I remember being a young child, sitting in class when the teacher announced parent-teacher conferences. I was instantly a nervous wreck. It wasn’t because I was a bad child, I was the complete opposite, it was because they wanted my mom to come to the school.
My mother wasn’t like the rest. She was a very young, single mother. She had me at 15 years of age and my younger sister at age 18. We always wanted her to be apart of classroom activities but she always declined. Her main reason for not participating (besides not having the money, which is a whole different blog) was that she KNEW the teachers would judge her and give her a hard time for being so young.
I never believed my mom, I always thought it was her way of getting out of having to meet my teacher, sit in those tiny desk chairs and go over my artwork and name sheets for an hour. To make matters worse, the teachers would always ask me “Rachel, why hasn’t your mom set a date, did you give her the paper, we can’t get a hold of her (this was before cell phones).” I never knew what to say, and it put me in such an awkward, embarrassing position.
Now that I am grown, and have a daughter of my own, I of course questioned my mother’s methods. Why didn’t she want to meet my teachers? I decided I would NOT do that to my daughter. And although I look younger than I am, I had my daughter in my mid-twenties, so the teen-mom thing was not a problem for me…or so I thought.
During my daughters first years in Early 3’s and Pre-School we lived in a younger community. We knew everyone there, my friends (who were my age) had children the same age as my daughter, and we knew her teachers because they went to school with us. We were all young, we all socialized, donated, included everyone, and always went “all out” for any activity the school was having. It was an amazing time, and yes, I did attend ALL parent-teacher conferences!
Her Kindergarten year we decided to buy a home in a different community. It was a more prestigious community. During orientation I looked around and saw mothers and fathers, mostly all married, more distinguished in life (a nice way of saying older). They didn’t really look at me, and there were no introductions. Her teacher was very busy that day with everyone, but after only being able to say a few words to her I thought she would be a great teacher for my daughter! The classroom was amazing, and I was excited!
I am a huge organizer, I prepare for things like it’s my life’s work! I had the perfect outfit picked out for my daughter’s first day according to the weather (we live in Michigan, so it’s never right). Her lunch was packed, I followed the snack labeling rules from orientation, and made sure it was a healthy lunch. I made sure to have all paperwork in her folder from orientation to be turned in, and a donation to the PTA. I went over things with my daughter about being polite, about writing her name correctly (she tends to write her N’s backward), about lunch time and recess, and about what to do if there is a bully. I covered all the basics of a first day.
When I picked Etta up from school she had a folder in her backpack, this was the new “Communication Folder”. On the back there was a schedule of what homework I should be expecting her to bring home. After reading the entire schedule of homework I was overwhelmed, confused, and wondering why on Earth my Kindergartner has so many homework assignments! I remember being in Kindergarten… all I did was play, color, and pretend to read.
For the first week I thought I had gotten the hang of it. A small ABC book each night, with four other individual letter books to read as well. Also, a “Letters and Numbers Wallet” to practice with each night. All to be returned in the morning. On Thursday night it’s poetry book homework to be returned Monday. There is a monthly project that is given on a Friday to be returned on a Monday. There is a name sheet for practice that goes home on Friday to be returned Tuesday. And lastly a project will be introduced to us in January that will go home every-other night. I had to make a calendar specifically for my 5 year old’s homework schedule….but I had the hang of it!
Then, a few weeks in all hell broke lose (pardon the language). I received an email from the teacher mid-morning on Monday stating that it was spirit week, and apologizing for the late notice. We missed the first day of dress up due to the late notice, and my daughter was completely bummed. For the second day we had to last minute put together some things for the theme which made for a hectic night. I did NOT like being unprepared.
My fiance (yes, I’m engaged now) said “Don’t worry about it, just send her in her regular clothes…you don’t have to participate” Well see, I am the type of person who HAS to participate. When I was a kid I never got to do fun things like dress up, donate and participate because we had no money…and my mom was a nervous, poor, unprepared teen-mom. Therefore, I really enjoy seeing my daughter’s face light up and get excited when we get to be silly at school! That was one little issue, but then the next night I got a field trip slip in her folder…. I lightly read it over, threw it on my desk in the “open items” pile, to go over it later. The next day I happened to look at the slip and it was due, with money that day!!! We only received a 1 day notice to sign and provide money for this field trip that was scheduled for next week!
I then realized that Friday being school spirit day, was also picture day, PTA donation day, book orders were due, and it was “give $1 to bring your favorite stuffed animal” day. All of these things going on had me completely stressed and swamped with school things (mind you my previous blogs explain that I also work A LOT, and now I am planning a wedding as well).
So when we got home for the day, all I wanted to do was get things done for the week and relax, I looked over at my daughter’s backpack and remembered “homework”. I was instantly aggravated! I did NOT want to do homework that night with her, and all she wanted to do was relax, play and cuddle up with me since we have been so consumed in school lately! So we skipped homework….I know it’s horrible….
That night I took to social media, asking friends of mine in different areas what their kids were up to in Kindergarten. Not one of them had as many responsibilities and homework assignments as my daughter. And honestly every friend and family member said that the amount of work we had was ridiculous and that I should talk to the teacher about my concerns.
So here’s where we get back to being a young mother…..and being judged. As I opened my email I saw that there was a message from her teacher. It was the third message re-explaining the different assignments and when to turn them in, sent out to all parents of the class. This fueled my fire, obviously I wasn’t the only one confused and tired of doing all of these assignments! I wrote up a detailed, professional, non-confrontational email to discuss my concerns. After reading it multiple times, making adjustments, making sure I sounded proper and sincere with my request for less homework, I hit SEND.
I received a message from her teacher stating “What homework?” and then an explanation that all homework is “optional”….BUT that studies show the more one-on-one with your child in doing homework, the more they learn. I was also told that if I am too “busy” for my daughter (I mentioned to her that I, like most parents, work full-time and have other responsibilities at home) that she could assign my daughter a 5th grade buddy to help her with her work.
Along with a few other things said in the email, I noticed the tone of her email was falling in the “You’re a young mom and shouldn’t be raising a child” category. I politely stated there must be some confusion, and that my daughter and I would work all of these assignments into our learning routine at home, as I play and teach my daughter things everyday in our own way. I also let her know there was no need to invite the 5th grader to help my child, as I am perfectly capable.
After all of this I have learned a few things…. That one, “optional” homework is just to weed out the parents who are involved with their children, and the ones who aren’t (or can’t be 100% of the time). It is also there to make your child feel less in their classroom if they don’t get this work done, and others do. It shows children that parents who work spend less time with them, because they see the children who have parents that don’t work coming in, donating, and going above and beyond, spending every minute with their children.
The second thing I learned was that if I don’t go around wearing my birth year as a badge to show I am 30 with a 5 year old daughter, it will be assumed I am a teen-mom with a 5 year old. I will be treated with disrespect, I will be talked down to. I will also be made to feel like I am not doing enough for my daughter, although I always try to do the most I can which usually is going above and beyond. I’ve learned that the second I decide I can’t donate to the PTA, or I can’t do the homework assignment that night, that I am a horrible parent that is “too young to have a child”.
I purposely waited to have my child in my mid-twenties to avoid the teen-mom stereotype. And although I tried, my genetics of looking young truly made me appreciate my mother’s struggle when I was growing up. I feel the pain, I feel the judgement….but I wont let it get to me! So if this message reaches anyone, please remember not to judge that young parent, working 40 hours a week, toting a child back and forth to school and daycare, trying their best to be the best parent possible!