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Coping with parents' evening

Tuesday, 14 April 2015 Naomi

Naomi is a Mum of two and juggler of many roles who blogs about her parenting experiences, thoughts and mental health hiccups at Today she blogs about living with a mental health problem while coping with some of the challenges of parenthood. She has already blogged about coping with mental health problems in the school playground.

As I sit anxiously across the desk from the teacher, striving to appear knowledgeable and supportive while swallowing the taste of bile and keeping my shaking hands from view, I am oddly comforted that I'm not the only person who finds parents’ evening an ordeal. 

I was a teacher for over a decade but am relatively new to being on this side of the desk after giving up teaching to be a full-time Mummy and to give my mental health some space to improve.

As a teacher parents’ evenings were a haze of shaking hands with endless parents and trying to get parents on board with their child's learning.  At the time the anxiety I felt about parents’ evening was smothered by exhaustion and a professional facade which would have fallen apart if anyone had challenged it. Now that I don't have a professional facade I feel even more exposed.

I’ve developed the following ways of coping:

Before parents’ evening I ask my kids about any problems and things they’re enjoying, then write notes of what they said and any questions I have. 

When I'm part way through parents’ evening, I can only think of running out the door. My notes can help me appear (I hope) knowledgeable about my child, their motivations and learning style. They give me something to do with my hands and reduces need for consistent eye contact. I also jot notes during the appointments if something needs remembering, or I need something to do..... 

On the way I listen to my music and keep it running through my head as I negotiate the crowds. Just as when I wait for our turn I will be texting my friend who understands and has the time to text supportive enquires regarding, "any handsome math teachers"? Or more importantly, "do not vomit on the table," Valued advice. 

For me the waiting for an appointment is worse than the appointment. This is where I fiddle with my water bottle and receive fascinating text messages. Safe pre-planned fiddles help reduce my nervous tics.

"do breathe, if there's nothing more you get from reading this, it's to breathe!"

I try to have my partner, or Mum come to support me. Some local charities may have someone who can support you in meetings etc.

Some friends use meditation exercise during difficult experiences, personally I concentrate on my weight distribution....I tend to rock from my toes to my heels, which can look unusual, hence my lack of recommendation! Oh, but do breathe, if there's nothing more you get from reading this, it's to breathe!

At times I’ve wanted to shout, to be heard. I try not to because what I have to say is important; by shouting they just hear shouting and not the information. 

Parents’ evening are a difficult situation for everyone, I’ve found the more I attend, the more insider knowledge of where the toilets are, which teacher runs on time, where to get a cuppa etc, all help reduce the stress. 

Once when I was on the teacher’s side of the table, a parent was obviously struggling. I finally asked if I could help. We moved into a science lab where the plastic stools creaked ominously, but at least we were able to speak with the best chance of a clear understanding for us both. 

To me the exchange of information should be more important than the environment (over the phone or after school where there are less crowds are all possible). I haven’t asked to move rooms myself yet but when I do it’ll probably be wise not to mention the spiders climbing the wall and armed secret agents that are causing the concentration difficulty!

I know many teachers who are concerned about being judged – they're worried about looking professional, the standard of their teaching and which one is our child. There will always be unpleasant teachers, but those hopefully they are in the minority. For me, as long as I’m interested in my child’s development and willing to support my child’s learning in the classroom, then the rest should be unimportant.

Finally, I know my child. I am their advocate. Parents’ evening is my time to find out how they’re doing and to share my knowledge of what motivates my child. It’s sharing information between people who care about our child’s academic and social performance, and us, parents, who simply care about our children despite whatever mental health difficulties we may have


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