Some time ago, I wrote an article (not in Signs of the Times®) encouraging parents not to ask principals to reassign their child to a different teacher, as in, “I think my child, who has a learning problem, will do better with Mrs. Whimsy, because from what I hear, she’s more patient.” However, some parents who previously enjoyed reading my column have now decided I am every parents’ enemy.
Parents have asked whether I deny that a certain child might do “better” with one teacher as opposed to another. My response is, Better in what sense? If grades are the issue, and they usually are, then that perspective is nearsighted. What about the inestimable benefit of learning at the age of—say, nine—that life isn’t fair, to keep on truckin’ under less-than-desirable circumstances, and that adversity isn’t apocalyptic? I’ve experienced the greatest gains under the most unpleasant conditions, and you can probably say the same thing.
An elementary principal in New Mexico wrote, “I have had parents come in, without even meeting the teacher in question, and want their child moved because they have heard that the teacher is strict or demanding. Quite often, the real reason for the request is that the child’s friends are with another teacher and he/she wants to be with them. I remember, as a child, not getting the teacher I wanted. My parents simply told me to straighten up and get over it.”
Yes, that’s pretty much what my parents told me too. And I dared not ever complain about the teacher to whom I’d been assigned because I knew my parents would assume, usually rightly, that I was being a troublemaker in her class.
But said principal then nailed the real problem: “Many of our parents want everything to be easy for their children and for their children to be happy all the time. Real life is not always easy or happy, and children need to learn how to cope with people and situations they don’t like or agree with. Parents need to be parents and stop trying to be friends with their children.”
The parents this principal and I grew up with tried to help us accept full responsibility for our own happiness, whereas many of today’s parents try to guarantee their children’s happiness. Our parents felt that in most cases, adversity was an unavoidable aspect of life, and that the earlier one learned to accept it and deal with it, the better. Some of today’s parents apparently feel that adversity is a bad thing—something children need to be protected from.
And so, their children learn to complain. Oh, we complained, too, about teachers we “hated,” but rarely to our parents. And the subtext of such complaining was the resignation that this was the way it was going to be, period. Looking back, nearly everyone in my generation will attest that we were better off in the long run because our parents stayed out of such things.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that the freedom to pursue happiness is a God given right. He was obviously aware that no one can guarantee another person’s happiness and that the attempt would backfire on the recipient of this misplaced largesse. In this case, I think the attempt is going to eventually backfire on us all.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751