Navigating Family Weekend
By Nancy Hughes
I can only conjure two memories from my Parents’ Weekends when I was in high school. The first is more vague than the second. My parents had arranged a dinner in Hartford, close to where we lived, for my friend and her parents who were from South Carolina. Two other girls whose parents were unable to attend the weekend joined us as well. I remember feeling happy that my parents were close and thus could be with me and proud that my parents were able to host a family from South Carolina, a place that seemed to me – someone who had never been to the South – almost a foreign land. (I also remember my mother’s commenting to me quietly after the meal about how awkwardly my friend held her fork.)
My other memory is more clear in my mind. At my school, parents were invited on Friday mornings of Parents’ Weekend to attend classes with their daughters before an afternoon of parent-teacher conferences. During my junior year my father made a special effort to arrive early so he could accompany me to class. My first period was French. Four of eight class members brought parents, one mother and three fathers, mine among that number. Class began and Madame Howard greeted everyone in French, and it soon became clear that my father was the only parent in the room who did not speak French. Gulp. A discussion in French ensued about our reading of Madame Bovary, and guess who was not involved?! About 20 minutes into the class, my father leaned over and whispered to me, “Hey, Nance, I’m just going to slip out and catch up on some work in the car.” Thirty-four years later, this memory is still vivid in my mind. I remember the grey of my dad’s suit, the yellow of his tie, and the look Madame Howard shot me when he exited.
I share these memories now in the hours before Family Weekend begins here at Brewster as a way to remind all of us how special and also how complicated such weekends can be. Your children are right now probably experiencing a mix of excitement and anxiety as your visit approaches. They may be eager to have you meet their friends, and they may also be hoping to hide you, fearful of the likelihood that you will embarrass them and possibly yourselves. And then there is the mixture of excitement and anxiety surrounding your meetings with their teachers. The world of parent-teacher conferences is inevitably a bit of mystery for students. Imagine the questions swirling in many kids’ minds: What do they talk about? How will my teachers characterize me? What bits of my past will my parents bring up? Why can’t I be there to defend myself? Will my parents remember to tell me the nice things my teachers say? So much uncertainty.
In the past when I have thought about my own Parents’ Weekend memories, I have focused on how I felt when I watched the door close after my father departed; these days I have found myself thinking about my father and how he felt returning to his car. Relief, amusement, embarrassment? Who knows! But what I am certain about is that parents inevitably enter into this weekend with a wide range of emotions and expectations. Many come with a host of concerns: How is my child fitting in? Was boarding school the right choice? How are friends positively or negatively influencing my child? Is my child being appropriately supported and/or stretched in the classroom? This weekend presents itself as the opportunity to get to the bottom of some very natural anxiety many of us have been carrying around since school began in September.
If forced to choose whether these weekends are potentially more stressful for parents or children, I guess I would have to say “parents,” for parents are negotiating a wider range of relationship – with children, teachers, other parents, and spouses. Phew! Many dynamics to manage in a condensed stretch of time! My goal in calling attention to some of the ripples below the placid surface of the weekend is to help all of us be more conscious of them. This weekend is a joyful time to celebrate your children and Brewster Academy, to make and meet friends, to cheer and beam with pride. To enjoy the richness of the experience most fully, however, we’re all wise to remember that some of these complicated moments are inevitable. A heightened consciousness of that reality can, I hope, help us not be tripped up by such moments as we work to make this a delightful time for our children, each other, and ourselves.
As a teacher, I have always looked forward to Family Weekend. The opportunity to spend time with parents is, of course, so helpful when working to understand a student as fully as possible. The teachers with whom you will meet are grateful for the time and insight you share with them. Please remember that.
Craig and I love Family Weekends. It is really the only time of the year when the whole team is together – students, parents, and teachers – all working together toward a single goal. We hope you have an informative, reassuring, and fun-filled time. Go Bobcats!