. I really didn’t understand this behavior because exactly three minutes prior, with me, they were all smiling.
At school we have very clear rules and everyone has to follow them. That’s just how the world of school works. In my pedagogical studies I learned that just the right amount of rules actually makes kids feel very safe. They know what to expect and that is comforting.
“Maybe this mom is not really clear on her boundaries,” I would think. “Maybe this kid usually gets everything he wants at home and when things don’t go his way, he throws a temper tantrum.”
I am so sorry that I ever thought this.
How could I have been so deeply clueless and insensitive?
To all those mothers dragging away their crying children who had been smiling with me three minutes ago, “I am so sorry that I thought there was something that you could change in your parenting in order to change that behavior.”
Now I am a mom and I totally get it.
I am also still a teacher.
At home I have two kids. At school I have 17.
School is relaxing.
I can go to the bathroom by myself.
Unlike mothers, I have scheduled breaks which usually involve a coffee and a little chat with a fellow teacher about how our days are going. We might even learn something from each other or give each other a pat on the back.
Now I know exactly why kids break down when they see their parents.
There is nothing wrong with these parents’ methods. In fact, the fact that their children feel comfortable enough to totally relax and let all of their frustrations flow is a sign of healthy attachment.
The school day is long and demanding. These kids spend eight hours sitting up, sitting still, standing in line, keeping their voices down, remembering to use nice manners, dealing with friendships that are going well or not well, learning a lot of interesting information and taking risks. Saying what they really feel (especially if it’s negative) is not usually part of the day.
Meltdowns are more frequent and intense when kids are tired. After school, kids are tired.
Students don’t have temper tantrums at school because they are holding it all in. They are showing me their best, even if they don’t feel like their best. Maybe someone gave them an unkind look or they were disappointed in a drawing that they made. They keep it all inside because it’s clean up time or it’s circle time or the teacher is talking to someone else.
Some moms might think, “I wish they would keep up that behavior for me. I want to see the best of them, too.”
But let me ask you this:
If they can’t be themselves with you, showing you the good, the bad, and the ugly, then who are they gonna be themselves with? God? The dog? Who is this someone who will not judge them?
As parents, we have the privilege/burden to be our children’s confidants. We are their everything. They see themselves through our eyes. When our eyes are loving and supportive, even when they’ve had a bad day, they will learn that it’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to make mistakes and be irritable sometimes. That’s life.
Why should we adults be allowed to be annoyed with the world some days but our kids are not?
Now when I see my students break down after a long day at school, I sometimes see a desperate look in a mother’s eye.
“She worked really hard day,” I say, “She’s probably very tired.”
But I wish I could say more.
I wish I could say that you are doing a great job, mama. You are raising a kind, compassionate and hard working girl (or boy). She trusts you so much that the moment she sees you she relaxes, because she knows that you care and that you will take care of her. Don’t you dare think for a minute that her tears are because you are doing something wrong. These tears are because you are doing all of the important things RIGHT.
We are our children’s safe place, where they can laugh, cry, complain, and moan. Parenthood is not easy peasy, as we say in first grade. It’s the toughest job there is. Way harder than being a teacher and with more at stake.
Moms of my students, you are raising the future and you have my utmost respect. Keep up the world changing work that you are doing by accepting and drying your children’s tears. At school they learn about reading and writing, but from you they learn about life.
Ms. Anne Kathryn
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