We had another student-parent-teacher conference yesterday, this one with a mom and her daughter. The girl is pretty and out-going and in the world of sixth grade, she has become a social force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, because popularity is easy for her and academics are challenging, she has focused on the one much to the detriment of the other. Who can blame her? Don't we all prefer to play to our strengths? At any rate, her third quarter grades were low enough that we felt it was time to get her mom in.
We knew from prior school-home communication that Mom talked a tough game about her expectations for her daughter, but we were concerned because there didn't seem to be a lot of follow through. In addition, I knew from a writing piece this student had done, that her mother had been a teen parent. In a poignant profile, the student had told how her mother had become pregnant, gone through the teen-parenting program, and, at fifteen, had given birth to her. Then, she had returned to high school, graduated with her class, worked full time and earned a community college degree. Now married with two younger children, this twenty-seven-year-old candidly warned her daughter against making the same mistakes that she had. She framed her advice in terms of wanting her daughter to be able to enjoy being a kid, something she herself had missed.
But what a fine line to walk as a parent-- wanting to warn the daughter you gave birth to at fifteen against messing up in school and making other bad choices, but without making her feel as if she were somehow a liability or a mistake. And from the daughter's perspective, how seriously could she take such a warning, when the woman who is giving it, the mother she loves and respects more than anyone, is strong and successful despite the choices she made? The ambiguity of this dynamic seemed to shade all of their interactions as they sat with us at the conference table.
The student cried and admitted that she wasn't doing what she should, and then she promised to be more responsible. Her mother, dry-eyed, was predictably angry and disappointed. The student said she knew what her mother expected, and that she would do her best not to let her down again. I could tell that they were both sincere, as we were, too, in the desire to help this girl be more successful in school, but as they left, I understood what a powerful role model her mother was for this student, and I wondered how her words could ever outweigh her actions.