I have a new found respect for single, working parents. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known that being a single parent is not easy. But knowing something and living it are two different things altogether.
Recently, I spent 2 1/2 weeks as the only adult at home. So, I was glad when my husband returned from his trip; there is now someone else to help with chores and to make decisions. I have someone to talk to about how difficult my day was. I can count on him to take over when I need 15 minutes to regroup. When it’s just you, you can’t take a moment to rest or do anything that will derail your very carefully structured schedule. If just one thing gets out of place, everything falls apart.
While my husband went back to South America to rent our house, sell our car and basically pack up our things to be shipped to Canada, my 13-year-old son and I had to fend for ourselves. Right at about this time, you’re probably thinking: ‘So, what? What’s the big deal? Your son is a teenager. He should be able to help around the house.’ So, I guess I should tell you that my husband is the one who cooks our meals, so when he’s away it’s my turn. If you know me personally, you will know what a huge learning curve that is for me. I. Don’t. Like. To. Cook. There. I said it! So, my son and I teamed up in the mornings and evenings so that we could have healthy meals and time to rest before bedtime. I think we did well during those 2 1/2 weeks, but when I think about doing this all the time, my heart sinks. I feel for those parents who are going it alone and are doing their very best every day.
The children of these parents are sitting in our classrooms right now. Whether or not we know that this is their situation is beside the point. In fact, what’s important to remember is that we are all trying to keep our days intact so that chores don’t consume our every waking moment. Although, some of us are fortunate to have more supports in place, others of us are hanging on by a very thin thread. Either way, one- and two-parent homes are busier than ever before. We fill up every waking moment with commitments and appointments; our calendars are a criss-cross of play dates, school activities, and other events. While some of these may be obligations, others are time fillers. It’s as if we don’t know what to do with ourselves unless we’re busy. (But, I digress; that’s a post for another day.)
When the family lives of our students pose a challenge (like mine temporarily did for a few weeks), we need to remember that children absorb their family’s energy and bring that to class, whether or not they know this is happening. It’s particularly true for young children. That’s another reason why it’s important to connect with the child in front of us even if we’re having a bad day ourselves. Even if we’re feeling less than effective as educators and are tempted to put the responsibility somewhere else.
Take a deep breath. Step back. Clear your mind of preconceived notions and prejudices. (Yes, we all have them.) Start with a clean slate. It’s a meditative moment. Look around at your students. Imagine your own child, niece, nephew, or neighbor’s kid, who may be having a difficult time, and take another deep breath. Smile. Make a connection. It could make the difference for your student today and always. But, don’t take it from me. Try it out and leave a comment about how it went.