"Why do I cry after I meet with my sons teacher?" "Why does my mind go blank during an IEP meeting?"
These are questions I hear from parents sitting across from me and questions I ask myself!
Why? Because these meetings are stressful! For most of us, we feel unbelievable vulnerability when we sit across from ANYONE and discuss the challenges our children face. It brings up worries about our ability to navigate these challenges and our son or daughter's future. I mean, this unexpected part of parenting wasn't really spelled out during birthing class. Sure, some parents can calmly navigate these waters, with just a trickle of self-doubt about their parenting skills, but they are rare and are probably in great shape, brilliant, and don't yell at their partner or kids (hint: they don't exist!).
For the rest of us, once we log the meeting on the calendar, we are anticipating what will be said, have practiced our response and made a mental (if not an actual list) of what our child (and let's be honest here - we) need. Sure sometimes it comes close to our expectations, but frequently it doesn't. These meetings can be hard..damn hard! Particularly when discussing assessment, accommodation or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It requires you to advocate for your child in a way that you may not feel comfortable to do for yourself. It can be a difficult dynamic. One in which the teacher and administrators try to sensitively navigate , but until the laws change will continue to exist.
As the parent or caregiver, we bring the sum total of our own experiences of school to these meetings. We frequently project our own thoughts and feelings related to our experience onto our children and their teachers. The school environment can bring back terrifying memories of bullying, or struggles with a learning disorder. Or perhaps, school was a place where you excelled and you can't understand why your child feels so anxious when walking into the classroom.
Despite well meaning intentions, parents often leave meetings feeling criticized.. again let me reiterate although school and teachers are very mindful of what they say or do, parents as individuals are the sum total of their experiences. What one parent may view as a compliment another will experience as criticism.
Parents often report feelings of guilt and yes, shame about their child's challenges. Frequently misapplying blame to themselves for their son's ADHD or daughter's Autism. If only I was a more calm parent, laid off the m&m's, chose a different partner or avoided stress while pregnant. We wouldn't be sitting here. We are human and feel so much when it comes to our children. It is important to honor these feelings and practice self compassion. Just as we would for our friends and loved ones. I feel I would be remiss if I didn't say that advocates for your children in the form of therapists, neuro-psychologists, educational specialists, and other service providers can be a wonderful addition to your support team. They can help you navigate the laws and regulations regarding assessment and accommodation and relieve you of the burden of doing it alone.
If you are experiencing disrupted sleep, difficulty controlling your worry or feeling intense stress, it may be time to seek out a therapist or support group so you can make sense of these of feelings and gain new strategies to reduce your stress. As a result, you will gain confidence to advocate for your child during their school experience and begin to gather a support system for both you and your child.