Difficult Parents

August 10, 2007

It occurs to me that sometimes we (those of us in public schools) avoid difficult parents. This is absolutely the wrong approach. Difficult parents are tough for lots of reasons, but usually, the primary reason is a frustration with our school through a lack of understanding, their own bad memories from a personal experience, or our lack of good service.

The toughest parents are the parents I should be spending more time with in an effort to eliminate that lack of understanding or memory. They should see us as employees who are here to help them navigate a system that may be foreign to them, or worse, one in which they personally met with little or no success. Tough parents are often difficult because life is tough for them.

When I started in administration at Frontier Middle School, I worked with an incredible school social worker named Dottie Laettner. For many reasons, most of all her passion for families, I learned a lot from her in the year and a half we worked together. There was something Dottie said to me that’s never left me. 

Dottie said, “Kim, even bad parents love their kids.”

They may lack the skills, the role models, or the emotional stability to get it right. But they love their kids. Honestly, it seldom bothers me when a parent comes at me in a tough way because I’m always thinking, “she’s just fighting for her kid.” Our parents may not always choose the most appropriate way, but heck, I’m glad to see them advocating for their child. That’s the most important thing they can do, that and loving them, and if we’re getting it right then they don’t have to come in “guns a blazing”. When it is our mistake, we need to own that too. Difficult parents understand that we all make mistakes, what they don’t accept is when we try to avoid it.

cross posted at LeaderTalk



  1.   Jody says :

    Working 13 years in the special education department proved one thing to me. Many parents do not fit my mother’s ideal of a perfect parent, but they do produce babies. Everyone does love a baby and we in education must always remember we are dealing with someone’s baby. As we look at our own “perfect” children, we must remember not everyone looks at them through our eyes seeing the perfection we created. they see their smart mouths, untidy lives, etc. I see beauty, brains, intuition and too much of me. So who is the perfect parent? I have yet to meet one. But perfect children? lots of them. Perfect students? lots of them. Are they all the same? Probably not.

  2.   Mike says :

    Great post. I often have to remind myself that the “difficult” parents are just fighting for their kid. Many times I do not agree with the course of action they take, but at least they care. I recently came across a book about working with parents. It would be great if our universities offered a class on working with parents as part of the education curriculum.

  3.   Repairman says :

    If they care enough to be difficult, even if it’s their ego vs. ours on the line, we can still give them what they need. Just think about them as being difficult team members, and remember the old saw, “There’s no “I” in “team.” We keep our ego and tempers out of the equation.

    But nobody was hired to deal with abusive parents either, and sometimes administrators need to accompany teachers in teacher-parent meetings.

    High maintenance parents, helicopter parents, and well-meaning pains in the hindquarters all need our best.
    If we can’t give them what they need, we reach up for help. I don’t mean pray, I mean to the next level of admin.

    Before you think I’m all peaches and cream, though, I have to admit that I backed (along with the rest of the board) one of our high school principals who banned a parent from campus.

    The guy settled down when he realized we meant it, and we backed it up with the local police. “Polite” became his middle name, and he worked his way back to being able to pick up his child after school and see a teacher (with the principal) when necessary.

  4.   Kimberly M says :

    Parents do love their kids! It might not be the way you or I define love, but they do love them in a way they know how. Kimberly, I can’t agree with you more. I deal with parents daily and I have had some angry parents call screaming, but when I hang up the phone I always grin thinking “Well, at least they care.” I have found the best way to approach the parent is to listen and then show an understanding to their concerns. Usually, once they voice their concern they do calm down. I’d rather deal with a parent that takes the time to call (and scream) vs. a parent that doesn’t fight for what should matter most to them -their kids!

  5.   Amy says :

    I don’t agree with Dottie. There are parents who do not love their children.

    ….. but, when they have taken the time to address an education issue then I’d say that there’s some love going on.

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