After well over a decade in the classroom, I am no stranger to high-maintenance parents. But, until this year, I had never experienced them from the playground end.
A few weeks into my daughter’s first term at school, I found myself conscripted into the official parent online networks: one for my daughter’s class and one for the year group. I looked at the first because it facilitated a few evenings in the pub and provided timely reminders for those many “let’s all come dressed as Batman” days. I looked at the second because I couldn’t look away. It was a masterclass in crazy parenting.
According to this passionate online forum, the school was on a permanent crusade to wilfully ignore parental voice, damaging children’s health and probably causing lasting psychological damage in the process.
Food was a particularly burning issue, with the quality of school meals widely condemned. Accusations of cruelty were levelled at class teachers who incomprehensibly refused to provide a fruit alternative on banana days, knowing full well that Billy wouldn’t eat bananas. Communication was also a big failing point (that is if you define “communication” as providing a detailed daily report of each child’s academic progress, playtimes and bowel movements).
An upcoming school trip precipitated an intense discussion on packed lunches, after one mum said children on a previous visit had been fed dry sandwiches and inedible biscuits, forcing them to beg for crumbs from her own lunch. “Fill their pockets with snacks if you don’t want them to starve” was her stark warning.
There is also a lot of one-upmanship, thinly disguised as advice-seeking. Is too much fruit bad for children? I can’t get my daughter to eat biscuits. Can anyone lend me a box to transport this home-made, three-tiered Easter cake (photo attached) to school?
My favourite was a request for recommendations of bedtime stories as a five-year-old “voracious reader” had exhausted the parent’s supply. This sparked a three-day discussion of reading habits, filled with increasingly exaggerated accounts of how Lily just adores the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Dylan will only read chapter books because he finds picture books too babyish.
I know such parents are a small (albeit very vocal) faction in schools. But we are at a point in history where strong adult role models are increasingly important. Children who grow up believing their own needs take precedence over those around them are unlikely to be the builders of a fairer, more collaborative society.
A bit less of treating schools like service providers and a bit more “ask not what your school can do for you” wouldn’t go amiss if we want to make sure that we don’t inadvertently create Generation Snowflake by being Generation Nightmare Customer.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands