in loco parentis: in the place of a parent. Legal: allowing institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students (although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students' civil liberties)
Last week my friend Aimee was fit to be tied: her daughter's violin teacher had lost his patience and his cool before a big competition. Young Lara (an accomplished musician, up for college scholarships and summer fellowships) had approached the teacher with a complaint--nay, a suggestion! a mere request!--and the teacher had not taken it well. He had, in fact, blown up at Lara and the girl was devastated. The two have been together for more than half her life; the teacher is coach, mentor, therapist, family friend, trusted confidante. He cares as much about Lara's success as anyone and has guided her brilliantly thus far. But the recent scene at the concert hall had Aimee (understandably) tied up in knots. As she narrated the ugly confrontation, my old teacher-vision kicked in and I saw the scene from a slightly different perspective (the teacher's). I'm sharing here what I said to Aimee because she appreciated the new point-of-view. Maybe it will help you, too.
If you've been reading this blog, you know how often I remind you to forgive. First of all, I recommend forgiving our children for being adolescents. I insist we parents remember to forgive ourselves. And now I shall remind you how important it is to forgive the villagers helping to raise our children.
If you are lucky, your kids will find mentors along the path to adulthood. Teachers, coaches, neighbors and friends share the yoke of helping our kids navigate the world. Mentors do work parents cannot do. First of all, they are not us. Our kids are not biologically compelled to reject every single word their mentors say. Because they don't have to rebel against these other adults, it's a simpler (and usually more pleasant) relationship. Secondly, teachers and coaches and mentors see our kids way more objectively than we do. To a teenager in the midst of a (totally normal, absolutely necessary) identity crisis, this outsider-perspective feels really good. They're more free to try on quirky personae, test off-color jokes or divulge the deepest secrets of their souls to people who are not their parents. That's just the way it is during these crazy years.
It can be really hard not to be jealous of these other grown-ups. Even when we acknowledge the guidance they give and the value they add to our children's lives, it is really, really tough not to resent them. I am begging you: let that go. It's an adolescent's job to need us less and less. If we know and trust the other adults to whom they turn during these crazy years, let us thank our lucky stars! When they call teachers and coaches their "second parents," let us get down on our knees and be grateful for our prodigious fortune--this job is too damned tough to do alone. Parents, please, please make room for all the willing parenting partners who cross your path!
Even when there is no jealousy--when the parents of a teenager love and trust and support the mentor--the relationship can be complicated, challenging and demanding of expansive forgiveness. Lara's violin teacher temporarily lost his distance, his objective point-of-view. Lara's request in fact was a signal of her burgeoning independence. She needs less instruction from her coach at competitions these days (because he has prepared her so well for so many years). And when he heard this, the teacher reacted much like a parent would. He felt threatened, insulted, freaked-out by her not needing him. He felt challenged. The teacher had in fact become in loco parentis when it came to the violin. When I pointed this out to Aimee, I watched relief sweep over her face and body. (The teacher had almost immediately been contrite and embarrassed by his reaction, so healing had already begun for all of them, but looking at it from the teacher's point of view helped everything make more sense for my friend and her gifted daughter.)
As we kick off the new school year, let's remember: teachers are people too (as are coaches, club leaders, grandparents, trainers . . . ). When they are especially invested in our children's lives, it gets personal. When one of these blessed mentors acts badly, let us first consider things from their side of the street. And then, always--of course--let us investigate further and KNOW what's going on. We have no tolerance for abuse, emotional torture or dangerous behavior by adults in position of trust. But if longtime, trusted mentors misbehave, it's worth considering the relationships they have built with our progeny. If they are truly invested in our kids, they are probably emotionally and personally entangled on some level (much like a parent). We should demand positive, healthy, life-affirming relationships. Absolutely. But if every now and again a "good" teacher or coach seems to go off the deep end, consider the possibility that our goofy kids might have pushed them. And--within reason and the bonds of human decency--let's try to forgive them.
Meanwhile, thank you: to all the parents who continue to share their children with me. Your generosity overwhelms me. They don't really like me better than you and I endeavor always to remind them how very much you love them (as you've noticed, once they hit 20 or so they start to like their actual parents a whole lot more). Thank you to all you kids--formerly awkward teens, now increasingly mature, sensible and gorgeous grown-ups--who let me parent you, who help me understand my own kids, who keep me younger and bring me joy. Thank you thank you thank you--from the bottom of my humble heart--to all the coaches, teachers, aunties and uncles, neighbors, grandparents and friends who have helped us raise our boys. Tal and I mean it 100%: we could not do it without you!
(Also, on a related note, from a former high-school teacher: Remember chipping in for--even hand-crafting--classroom teacher gifts? Back in the elementary-school years, when everybody liked kids and school and everything was more precious in every way? In most high schools across America, this lovely habit is abandoned. And with all the teachers and chaos and over-scheduling of adolescence, I get it. I'm just saying, every once in a while if you toss a $5 Starbucks card or an afternoon iced tea in the direction of a beleaguered secondary teacher, you might make a WORLD of difference. It's pretty thankless work, y'all.)
[For more on the important role of MENTORS in our teenagers' lives, please read this post: Role Models Who HONOR: Sage on a Mountaintop. To book a speaking engagement on how to find the Fine Line between loving and strangling teenagers, please contact me!]