Taking my young children to the pediatrician’s office for their well-child checkups was my worst nightmare as a new mom. I would sweat bullets as the doctor would pull up a chair next to my three-year-old and ask him questions about his quality of life. Seriously, images of my Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and fish stick meals would flash before my eyes when she would ask my son, Nathan, about what Mom feeds him. Why he doesn’t remember all the protein and vegetables I serve him? Nutrition- B. I breathed a sigh of relief when Nathan would share about our biking, swimming, and hiking as his exercise…. fitness was an A! Playing with his brother was more important than watching television- electronic usage was an A! Then it all boiled down to the last question: “Nathan, does anyone in your family smoke around you?” Nathan pursed his lips, squinted his eyes, and I could see his mind going over the past 36 months of his life. “Yes!” Nathan shouted triumphantly. I pretty much passed out on the chair, wondering when I’ve ever smoked! “My grandpa smokes a cigar!” So then I received a lecture about exposing my child to the dangers of second-hand smoke. Never mind that his grandpa smoked the cigar about 1,000 miles away from him! This doctor’s visit makes me laugh now, but it is a constant reminder that parenting should take a village….. and parents should be held accountable for good parenting skills.
I’ve been in education long enough to make a pretty good assessment of my students’ parents by the end of our 10 months together in the school year. The children spend time writing about their parents, sharing their family’s struggles and triumphs, and physically exhibiting the blessings of love and attention or sadly the curse of neglect and abuse. At the end of this school year, I reflected on each student’s family, relationships, and how they positively or negatively impacted the student’s growth as a learner. Then it hit me- states, school, and educators are all assessed by their impact on the educational growth of students, based on standards. Why aren’t parents assessed on how their parenting skills impact the development of their children?
Historically parents didn’t need a report card to hold them accountable to be good parents. You had extended families close by with the luxury of the wisdom from other generations, examples of parenting skills, and accountability for any laziness, discipline issues, or neglect. Growing up on a family farm, I can be the first to testify that if my mom and dad didn’t take care of any disciplinary action or pay attention to an area I needed help with, I would surely get it from a grandparent or aunt or uncle. My family village worked together to ensure I had a happy and healthy childhood.
So how did we shift to this lack of parenting accountability? I know that after moving to Arizona, a thousand miles from my family, it was a shock to realize that I was truly all alone in the world as a parent. But I found a circle of trustworthy, nurturing friends and a church family who supported me throughout the decade I’ve spent here. I have learned how to become a loving mother and provide physical, emotional, and mental nourishment for my children’s development. But if I didn’t have the pediatrician interviewing my young children about their life at home, would I diligently focus on their nutrition, fitness, electronic usage, and reading skills?
According to an Arizona Department of Child Safety Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report, there has been close to a 50 percent increase in the number of Arizona children in foster care, from 10,514 in the period from April 2010 to September 2010 up to 15,751 in the period from October 2013 to March 2014. New removals of foster children have increased at just about the same rate, from 4,010 in 2010 to 5,701 in March 2014. An average of 32 children enter the foster care system in Arizona every single day. This is damning evidence that parents need education and accountability as a mother or father.
So how do we begin instilling accountability within parents without resentment or bitterness? How do we tap into the parents’ moral code without violating their personal values? How do we create a bridge of understanding, empathy, and communication within racial and multicultural identities without putting up barriers? This is a vulnerable area for any parent- usually parents feel a strong sense of responsibility, and it’s not easy to hear that you are failing at the most important job of your life. But how will we ever halt this sad transition of losing children to neglectful parenting unless someone speaks up?
First of all, you can’t force someone to change unless they seek it out. Therefore I would start with a survey. Send it out to the parents the week before school begins, and tell them that you would like to pilot a Parenting Program for the school year. Break the survey into 5 key areas: nutrition, fitness, electronics, homework, family time. Instruct the parents to rate themselves and give examples in each category, and remind them that their children will also rate their parents as well. Obviously if parents want to opt out of this program, they can. I would hold a Parent University course at my school each quarter, and invite guest speakers. Parent are too busy? Provide webinars and podcasts for them to get plugged in. Give the parents mentors and peer-partners to hold each other accountable! Find outlets for the parents to talk over their concerns about their parenting skills. I would provide the survey at the end of each quarter to monitor the parents’ progress. But the most important part of this program would be an honest report to the parents during each Parent-Teacher conference. I would preface the conference with a notice about the honesty of your feedback, and that it would be based on student input as well as their honest reflection over the months. It’s time to be brave and just say it how it is.
We know that relationships are key to creating life-long learners, and a good relationship includes brutal honesty. It’s time we are honest with the parents of our students.