How to be a proactive (but not too pushy) Solo Mom
I just found a picture of my daughter from her preschool days. She’s playing dress-up in a three-layered tutu with another tutu transformed into a crown/headdress. I seem to remember that the teacher took me aside to mention that my child had co-opted all the dress-up tutus, and how—as much as they wanted to support imagination in children—they also believed in sharing.
I was in the middle of an unpleasant divorce, and I immediately assumed it was my fault. Was my daughter trying to tell me something? Was my child acting out? Was I too preoccupied with my own troubles to notice warning signs?
As I got my daughter dressed for preschool the next day, I started to suggest that she not hog all the tutus. And then I decided to say nothing. When the holidays rolled around, I baked the teacher a very nice batch of cookies and told her my daughter had helped.
Now I look at that picture and smile. My daughter still likes to play dress-up, only she wears her vintage, thrift-shop clothes everywhere, and she and her friends call it fashion.
So the preschool teacher didn’t get my daughter. She may have been the first, but she would definitely not be the last adult in charge of my child who would give me a strained smile at drop-off and make me dread upcoming parent-teacher conferences.
Here’s the thing about being a Solo Mom with elementary-school children. We tell ourselves that we can do it all, and yet we are constantly worrying that, as one person instead of two, we are not getting it done. But let’s be honest. When you talk to many nuclear parents, there is often a puzzled look from one or more of them because school is not on their list of chores. So toss that anxiety out. Moving on! It’s what a solo parent does.
Here are some tips on what not to do and what to do when a teacher doesn’t like or understand your child.
- Go to the principal and demand your child be moved to another class. You do not want to be labeled as difficult. That is what significant others are for. Since you don’t have one, and your child may have several more years at this school, starting at the top of the vocal range gives you little room for nuance. Pick your battles. This will not determine your child’s college application status.
- Discuss it with your child in simple black-and-white terms. It is not a black-and-white issue. If your child hasn’t figured out that an adult who is in control of his or her life for many hours a day many weeks of the year is not partial to his or her stellar personality, discussing it is not going to help. If your child has an inkling of a clue, you do not want to deny his or her feelings, but you need to gently suggest that you would be happy to talk to the teacher for him or her when necessary.
- Discuss it with the teacher. If this is a decent human being who happens to not get your kid, confronting him or her will only make things worse. If this is a tired, unhappy, stressed, and overworked person, then it’s the same.
- Make sure your child does homework promptly and well. Why give the teacher ammunition?
- If you can, volunteer to help in the classroom. At the least, be the first to sign up for party snacks or any other way you can help with regard to your budget and schedule. Yes, you are spying on the teacher—but in a helpful way.
- Find an extracurricular activity that will give your child a touch of self-esteem. There’s nothing like having a supportive coach or team, or an art or piano teacher to brighten a slightly hostile day.
It’s not easy, especially for a Solo Mom, to hold back on rushing to defend your child. You ask yourself whether the teacher is judging your child because of your situation. You feel that all the struggling you have been doing to keep going, that pushing to make sure that you keep your family happy and moving forward, is for naught.
Remember that you don’t have to fight every battle. Try to get a wider perspective. This is the beginning of a long trek through the educational system. It’s not always going to be perfect. Each of my kids had several teachers who did not like them. Each of my kids had one who really did. All it takes is one great teacher who gets your kid.
The rest are school cred—great stories they tell one another in middle school and high school.
You can tell those stories, too, by the way. You’ve earned it!
Interested in how other Solo Moms handle school situations? Sister Chat is a great place to ask questions in a confidential community.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.