The report card had three A’s, four B’s and several S’s (satisfactory). Grades are not what I want to focus on the most when I attend a teacher-parent conference. These are the aspects I want to know more about: my child’s character, respect for teachers, ability to complete projects on time, helping other students and is he or she a pleasure to have in class.
On this particular card, two elements, which by their nature are no-nos, caught my attention. My own child, apparently who should know better, had now to face me and explain why that report had “Wastes time in class” and “Disrupts learning environment” statements on it. I didn’t wait to talk with any teacher ... I wanted to deal with the problem from its roots — my child.
From school, I went straight home. No bad words or put-down names. But the atmosphere wasn’t a comforting one and the one-way talk (me to the errant child) wasn’t like, “Honey, I know you try, and this is just a small problem that I want to talk of.” Anything like, “Tell me one reason, just one if there is any, why you ... and tell it now in clear terms, why you can do that. How many times have we talked about good behavior ...” may be closer to what went on.
After 15 minutes of my fuming, I had to leave town, but not before I had sentenced the accused to writing a letter to each of the two teachers who had written negatively about her and one to me — her life’s head teacher, promising this was the last time I would get such a report.
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A few minutes after leaving home, reality started to dominate my thoughts. I realized I said nothing of the A’s, B’s and S’s to my child. In my school days, I can’t recall ever seeing an A or B on my report card until I was in seventh grade the second time. I also knew many parents who would host a celebration party if their child could achieve these grades. In truth, this was something worth noting and acknowledging and letting my child know how proud I was of her.
But what brought me to tears was the fact that with those two seemingly disturbing elements, four different times teachers had written that my child was a pleasure to have in class; two times showed she was courteous and cooperative and two different times indicated her progress was satisfactory. Why didn’t I mention these positive attributes?
I just had flunked what I teach leaders: Before you criticize someone, tell them some of the good things they do. As an on-the-job learning parent, I strive to build relationship before giving rules. Rules without relationship are the best recipe for rebellion.
The feeling that she deserved it disappeared as I drove to my office before leaving town. I called her to say how sorry I was and ask for her forgiveness. It was a simple in-between-tears sentence, “... I am sorry for the way I talked to you ... you know I love you, no matter how your performance is ... your grades are great and more teachers had written about your good character than what I concentrated on ... understand that I love you and I just want the best for you ...” It was hard, but I said it, “Please forgive me.” And from the other end of the phone I heard my daughter cry as she said, “Dad, I understand ... I don’t even know why those teachers wrote that.” Then with sense of authority she said, “You are forgiven.”
Still the letters had to be written and taken to the teachers and one to me. Children cannot be angels. They have surprises, good and bad. With training and retraining the bad surprises can be turned to sweet surprises. But being a tender warrior is what keeps a father-child relationship vibrant. You can teach without alienating your child, care without spoiling, say no with love and leave room for a yes at the appropriate time.
Walking this delicate line starts with a realization that God never sends you a manual on how to raise each child. In a family, there is one child God seems to have given you so that you can appreciate the others. The problem is, this may be a different child at different times. And all are special blessings. The family cannot be the same and have the complete joy of life without that blessing (child) in disguise. I just want to raise normal children not angels.
Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. He is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope and Caring Hearts High School, a vulnerable girls’ boarding school in Kenya. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.