Americans were raised on Westerns -- with the cavalry coming to the rescue. We have a can-do spirit and believe we can rush in and fix every situation. This is not always a successful strategy, neither nationally or personally.
It can be particularly unsuccessful as a parenting technique. Yet it is very difficult to avoid. Especially in the ongoing intertwined and complicated relationship of parents and schools.
Sometimes children have poor teachers -- teachers who can't teach, teachers who lose their temper, teachers whose personal problems overwhelm their classroom demeanor... Everyday a new story is related after school -- of detentions given, of frustrated students, of lapses of professional conduct.
This is a very complicated scenario. Depending upon the degree of incompetence of the teacher or the egregiousness of the behavior, the parent may need to agitate for change. However, this should be done behind the scenes. Our children should not be involved and better yet, should know nothing of it.
They need two things from us: 1. Empathy: They need to know that we understand how tough it can be in the classroom, how frustrating some days are. And 2. Coping Strategies: This teacher is providing our child with a crucial learning experience (albeit not the one intended). In sharing strategies for dealing with the situation, we are giving tools for coping with many of the difficulties life has to offer us.
There is a very popular book entitled "Eat, Pray, Love". After a messy divorce, the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, was able to pick up the pieces of her life as she ate her way through Italy, prayed her way through India, and, you guessed it, found love in Bali. While we certainly wish Ms. Gilbert well, her book is not instructive. Most people don't have the option of just walking away from painful situations. Nor is it always the right thing to do.
Facing up to discomfort, finding ways to deal with frustrating teachers, will prepare our children for the future much better that our instinctive "mother lion" responses which tend to be overly dramatic -- like getting the teacher fired or pulling our child out of that school! And ultimately unproductive.
The cavalry does not belong in the classroom. This includes the college classroom where some parents today have been known to plead with the professors for better grades for their children. I can think of few actions that would humiliate our children so completely and effectively.
The cavalry also doesn't belong on the playground. Kids fight. It's part of the DNA. Siblings pick on each other constantly. Boys in schoolyards can get physical. Girls can get catty. (Yes, Virginia, some stereotypes are true). When your child comes home in tears because "Everyone picked on me" or "No one likes me," the temptation is to march over to the home of the lead bully (some quavering eleven-year-old) and give her a piece of your mind.
We need to hold back. We need to stay out of it. Most likely they will resolve it on their own. Our interference only makes it worse, stirring up greater animosity on both sides. It's hard to see our children in pain but not only do we not know what (possibly provocative) role they may have played in the situation, we impede their ability to deal with interpersonal conflict by coming to the rescue. We leave them less prepared for life, not more.
The instinct is to rescue. It's an animal instinct responding to the cue to attack. But we are higher beings and we need to stop ourselves. The cavalry belongs on the big screen. In real life, our children will grow more and in a better fashion by learning to cope on their own -- and knowing that we are there in the background for support and advice.