Monday, January 26, 2015

Not Parent

If I had to say which situation I have had to contend with over the past year was most challenging, I would say it was being the not parent. This is not a wholly foreign experience for me. As a teacher, despite the notion of in loco parentis, what you discover is that you are the not parent.

You care for your students, you spend an inordinate amount of time with them, in fairly intimate contexts. To me, learning , and especially the difficulties associated with learning, takes place in an intimate context: where feelings, raw and exposed, need to be analyzed and carefully handled.

Teachers often know their students very, very well. We know how their buttons gets pushed, and how to cajole, mollify, and inspire students. Not just the best ones -- teachers that is -- you have to be a pretty terrible, distant teacher not to develop these sensibilities about your students.

And while it is our job to do our best for our students, including reporting any potential danger from their home environments, our ability to truly affect our students' lives is limited. We are not the parent.

 Our influence only extends so far. We carefully juggle our emotions and our desired outcomes with this knowledge. We learn to build boundaries for our own well being -- careful to understand we are the not parent. We may be trusted adult, but we are not the parent.

As a tia, especially in our culture where all family adults are expected to care for all children, we practice not parent but with more privilege -- with back up. That is not to say parents don't some times rein in a tio or tia who may have acted more parent than not parent. Our line is another careful one - but not quite the not parent tightrope.

We give our nieces and nephews back gladly after spoiling them (or just hanging out with them) -- we usually don't have care as our job, just guidance as a trusted adult.  We have the right to spoil and cater to our niece or nephew as much as to discipline. But ours is a privileged role. We know both child and parent and our duties and responsibilities are limited and backstopped. So our sense of helplessness is not nearly as great as when the teacher is not parent.

My role as tia has been hybridized with not parent this year.  I may never be able to go back to being just tia again.  Though I will never fill their lost mother or father's role, I have been thrust into situations that require more than tia.  I can't be their mom, in part because I was already the tia.  We already had an established relationship that clearly demonstrated my differences from their parents. 

The loss of my brother and sister, and the intense mourning of my in-laws, has pushed me into this uncomfortable role.  I have had to step in and provide parenting care, guidance, education advocacy, and support -- much more than what I would have ever given as a tia.  This is as deeply unsettling to me as it is foreign and necessary for them.

I can and have pinned my hope too often on certain outcomes for my nieces and nephews, only to have them dashed.  When I pull way back to tia land, I see their lives as their own, and hope I can be supportive.  No matter the energy I expend, they will and have to do what they need to do for their own lives -- that goes for my in-laws as much as for my nieces and nephews.  No matter how much I do, there are no guarantees.  This I think is what most parents must come to terms with as their children grow, mature and find their way in the world.

As tia, I never worried.  I believed in my limited role, in my ability to apply a little or a lot of love as my life/schedule permitted.  I was sure my brother, sister and in-laws would always do their best, be there and call on me when needed.  So, I struggle to remember I can only do my best -- and I hope for their best as I try to release my expectations around outcomes. 

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