Working with Difficult Parents

I approach all parents from the perspective that they love their child(ren) as much as I love mine.  If you accept this as a premise, working with all parents becomes much easier.  It is far simpler to believe that parents are making decisions and behaving the way they are because they think it is best for their children, not because they are wrong, or bad, or manipulative.

Difficult parents come in many shapes and sizes.  You have the “complainer,” the “judger,” the “holier-than-thou,” the “denier,” the “ignorer,” the “absentee,” the “making excuses,” and the “failure to meet up to program expectations,” parents.  It is important to remember that these descriptors are probably only one part of who these people are and how they seem to be to you.

When I was a director, there was a mom who had 4 daughters, so I watcher her interactions with her girls over many years.  This mom seemed to be very unhappy, though I had no idea why.  She walked the girls to school, pushing the 2 younger girls in a double stroller, while the older girls walked beside her.  Each day, she would pick the girls up and out of the stroller and the girls would walk into the building.  The mom never kissed them goodbye, she never even said goodbye to them.  She appeared to be completely disengaged from her role as a mom.  She also was very disengaged from the program.  She never returned phone calls, or sent in the extra required clothes.  She was “THAT MOM.”

I found myself judging her parenting, because I didn’t understand why she didn’t show her love for her girls the way I would show love for my children.  Now I know that there are all sorts of ways that we show our children we love them.  Consider these ideas- The older girls asked her not to kiss them or make a big deal when they went into school….She was in the practice of expressing her love for them in a more private way.  Culturally, it is frowned upon to shower children with open expressions of love.

It took me a long time to appreciate her situation and to find empathy and understanding for her.  As it turned out, she was depressed.  She had 4 children under 6.  They struggled with money and work.  Her marriage was in trouble and she was distracted from her day-to-day responsibilities.

We all have parental toolboxes.  Some are bigger and some are smaller.  Some are empty.  You, as the provider, need to know which parents have many tools and which parents can’t find their tools. You, as the provider, need to find it in your heart to support all parents, even the difficult ones.  They may need you the most.

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