Once upon a time (1996 to be exact), I was a wide-eyed young woman who thought that an undergrad degree in Elementary Education gave me the right ― nay the obligation, to judge the child-rearing skills of my students’ parents. I began teaching fourth grade at the ripe old age of 22 and had quite a snarky inner-dialogue going on for the first seven years of my teaching career. Thankfully, I never uttered my thoughts out loud. My entire outlook changed in 2003 when I gave birth to my son. As a 42-year-old mother of two, I now want to wrestle my former self to the ground and punch her in the face. That woman didn’t know jack about parenting. I sometimes fantasize that I can travel back in time and tell my former self (1996 Lisa) a thing or two about how tough parenting can be. Here’s a letter I wish I could send that well-rested judgmental lady who clearly did not know how to dress or style her hair.
Dear 1996 Lisa:
When you began teaching, a lot of highly critical thoughts looped through your mind each day. As a public service for all adults who have not entered the mystical world of parenting, I am compelled to address your flawed criticisms.
Upon spotting yet another child mining for gold while you introduced them to this crazy new thing called the World Wide Web, you used to think: Why are these ten-year-old kids still picking their noses? Haven’t their parents taught them how disgusting that is?
Do you honestly think that most parents encourage their kids to pick green crsuty mucus out of their nose in public? Unless you permanently restrain your children’s hands behind their backs, they’re going to pick their nose! If your child walks down the aisle picking his/her nose, then you have failed as a parent, but if they don’t, declare yourself a success!
The littlest thing used to bother you and send you into a self-righteous tailspin. I’m embarrassed to recall you actually once thought this:
I can’t believe Johnny’s mom signed his assignment notebook when his homework wasn’t even finished! Doesn’t she know her signature confirms that she has checked to make sure his homework is complete? What is she teaching Johnny by breaking the sacred parent-teacher bond of trust?
Get a grip. There are mornings now where you would sign over your soul to the devil just to herd your kids out of the house and get them to school on time.
On that note, here’s another shameful judgement you used to make:
Does this kid ever brush his hair or know how to match his clothes? How did his parents let him out of the house this morning looking like this?
Right now, you get to go home to your cool city apartment, kick off your shoes and watch Friends and Seinfeld with your roomies. You have no idea what it is like to be responsible for preparing an entire human being (or two) for public viewing, plus get yourself to work on time. Stop judging and focus on the fact that the kid is on time to school, fully clothed, and has his homework, fruit snack, and lunch. One day you will understand what a small miracle that is.
And then there’s this ridiculous thought that went through your mind more often than I would like to admit:
ARGH!! Sally’s mom signed up to send graham crackers to school for our candy house project today and then totally flaked! How could she be so irresponsible?
Sally’s mom didn’t flake on you to screw up your precious candy house project that, by the way, you’ll never get away with doing in 2017 (you don’t know what Common Core Standards are now, but you will― just you wait). Her mom may have been working late, early, or both. Just use cardboard and tell the kids not to eat it. Your future self would have had this problem solved 5 minutes ago.
Karma sucks and here’s proof. You use to think:
I can’t believe Jane just told me she went to bed at 11:00 p.m. last night! Don’t her parents know she needs more sleep than that?
All that judging in your twenties earned you a long-term battle with your own kid who is quite the night owl. Here’s a hot tip for you: Even if you put a child in a dark room with soothing white noise and staple their eyeballs shut, it is not within your power to MAKE another human being fall asleep.
Okay 1996 Lisa, I know I’ve been hard on you, but one day you’ll know why. You’ll look back and wonder if you were sensitive enough toward your students and their families. Don’t worry, 1996 Lisa, you were a good teacher. You arrived to school at 6:45 a.m. and stayed until 7:00 p.m. each night. You attended your students’ ice skating shows on the weekends and creatively poured your heart and soul into your classroom. I’m sometimes jealous of you and wonder if I measure up to the high-energy, perky teacher I once was. I can’t do all the things you did. Guess what though? When I interact with students, I’m extra sensitive and imagine their parents are standing right behind them. I understand kids and their families better than you ever could have. I will dig through garbage cans with my students to help them find their lost retainers because I know how much one costs to replace. Schools need teachers like you and me. We balance each other out. Now, try to stay out late and party like a rock star while you still can.
Your Future Self