Writing my way through the school year!

The dad walked into my classroom for M’s parent-teacher conference.  I was surprised because mom said she would be attending.

His first words were, “I know SHE said she was coming, but when she heard I was coming, she decided not to come.”

My response was a simple, “Well, I am glad you were able to make it”, coupled with my best smile.

As the conversation about his child continued, it was interspersed with comments about what SHE said, or what SHE was doing, and what SHE thought about, you get my drift.  I managed to remain noncommittal each time he mentioned HER name, but I was getting frustrated. I always switched gears and guided our conversation back to  a discussion about his child.

Later that day, while checking my email , I received a note from the mom explaining that she did not want to sit in the room with HIM, and that is why she did not attend. She requested a phone conference. I was a bit annoyed, having to repeat the same information twice, but I called her. I had already sent home copies of everything I had shared with the father, with her son.  Of course, her conversation was dotted with references to HIM. And like her ex, none of it was positive.  I managed to avoid the potholes in this conference as well, continuously steering the conference back to my one and only issue, their child.

I have to say, this child is very well-adjusted for what he must hear from each parent on a weekly basis. He spends one week with one parent, and the alternate week with the other. They both stated that I can probably clearly see the difference when he is with one or the other. Actually, I can’t. I believe they are both good parents. But you wouldn’t know it from them.

My  kids come from a divorced home, and no matter my issues with their father, a common front was presented when it came to their education. I never wanted the teachers to feel awkward or uncomfortable, and I certainly didn’t want them to “take sides.” But in this situation with some of my parents, I get the feeling that they want me to become their ally in this war. A war that will have only one causality, their son.

On the plus side, I have just as many divorced or separated who put their child first, this is not about parent-bashing. I’m just curious, what do you do when confronted with this issue? What do you do when the battle enters your classroom?

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Comments on: "Torn Between Two Parents! Dealing with Battling Separated/Divorced Parents." (8)

  1. Pernille Ripp said:

    I had this happen where it got so bad we had to send a district letter to both parents telling them they could only speak to me if they were both present. It was so bad we had to lock my door at times because they would stop to check on their daughter and then tell me stories about the other person.

  2. Ah, that’s so tough. Most of my students’ parents are married, but one of the partners travels frequently – for business or for pleasure. The frequent travel makes it difficult to tell if the travel is voluntary or necessary. I also have a student whose parents live together but haven’t spoken in years.

    I only see the battles (or sense them) during parent conference time. I guess the only thing we can do is focus on the kids and set goals that all parties can live with. When parents don’t want to sit together, I try and say that – for student goals to be most effective – there needs to be consistency in all the child’s environments. Sometimes the father joins via conference call.

    Do you make separate conferences?
    Janet | expateducator.com

  3. I remember years ago for Parent/Teacher conferences — one of my students (high school) actually showed up for the purpose of making sure mom and dad stayed in different parts of the building all night and did not end up “colliding”. It’s very sad.

    All you can really do is be the broken record and keep going back to a discussion about the student. Even if you have to repeat, “Let’s try to discuss what is best for (Mary).” “How can we work together to help Mary improve her attendence?” “Can you tell me more about how much time Mary spends on homework most nights?” Make it clear to him/her that the conference is about their child. You may even have to come right out and say, “I am not a counselor, so I really cannot comment on that information, etc. etc.” Follow up the next sentence with the word “Mary”. You may even want to say, “How can I help you to help Mary?” Do all you can to get them to think about why they are there. And then stand up, move toward the door once the conference is essentially over so that they don’t keep “confiding” in you and keeping you from meeting with the other parents.

    As for repeating all of the information again for the other parent, you really have no choice. That is a reality of teaching today, and if you put yourself in the shoes of each parent, who probably really does genuinely care about Mary, but is just so caught up presently in his/her own issues, then you will find some natural patience for their circumstances. I have discovered after many parent/teacher conferences that one advantage of these harrowing meetings that leave me shaking my head, is that at least I garner a new respect for my students ;-)

    • Thanks for your insightful comments Rose. And yes, you are right, even though I felt annoyed about repeating the information, I had a parent who cared about her child, and that’s a good thing.

  4. Isn’t it sad…if they felt their marriage was such a failure, it’s unfortunate they can’t focus on the joy of the child they share. You almost wonder if they know how they sound…I bet they don’t. It’s more just hurt.

  5. I think it is so important to remember that we have no idea what the background is of the folks who enter our rooms for parent teacher conferences. We don’t know their school experiences, their life experiences, which if any or all of their personal dreams have been dashed before they entered our doors. Our goal is always to give them a picture of what is happening at school and to garner any information we can that will help us better meet the needs of the children they’ve entrusted us to educate in our classrooms. My first mentor teacher many long years ago taught me that it was not up to me to judge harshly the parents of the students in my classroom in the hope that their parents would do the same for me. I found this to be very sound advice.

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