Sunday, May 5, 2019

No Code: Parenting and Principaling

I made up a word for this post.   I turned "principal" into a present participle, because it really should be used in forming an active continuous tense.  So:  We are principaling, people, just like, for many of us, we are parenting and adulting and teaching.

I've been thinking of a close friend of mine.  She's  raising two teenagers.  As many before her have learned, a woman can birth two children, and they can grow to be so drastically different that it feels they can’t possibly be related.  

Same ingredients, same oven, different cakes.  Really different cakes.  

One of my friend's children is spending all his time overachieving.  He is winning awards and focusing on being the.very.best.at.everything.  The other is spending her time sabotaging herself and infuriating everyone in the vicinity.  To honor my friend's privacy, I’ll not go into details.  I'll just say this:  My friend spends pretty much all her time trying to crack the code, trying to understand, trying to do the right thing.

No Answers Yet
Parenting the first child didn't seem difficult.  Everything made sense.  But it's worrisome, for my friend, how perfection seems the only goal.

The second child is challenging everything my friend thought she knew about kids, about love, about loyalty and commitment, about anxiety and depression, about medications and school systems and lawyers.  

My friend has come to the conclusion she doesn't really know anything.  She shrugs a lot.  She send me this picture a few weeks ago.  I've read every one of these, her text read.  

Did it help?  I responded.

Nope.

We didn't discuss the photo-bomb wine, because it's super-funny, except it's not.

This photograph reminds me of the bookshelf I have in my office.  It's stuffed with books, each one representing my attempt to crack the code of principalship.  

Principaling.  Parenting.  Neither have a code (though that doesn't stop us from looking for it): There are too many ingredients. Time, demographics, effort, community, culture, history, nature, nurture, perhaps the way the wind blows and the stars align.  Most people parent as they were parented, or they flip the narrative and parent in the precise opposite way they were parented.  It makes sense, because pretty much everything we do in this world is related to something we've seen from others and our conscious decision to follow the model or eschew it.

Principals are in the unique situation of watching many different parenting styles and being challenged not to judge a single one of them.  It gets more complicated when we, ourselves, are parenting and principaling.  It's a recipe for second-guessing oneself pretty much nonstop. We have hundreds of models of students surrounding us every single day, we have the model of our family of origin, and we have the idea in our heads of how, and who, we want our children to turn out to be.

Gawwwwwwwd.
Here's something to think about:  As parents and teachers and principals, we seek the impossible.  We simultaneously want to protect children from pain and difficulty; we also want them to be tough and resilient.  We can't have both, but we also can't end up with neither.  We want a manual, knowing full well there isn't a manual.  As educators, we see mistakes happening in action— parents who are going way too far one way or another, with kids take control of a household or forcing it to fold.  We deal with the aftermath.  Then we go home and try to parent the hell out of our kids, exhausted and overwrought with the stimuli of our day, and find that many days we're just hanging on, tight, until bedtime.

I say "we," but I really mean "me."  I often use inclusive pronouns to make myself feel like part of a team.

There's lots of books out there, and there are a lot of Facebook groups, Twitter chats, blogs, and feeds.  None can provide the answers for perfect parenting or perfect principaling.

But there is one thing:  Getting up, stepping up, working our fingers off, and being fierce in our determination to do the
next
right
thing.  

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