School is the best and the worst…for parents.
Our kids, with their triumphs and disappointments, can send us into the extremes. When Nasty Ned kicks our daughter, we want to crush his face, even though he’s three years old. When Beastly Beth spreads a mean rumor about our son, we wish her a tortured existence that includes never hearing Beethoven and expired library cards for this life and all hereafters. When the fourth grade teacher praises our daughter’s art project, we glow. When the drama coach doesn’t give our son the coveted role, we seethe.
All of this is completely understandable…and entirely ridiculous. So what’s going on? In a nutshell: Our own pasts are ganging up on us.
Each time we were hurt or rejected as children, each time we were embarrassed or mistreated as teenagers – it all floods back. Every unresolved issue crouches in hiding, ready to pounce. When our kids go through an experience that reminds us of our own history, the emotional echoes and whispers grow to a rustling crescendo. Before we know what’s hitting us, we can find ourselves trying to deal with the present, neck-deep in feelings from the past.
When I think about my own childhood, the vivid details astonish me. I remember the purple ribbons in one girl’s blonde hair. She pulled me aside in first grade, whispered that she wanted to invite me to her 7th birthday party, but she couldn’t, because then her friends would know she liked me, which could never happen, because I wasn’t cool. I remember the bracelet my 8th grade French teacher wore every day, the teacher who wrote in my semester evaluation that I should “adjust” my goals because she “feared” I “didn’t have what it takes” to be successful academically. And to be clear, these tragic incidents took place decades ago.
Our children provide fertile ground for us to rocket off the rails, and school provides the perfect storm. Each time one of our children is hurt or disappointed, we have the potential for that knee-jerk, exaggerated reaction. Anger crosses into rage, disappointment into despair, pride into hubris. Looking back over my children’s years in school, I can’t count the times I needed to call a time out – for me, not for them.
Sometimes I’d catch myself before I went spinning into the ozone; other times, I’d find myself floundering in my own emotional undertow before I realized. Either way, I knew it was time to hit the emergency override button. I’d clutch perspective in a tight fist, and renew my vows to reason. I’d breathe deeply, and listen as the echoes and whispers tapered. I’d feel the internal shift of memories moving back where they belonged — into a quiet corner of the distant past. I’d feel the boundary falling back into place, a clear affirmation that my children’s lives belonged not to me, but to them.
I wish your children a wonderful school year. And you as well.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. She has written two novels: Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, about a girl’s first year of high school – Tightwire, about a rookie psych intern treating her first patient, a stormy young man who grew up in the circus. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones Concert. Amy also enjoys collaborating with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. Before Amy began writing, she was a psychotherapist for 25 years, which taught her that compassionate parenting holds no judgments about development, change and diversity.
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