The parents. Friend or foe?
If you read Facebook long enough you can start to believe that all kids are entitled brats and their parents sit at home all day long allowing their kids to throw knives at them during dinner time. I’m a parent. I’m also a guard instructor; with this little thing called a professional career on the side. Sometimes I’m great at doing all of them and sometimes I’m a total basket case, while trying to figure out how to be a good mom, effective coach, and trail blazing career woman. The reality is that I’m human and most of the time struggle to hold my head above water. Reading Facebook though, it would appear that as a parent I’m not doing enough. I’m not engaged enough. I don’t fundraise enough. I don’t read to my kid enough. I don’t visit the school enough. I visit the school too much. I don’t discipline my kid based on the values of generations past. In the end I guess, my daily life is an internal battle of trying to give my kid the best life I can afford, while trying to stay afloat of the changing demands of this 21st Century, post-recession, post 9-11, post Sandy Hook, standardized testing sort of world.
So what does all of this have to do with this blog and color guard? I’ve been thinking a long time about writing this post and have gone back and forth on how to approach it. In my professional career we have a lot of conversations on the topic of parenting. In fact, I bet the topic comes up in meetings at least once a week. It’s so important, Pinellas County Schools and their partners brought in a high priced expert on the topic a couple of years ago to figure out how to get parents engaged in the education of their children. It was a one day workshop and for the most part was a pretty good day filled with great information, except for one slight hiccup. The information never made it out of the building. Like most conferences, the information went nowhere. Money wasted.
Almost nothing makes me angrier than decisions that are made for the good of the people, without the “people” who are impacted having a voice in the decision. It happens in politics all the time. We all know that. It happens in education. There is a clear divide on what parents are saying vs. what the system is saying. In my field of government and youth funding, we often make decisions on programming. Every so often I raise my little hand and ask a simple question, “Has anyone included the parents of the kids in this discussion?” When I ask that, I often get the stank eye from my boss.
In the world of the marching arts, it’s actually rather rare to hear the phrase, “I wonder what the parents would think of this?” Now, I don’t believe that every decision should go through a parental vote, especially in show design or training, but I do believe that parents have rights that we don’t always consider, thus leaving out of the decision process probably our most important asset and literal backbone of the organization…the parent.
If I had one piece of advice to give my long gone 25 year old self; it would be to befriend the parents and make them your partner. Give them a voice. Give them a well-structured, well controlled voice. I didn’t truly understand the parenting piece until I became one myself. Even then, it wasn’t until my own kid was participating in his own extracurricular’s that I truly started to get a handle on what I believe is happening out there and what is happening, is that there are a lot of parents doing a tough job and doing everything they can to survive.
Looking back, I don’t think I really ever considered the parents of the performers I taught. I considered the performer. I considered the band director. I even considered the administration. I think, if I were to categorize it, I saw the parents as this fundraising entity who did the back breaking labor I either didn’t have the skills or the desire to do. It wasn’t my job after all to drive a trailer. My job was to teach their kids. It wasn’t my job to build the props. I designed them. It wasn’t my job to raise the funds. It was theirs. My job was to get their little darlings into the highest placement possible and avoid the parents at all costs, praying none of them ever call me. THAT…was my 25 year old thinking.
I’m 46 now and my thinking has changed…significantly. Now, I can’t hear from the parents enough. I want them to call me. I want them to text me. I want them to engage, because the more they are engaged the more they will advocate for the program and the more they will be willing to raise the money we so desperately need. When a parent walks into one of my rehearsals I don’t see it as a threat. I see it as an opportunity to build a relationship and find out more about their child that they have entrusted me with. When they walk through the door, it is my opportunity to ask the question, “So how is your daughter doing at home and in school?”
Trust. Now that’s an interesting concept. When a parent allows their child to join a sport or activity, they are trusting that the coaching staff has been well vetted and their child will have a somewhat positive experience. I use the word “allow,” because the parents have to give permission first. Once they allow their son or daughter to join the band or winter guard, they then…as many parents do…become absolutely shocked at the time and money it will take to be a participant. It takes a savvy director to be able to explain this to parents, so they won’t go running in fear screaming in the opposite direction. It takes a director who understands the life of a parent and doesn’t take for granted that the parent’s life does not in fact exist for that particular winter guard. In my own world, I think about my son’s activities somewhere between the five minutes I drop him off and the five minutes before I pick him up. I also have a life.
Money. When this current school year began, I signed my son up for the Cub Scouts. I did my research and found what I thought was the best pack for his personality. He and I both were very excited at the first meeting. I envisioned him lighting fires with sticks, camping out, learning to build little racing cars, and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in his little blue outfit. Let me tell you what I got right in that scenario. It was the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s it. My image of what he would do from week to week was very different than what actually happens and you know what…it pissed me off. Why? Because I spent money on dues, a uniform, and a book they rarely use. I was unaware of the constant fundraising I would be asked to do. I was not informed of the hours that would be asked of my son to contribute on the weekends. I have been nickel and dimed to death. Sound familiar? Needless to say, next year he won’t be coming back. It’s not that I don’t value what they offer. It’s that they don’t seem to value what I offer, which is my time and money. They weren’t up front. Now on another side of the coin, he plays little league baseball. Before sign-ups and try-outs even began, I received an outlined list of what is expected from each parent in terms of money, time, and volunteer hours. I can go with that. I can schedule and plan. I know they will be doing two fundraisers and I know where the money is going and how much my family is expected to raise. If you can’t tell me where the money will go, then don’t ask me to raise the funds. Period.
