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ABCs of surviving parent-teacher conferences

Have you experienced a euphoric feeling called family contentment? Your children's chores are complete, homework is done, pork chops were consumed at dinner with minimal whining. You're feeling fine. And then you go to a parent-teacher conference. It may go something like this:

"Well, Mrs. Sokol," (pause and concerned look over the eyeglasses). "It seems that Ethan is having trouble with his logarithms and Latin conjugations."

"Oh, I see." (Cough and fold hands in lap.) "I guess we didn't think to push those. Are they necessary for a preschooler?"

(Look of pity, eyeglasses come off.) "Mrs. Sokol, we have a curricula to follow, and we don't want to hamper Ethan's chances of an M.D. later in life, do we?"

And while part of me questions, is it curricula or curriculum? (and I will never know and unfortunately cannot rely on Ethan), the other part of me wonders where I'll get the time to help Ethan with his Latin conjugations, the time to create the inevitable sticker charts/motivational objects/bribing dinero to help him complete it, and the time to feel guilty about not doing any of the above consistently.

Of course, I jest (I have a teaching degree so I feel on very comfortable jesting ground). In our parent-teacher conferences I have enjoyed the teachers and felt they were doing their best to make it a great experience. But like the dentist, it isn't them, it's me.

Inexplicably, I still feel a nervous anticipation as soon as I open the school door and smell those school smells. In anticipation of my nervous reaction, I have made an emotional anesthesia in the form of five pacts with myself. In response to a teacher's question about my child's choices, I will:

1. Delete life history and make no explanation over four words; (i.e., Question: "Have you been helping your first- grader memorize the Gettysburg Address?" Answer: "No.")

2. Smile on the outside, chant on the inside; (i.e., "I am a stellar mother, I am not a societal paragon, I am adored by my children — ages 3 and under.")

3. If I endure this well, I will enjoy a brownie sundae.

4. Involve Ethan because this conference is about Ethan; (i.e. Question: "Did you know Ethan spits at the board?" Answer: "That's so unlike him, he usually spits at people. Ethan, come over here and explain your spitting theologies."

5. Re-read pages 294-5 of "The Challenging Child." "Sometimes the best you can do is less than your 'best' . . . In real life, being a healthy, nurturing parent to our children sometimes means that, depending on circumstances, you may have to deliberately stop short of your best in order to ensure that your spouse and children get their fair share."

Using these five methods, I hope this year to put the responsibility where it belongs and feel contentment return; or, at the very least, enjoy a brownie sundae.

LIFEChange Tip: When anticipating a nerve-wracking experience, prepare a few easily retrieved phrases to overcome your normal reactions.

Book Pick: "The Challenging Child" Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D.


Connie Sokol is a wife and mother of six who has her own business and hosts a twice-weekly local-radio call-in show on KUTR (AM-820).


E-mail: questions@lifechangeprogram.com