Sometimes I struggle with knowing when to intervene in my children’s lives, and when to step away and allow them to solve their own problems.
The last thing I want to be accused of is being a “helicopter parent” who hovers over her children’s every move. But I also know that parents can play a powerful role as advocates for change, and there are some problems too big for kids to solve by themselves.
When I was in seventh grade growing up in California, I attended an elite public school that wasn’t in my neighborhood. It would be like driving from Everett to Mercer Island to participate in a free program that wasn’t offered locally.
Everyone at my new school was richer than me, everyone had nicer clothes, and everyone was smarter and more talented — or so it seemed. I did my best to thrive, but I also struggled with feeling like I didn’t belong. One teacher in particular made life difficult. I’ll call her Mrs. X.
Mrs. X taught language arts and required all of her Hi-Cap students to participate in Junior Model United Nations. She gave us an hour of homework each night, even though we had six other teachers also assigning homework. Mrs. X had a reputation for her JMUN team crushing the competition. She achieved this by bullying her students into excellence. The only way to gain Mrs. X’s esteem was to “win a gavel” or at least garner an honorable mention at city finals.
Mrs. X didn’t treat us like 12-year-olds, she treated us like her nerd army. It seemed to me that our sole purpose was to make Mrs. X look good in front of her JMUN cronies.
Looking back on it, I don’t know how I survived — but I did, because I was terrified of not keeping up. When the JMUN competition arrived in spring, I won an honorable mention. I felt proud when Mrs. X gave me her nod of approval, but I also felt sick, every single day, from the stress of her harsh, petty teaching style.
Then one day, Mrs. X stormed into class 10 minutes late and threw a giant stack of essays into the wastebasket. She grabbed an eraser and wiped away assignments from the chalkboard. I don’t remember what she said, but she shouted a tirade before running out of the classroom. Mrs. X didn’t return for a week and when she did come back, things were different.
Twenty-five years later I discovered what had happened. The mothers of my classmates had gone to the principal en masse demanding change. I like to think of them as the Mom Squad.
When I found out about this Mom Squad a few years ago, I cried tears of relief even though I was long past the point where Mrs. X could hurt me. It felt good knowing that my suffering had not gone unnoticed and that adults had stood up to protect me.
There are lots of times when we tell our children to just “deal with it” so that they become tough enough to face the real world. But let’s not pretend that all teachers and coaches are perfect. Some situations require helicopter backup.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.