• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Parenting and the Prime Directive

Waiting on placement outcomes for children.


August 19, 2015

The teacher placements for my children come out this week, and each day I check the parent portal to find out who will be the new presence in our lives for the upcoming year. I’m surrounded by other mothers also waiting and concerned to find out about their children’s placement. Through Facebook, I see that people are doing this across the country.

This year was particularly exciting for me because of the greater perceived control I had in the process. In our previous school system, my child was assigned to a teacher with no input from me whatsoever. But in this new district, I get to fill out this fabulous little form that asks me all sorts of questions about what kind of environment my child might thrive in. I couldn’t recommend a teacher, exactly, but it seems like I might be able to influence the choice.

Of course, the form was not as easy to fill out as I had imagined. I had to balance my honest assessment of my child with who I want my child to be. In fact, a friend of mine in another state warned me that too many parents put down TMI in these forms. She also reminded me that schools see a different version of children than we do.

By the time I handed in the form, I started to worry: had I interfered too much in the life of my child? I had indicated that one of my children does not do well in a classroom with a teacher who yells. Had I now doomed her to never being able to work in an environment with a loud, angry boss? What if she could have invented a killer app for Amazon.com, but I had prevented her from learning the necessary survival skills to function in that environment? Had I messed with a decision that should have been determined by others, or be left to chance? Did I not give enough information, or did I give too much?

This made me think about how so much of parenting is wondering when you have crossed the line. Every day, I’m in my own Star Trek episode. It seems clear that I should force them to eat vegetables or, at the very least, only have one serving of dessert, but more complicated decisions constantly haunt me. Should I sign up my child for theatre lessons because she enjoys acting, or should I just let her have fun with sock puppets? Should I hire a tutor to push my child into an honors program, or maybe he’s not meant to be in one? When are we giving our children opportunities, and when are we propelling them towards who we want them to be?

I question whether this would even be of concern generations earlier, when children were expected to follow in the footsteps of their parents, taking over the family profession or caring for the farm or household. Is the prime directive of parenting a 21st century concern? Watching out for the best interests of one’s child, protecting them, and making sure they have every opportunity at their disposal may lead to helicopter parenting, but parents also want their children to grow to become their own person. I wonder whether these competing concerns are mutually exclusive.


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