Don’t stress over that parent-teacher meeting

Mother of two Beth Cooper Howell takes aim at that great family stressor: the parent-teacher meeting at school.


This morning, I successfully entered and exited a parent-teacher meeting with one of my favourite people, Mrs Webb, who has taught both of my children and, more importantly, done double duty soothing my troubled brow and laughing at my ill-timed, tea-fuelled jokes.

Frankly, Mrs Webb may have inculcated a love of learning and ABCs into my children, but her real claim to fame is an innate understanding of human nature and, most cannily, the Human Parent.

Years ago, I wrote about a study highlighting the pressures of parenting in the 21st century and how biology finally found the reasons why we’re buckling. It’s true that labelling is dangerous – we’re always finding scientific excuses for our general discontent, our soaring anxiety, our sense that no matter how cushy today is, yesteryear seemed so much better … slower.

But, biology doesn’t lie and, while I dislike labels, there’s something to be said for a scientific discipline that puts a name to the faceless fear we all seem to have as modern mothers.

Writer and parenting expert Jessica Lahey told of her strange anxiety attack once during a parent-teacher evening. Before leaving home, she was quite happy with her life, thanks very much. Her sons were fine – one completing homework and the other practising guitar when she left.

But, as happens when we step outside our front door, she began comparing notes without even realising it: she noted that dozens of kids from her children’s school seemed to be doing so much more than hers were; their parents were rushing around, headless chickens, being at regional ski practice now and just making soccer finals later; fitting clothes for national dance comps and grabbing supper on the way to extra science classes.

For them, parenting was a career – and their kids the end-of-year bonus. For a normal, down-to-earth, good enough mom, Lahey became instantly, desperately convinced that she was not only failing, but also that her kids were somehow in danger.

Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you try – or how hard you want your kids to try – it’s never quite enough?

That when you were young, things weren’t as complex or competitive as they are now? Almost as though we’re suddenly faced with global disaster, scarce resources and a creeping, sinister survival-of-the-fittest mentality?

Being either a parent or child in the 21st century isn’t for sissies. We middle classes may have the security of solid homes, good education and on-tap sanitation but for some reason, it’s still a jungle out there.

While millions are just getting by with communal taps and government hand-outs, those with enough money and a generally decent lifestyle seem to be more discontented and distressed than ever.

Psychology professor Wendy Grolnick says modern parenting discontent is diagnosable – it’s called Pressured Parents Phenomenon; and we’re “hard-wired for this anxiety response” says Lahey of the scientist’s research.

Many moons ago, as hunter-gatherers, our kids’ survival depended on their ability to lead the pack, fight for scant food resources and find the closest spot to the fire during winter. Nothing’s changed because as descendants of this “eat or be eaten” response, we instinctively want our kids to not only compete but also to win.

And this is why, when you go to a parent-teacher meeting, you’d do well to have a Mrs Webb on your team – someone who knows that no matter how much your primate biology keeps you up at night, worrying at ghosts of parenting failure, everything’s okay, as it always has been.

Because being good enough really is.

Leave a Reply