Monday, June 11, 2012

A Painful, Powerful Lesson About Parents

A few weeks ago, as I stood in my kitchen waiting for my wife and daughter to come inside after returning from a party, my previously peaceful Saturday afternoon shattered with a blood-curdling scream from the garage. For a moment, I mistook the sound for my daughter's squealing laughter. A split-second later, though, I realized my mistake. I dashed into the garage to find my wife and daughter screaming - my wife because my daughter was screaming, and my daughter because her right index finger had been shut completely in the car door. By the time I arrived at their sides, my wife had opened the door and freed my daughter's trapped hand. Distraught, she hugged our daughter and tried to console her. I, too, joined the group hug in an effort to calm them both, and I stole a glance at the finger in question. My daughter's grossly swollen and discolored finger took a 60-degree turn sideways at the first knuckle. I literally went weak in the knees before switching into fight-or-flight mode.

Over the next several hours, I would have done anything to make her pain go away. I looked at her disfigured finger and wished with all my might I could make it better. At the ER, I watched the doctor pull and strain to straighten and set her finger, and I wished more than ever the pain would just stop. The look on her face and the sound of her crying tore me up and haunts me even today. After we finally got my daughter home and asleep with the help of heavy medication, my wife and I collapsed in exhaustion.

After reflecting on the ordeal a few days later, I realized that my wife and I said some things to one another we wouldn't normally say and we spoke in a tone of voice we normally wouldn't use. Why? We were pushed to the brink with the stress of our child's pain. I had an epiphany. Many parents that we, educators, with whom we deal daily treat us with less respect than we deserve. Many say things to us they normally wouldn't and use a tone they usually don't. Why? I know why. So often our parents speak to us, educators, when their child is in trouble, is suffering, or is in pain. I know how I acted and reacted in a similar situation, and am I that different from the parents who send their kids to my school?

The next time a parent lashes out or tries to remove consequences or wants to find a way to fix things, remember my daughter's gnarled finger and my inability to muster grace under pressure. This new perspective may just help you handle "those parents," "those emails" and "those phone calls." True, there are some people who simply are jerks. There also are plenty who don't know what to do when their kid is hurting and in trouble.

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