Being A School Principal Means I’m The Perfect Parent… Just Kidding.
The list of parenting best practices is long; giving parents plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Parents are tough on themselves and it doesn’t help that we compare our parenting to those around it. It’s easy to assume that other parents and families are living in peaceful, tantrum-free homes where nobody loses their temper and everyone behaves. This week we’re hearing from a working mom who, despite being a middle school principal overseeing 1,000+ kids, still finds being a parent the most difficult job there is. She offers a great reminder though: parents aren’t perfect, kids aren’t perfect, and we should be grateful for it all.
I am the proud mother of a 9 year old girl and a 7 year old boy. I’m also the principal of an affluent, high performing middle school with over one thousand students. I love both jobs and I wouldn’t trade either for the world. But when people assume that being a principal, a full time, high stress position with many responsibilities to juggle, is more challenging than being a mom, they couldn’t be more wrong. When people assume that because I’m a principal I must have this parenting thing down and therefore I’m raising perfect angels who wouldn’t dare break a rule, they simply haven’t met my children.
The truth is when it comes to child behavior management, I do have it down. This is because my professional experience has taught me the golden rule: the way that I respond in a given scenario will either have a positive or negative impact on child behavior. In other words, my own behavior has the power to escalate or deescalate a situation. Makes perfect sense, right? Unfortunately, I only seem to grasp this easy concept during my interactions with other people’s children. Within the confines of my middle school, I don’t raise my voice, I remain cool and unnerved, I give kids clear choices, I set boundaries, and I listen to fears and frustrations. I approach a tantrum very supportively and use my smooth deescalation techniques because I know that during a hormonal crisis, I must be the calm within the unreasonable storm. I use “first, then” statements, I don’t deviate from behavior plans, I don’t make empty threats, and I follow through on consequences. Even as I write this article, I’m amazed that I’ve been given such a gift of patience. How could my own children be anything less than perfect? But then, I go home.
I’m not sure what happens to me during the 35 minute commute back to my personal life, but it’s nothing short of a total transformation. When my own children challenge my authority, I demonstrate a complete lack of patience and sanity by turning into a hollering maniac. Rather than offering clear choices, sticking to a consistent plan, and serving as the calm within the meltdown, I take the words and actions of a 2nd and 3rd grader personally and dump fuel all over the fire. When my son, who believes he’s never been wrong, tells me that I know nothing, all of a sudden I’m rattling off my resume to a 7 year old. Doesn’t he know how many adults and students I’m in charge of? Doesn’t he know about my extensive training in dealing with kids? During these failed attempts to get my kids to do just one thing that I’ve asked, my home becomes a barfarama of empty threats and terrorist negotiations. How can this be when just minutes earlier I had it all together?
Parenting is hard! When I deal with other people’s children I can hold it together because the emotional investment isn’t as high. When my own children don’t follow my directions, I take it personally because I see that as a reflection of my parenting, and I feel like a failure. Why do they have to argue with me about taking a shower? Can’t they just listen?! Here’s the bottom line, parents - there’s one thing that we can count on (and be grateful for) every day. Kids are going to wake up and be kids. Isn’t that awesome? That means that while they’re most definitely going to test our patience, they’re also going to crack us up and fill us with joy. We need to understand that it’s natural and very developmentally appropriate for children to challenge the adults in their life. As a parent that sends me straight to the wine bottle, but as a principal I know that is exactly how kids explore their boundaries. So many great lessons come out of this natural part of child growth and development. Kids will learn from their mistakes, and parents, so will we! Sometimes we’re going to come home and lose it because we’ve already been on our best behavior all day. Sometimes we’re going to be a little irrational because we’re not perfect and tantrums aren’t just for toddlers. Let’s forgive ourselves for that.
I’m sure you’re rockin’ this whole parenting thing. And someday when we look back at the darndest things our kids used to say and do, we’re going to miss it - all of it - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Be grateful for it now.
Leslie Mitchell is a mom of 2 young grade schoolers. She’s been in education her entire career teaching 8th grade English and History before venturing into school administration a few years ago. She’s now the principal of a suburban middle school outside of Chicago.
For more parenting tips and guides, don’t forget to read other posts in our Modern Parenting section.