Time. Oh my God if I could only go back and apologize to every parent that entrusted me with their children when I ran high school guards in my 20’s. I never truly grasped how it could spin a family out of control at the simple “suggestion” of changing rehearsal time. Last year my son’s baseball team was pretty good. They made it all the way to the play offs. Yay! Good for them and their little 8 year old selves. However…this is what happened. The coach…understandably so…wanted to have a couple of extra practices going into the playoffs. I get it. Sounds good to me. However, I had to work those nights. My husband was working overtime. Thus enter the dilemma. We got it worked out, but it was less than easy and not as easy as just saying, “Why don’t you just find him a ride?” I couldn’t imagine if I were a single mom, a parent with unreliable transportation, a family with two or three kids all in their own activities or worked at a job doing shift work from 3-11. This is why respecting their time is crucial. Schedules to parents are crucial. Show them that you respect their time and they will give you every extra minute they have to make sure your program succeeds. When rehearsal is supposed to start then start and when it is supposed to end…then it needs to end. Those parents have other duties and their nights don’t end until the last child is in bed. We have to stop thinking that their world revolves around ours and their lives look like ours does. It’s naive to live in a world of “back in my day,” because back in my day was very different than the world of today in terms of economics, family structure, and education.
Safety. When it comes to the safety of my son; I am a mother bear protecting her cub. You will not get in the way of his safety, whether it be physical or emotional. When my son plays baseball I expect that the coaches are trained in best practices of safety such as the protection of head and mouth. When you don’t take safety into account, my pocketbook is impacted. Just because you ask if I have insurance, doesn’t mean I want to use it because you are under trained as a coach. I expect that his experience is a positive one and not abusive. I expect him to be yelled at and corrected, but I’ll be damned if he is abused. I watch. I listen. I don’t sit in a posture ready to pounce, but I also don’t sit back and wait for the problem. He is my son and he loves baseball. He deserves the right to play under coaches who are well trained and who care about him. I will not budge on that one and I just like most other parents are watching and what we are watching…is you.
Respect. The biggest lesson I ever learned in parenting and extracurricular’s came from my son’s participation in karate. In a nutshell, I should say that I was “schooled” in what coaching means and how to involve the parent. Upon the moment we signed him up and every night after, the owner of the dojo shakes the hand of every parent that walks through the door. He asks how the parent is doing and asks if there is anything new they should know about the child. He built a relationship with the parents and in return, built a true relationship with the children. We stay out of his way and he respects our time and money. He doesn’t shock us with added expenses. When the kids get in trouble at school, we as parents use him as our support in reinforcing discipline. For the respect he gives my family, I promote his business every opportunity I can. It’s a partnership. I’m his ally. It’s his business and he knows that word of mouth is the best advertising you can get.
When it comes to my son and his needs, I ask the same questions. When I sign him up for activities I evaluate the need based on the following criteria. First I ask, “Will he enjoy this?” and “What will he learn?” Second, I look at the coaches and organization and determine if they are trained well enough and have the capacity to use MY money in the best way possible to answer question number one. The third question I ask is, “How much will this cost me?” and finally I ask the question, “How much time will it take?”
When we coach kids in color guard or marching band, we often times forget that our biggest ally are the parents. When we forget that fact, then our allies become our adversaries. When I was younger and before I had kids, I use to hate interacting with the parents. I hated their questions and felt that since they signed their kid up for MY color guard program, then they must listen to my rules. Well, let’s just say that I had a child and then I started to understand. The parents don’t have to do anything. They simply could just sign them up, pay the dues, and move on with their lives. In the end, it’s their money and their kid. They raised that kid, changed their diapers, was there when the child broke their arm jumping off a bunk bed, and was there for every success and failure the child ever faced. It is their money and that money is guarded closely. It’s their time. Parents have jobs…sometimes two and three jobs, they have other kids, cook dinner, go grocery shopping, manage marriages, date, continue their education, and a million of things in between. Respecting that fact goes a long way in building your parent base and a long term program.
At the age of 46, I no longer fear the parents. I cherish them and thank them for bringing their child into my life. I thank them for raising respectful children who can be coached. I thank them every time I see them organizing carpools, fundraisers, and taking time off work to bring their child to an unscheduled practice. I reach out to the parents I never see and most of the time the reason I don’t see them, is because they are working or dealing with life beyond my little color guard. You will never see me post anything on Facebook bashing parents of today or the kids they raise. It’s because I am one and I’m walking in the daily shoes of full time employee, carpool mom, fundraiser, wife, writer, daughter, and mother. When I coach color guard I always try to remember that yes there are bad kids and yes there are lazy parents and parents who don’t enforce the lessons taught, but most of them care deeply and want to give what they can, even if all they can do is make sure their child shows up on time.
My mantra is that if it weren’t for the parents and the compassion and love they have for their children, then we wouldn’t be here coaching at all.