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Image / Editorial

Vicarious Rejection Is A Real Thing For Parents

by Jessie Collins
06th Dec 2017

Her little girl didn’t get invited to a party, but Jessie Collins is the one who feels rejected

The early school days are tricky for the just-initiated- the new routine, the bigger mixing pool, the switch-up in dynamics, the earlier starts, the homework – and that’s for just the parents. Every few weeks there seems to be a new element to navigate, the Christmas school fair being one. How much volunteering should you do? If you just sort the books and don’t man the cake stall will you be ex-communicated, or worse, get a stern look from the don’t-mess-with-me principal?

Should you reply to every parents’ association email, put yourself forward for the class representative? Opt out or opt in to the WhatsApp group? All the while knowing that the idea of piling anymore responsibility on your plate makes you want to go into a corner and rock slowly. By week seven, the commitment to getting past the homework hump each day feels like enough of an achievement. And if you don’t make sure your child has dotted their newly-formed i’s, or rounded their just-discovered R’s then, you, Slacker, are to blame.

What you soon realise is that any judgement passed on your child, is basically about you. At first I thought that was just my complex, but it turns out I am not alone. Our very first day of homework proved how many of us blur the line between ourselves and our kids. Having made a decent stab at the day’s home exercise, we put the sheet away, done for the day.  It was returned with a definitive 3/10 on it. Suddenly, I was in the dock, and I was not taking it well. Aside from the madness of marking a four year old’s homework out of ten, given that I was the one holding her hand through it, this was really a 3/10 on my work, not hers.

I decided to tackle the situation head on, emboldening myself to challenge the teacher on this harshness. Hoping to pick my time, I waited at the school gates where I casually mentioned to another mother (known as parental fishing) that the new teacher seemed a bit full on, marking the kids’ work on their first go. She laughed and held her hand up to her face, ‘You thought that, too!” Turns out, a stream of irate parents had already been on, demanding an explanation as to why their kids got marked 3/10 too.

Turns out the new teacher had innocuously put the day’s date next to her tick, unleashing not just mine, but a load of other parents’ inner high achiever. The desire for your child to assimilate and succeed is intense. There is possibly one thing worse than finding school tough yourself, and that’s for your child to find it hard too. Short, tertiary conversations about how things are going deliver little information. If there has been any issue, trying to ascertain just what transpired is like putting a torn up picture back together, fragments that may or may not lead you to the right conclusion.

It takes school to show you how much it matters that your kid is liked, and included. And the discovery that my daughter hadn’t been invited to a class party for some reason really stung. It was followed by a full disclosure on a WhatsApp group set up for the school fair of exactly what the other kids in the class were missing.

“If you drop (boy’s name) to the cinema at 1:50,” went the text, “we can take him in and then we will all be going to McDonalds after!” Happy emojis, happy emojis. The message was quickly deleted, but if emojis could leave a trail, mortification would have been the one.

A few days later, on a playdate, an unknowing mum mentioned the upcoming party in front of my daughter, who, up till then, had been blissfully unaware of any party. ‘We’ve (boy’s name) party on Sunday. My daughter’s ears slightly pricked up, “he’s having a party?” Other mother, realising her blunder, went into stunned-mullet mode, as I prepared to sweep in for emotional damage limitation. My daughter, barely looking up from her playdough oesophagus and entrails-type creation, just shrugged, and essentially gave us a big ‘what evs’, quickly returning to her smooshing.

Apparently, she’s actually the bigger person. And is clearly reaching a more grown up place than I give her credit for. The greater question is, when will I?  


Photo credit Lotte Meijer, Unsplash