My Uninvolved Parents

I’ve seen the gamut of parental involvement during my career. Some parents couldn’t have been bothered to answer their phones. Others would lose their composure if they didn’t get daily phone calls from their children’s teachers. The range I’ve seen has made me reflect on how my parents handled my school experience, or perhaps how they didn’t handle it.

I can’t quite compare my education with that of the students I taught. I can’t compare their parent’s reactions with those of my parents. Having exclusively taught students with disabilities, I worked with parents who had legitimate reasons to be extra vigilant regarding their children’s education. My parents didn’t have such motivation.

While I was in elementary school, their involvement was at its highest. This is true with most parents. I recall my mother helping me with projects. She seemed to fret over my work more than I did. She had always been a very nervous person. For a few brief years, my schooling contributed to her nervousness. I think she might have been as concerned with what others would think of her as a mother as she was with my actual performance. My father was detached from the whole affair. He only became involved if I got into trouble. I always had the sense that he didn’t care what I did so long as the school left him alone about it.

Their involvement decreased as I got older. My mother became consumed by a job she hated and didn’t seem to have much attention to spare. My father grew more distant with each year. By high school, I no longer showed them my report cards. They didn’t think to ask, so I got away with it. Eventually, they stopped asking me much of anything about school. On the rare occasion they asked me about homework, I simply said I didn’t have any. That was good enough.

True, their lapse in attention wasn’t necessarily their choice. They were distracted. Also, I purposely obfuscated by withholding information. I could tell their attitudes and priorities regarding me had changed, though. My mother’s preoccupation when I was in high school was with my circle of friends and my dating life. She disapproved of all of my friends. Although I really didn’t get into much trouble, she was convinced my friend base was guiding me towards prison. My father viewed my education as an inconvenience. He ran his own business and would sometimes ask if I planned to go to school on a given day. He’d offer me the opportunity to skip if I could help him with his job. I don’t think this was about bonding. I think he legitimately felt that me helping him was more important than me going to school.

They did lean on me about college. Part of why my mom worked was so she could save for me to go to school. My father wasn’t going to contribute. He spent what would’ve been my tuition on his auto-racing hobby. My mother resented having to work because of this. She must have fumed when I ended up getting a grant that covered everything.

Other than urging me to enroll and helping me by filling out their portion of the FAFSA form, my parents really had no part in my college life. I lived at home to reduce costs, but they rarely asked me anything about school. When grant money dried up, my mother kicked in, though she didn’t need to kick in much. I paid for a portion of each semester. I also paid outright for summer and winter classes, books, transportation, and my share of the utilities. My total undergrad bill was barely more than $4000. Let me emphasize this was for the entire program, not just one or two semesters.

I graduated. I got a job. I started a lucrative career. I out-earned my parents and have long since paid back what would’ve been the cost of my board during college. I’ve paid back the entire amount my mother paid towards my tuition. Meanwhile, I’ve managed to function as a self-sustaining adult. I think I turned out okay despite their lack of involvement.

Was I able to do this because there is something special about me? I don’t think I’m particularly capable or talented, so probably not. Were the times just different when I was a student? They were, but not by much. Is this evidence that so-called helicopter parenting isn’t necessary? Maybe. I’m just one example. I can think of examples from my personal life of adults who can’t function without help from their parents, so this is case-by-case. I think my parent’s lack of involvement helped me develop independence, which makes me think the helicopter parents could be failing to foster this and thereby might be doing a disservice to their kids. I can’t say any of this with certainty.

How would’ve any of this been different had I been born with some kind of disability? I can’t predict how differently I would’ve developed. My guess is my mother would’ve become much more involved, but probably not in a helpful way. She wouldn’t have had the nerve to challenge the school about anything, but she would’ve been a pest with constant redundant questions. My father would’ve been every bit as detached—maybe more so. I figure the added strain would’ve been for the worse for all involved. I suppose this strain has been there for the parents of students I’ve taught, rendering comparisons moot.

My Uninvolved Parents

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