THAT parent. You know the one. They’ve masterfully pushed your professional and/or personal buttons. Questioning your techniques and reasoning, being over- or under-involved in their child’s progress, or various other “atrocities” that make your life as an SLP just a little bit tougher. It won’t take you long to come across a parent like this during your career and you will remember them for many years after. I have had several of these parents in only a few short years in the profession. However, I’ve realized that I’ve learned SO much from these parents!
Here are just a few things:
- THEY are right: You heard me… THEY are right. Maybe not 100% but enough that it matters. It’s easy to begin to think that we know everything about Speech-Language Pathology and every child. The truth is that we don’t. Parents are right. They know their child so much better than you do. You see them in one environment at one point during their day and for only so many years. That’s it! Parents have been with that child (in most circumstances) from infancy and they’ve seen horrible days and great days with that child. I have learned so much about my clients by listening to their parents tell me about that child.
- YOU are right: Ah-hah! You knew it was coming, didn’t you? You are a Speech-Language Pathologist. You’ve earned those letters after your name! Sometimes THAT parent can make you second-guess those letters (wait, is it M.S., CCC-SLP or is it I.D., ONT-KNOW?!?) and it will be really hard to stand up for yourself. When it comes to speech and language and all that falls into that realm, you are usually right! So, I have learned to have some confidence in myself, and help educate THAT parent about why I feel the way that I do about the circumstance that they are questioning/challenging.
- BACK it up!: One of the best lessons I’ve learned from THAT parent is to have “evidence”… aka data! It’s really hard to shake your head at data when it is done correctly. You’ve set goals for that child… now show how they’re doing on those goals! It takes a while to find out how you like to keep data and every SLP is different. It’s just important that when THAT parent shows up for a meeting, you have the data they need to see! So, I have learned how to keep data that works for me, and works for THAT parent too!
- Communicate: It’s pretty easy to stay in your bubble when working in schools. Kids come to you! When I was working in schools I could have easily gone the majority of each year without talking to parents of the children that I saw several times a week! (Many were only seen at IEP meetings after several attempts!) But for THAT parent, communication is key. Finding out how THAT parent wants to communicate and/or letting them know when you can talk/e-mail them is critical. Setting expectations for the communication will be very important. Sometimes THAT parent will e-mail you 3 times in a day. You do NOT need to e-mail them back 3 times that day. Make time to e-mail them back once within 24 hours. Communication can be a double-edged sword. If you over-communicate, THAT parent may think that you have abundant free time. If you under-communicate, THAT parent may believe that you don’t care about them/their child. I have learned that it is important that we communicate with parents, and that children benefit from that communication. Even with THAT parent.
- Sometimes there IS crying in speech: I’ve cried because of THAT parent. They attacked me, and questioned me, and threatened me. And all I was trying to do was HELP their child. They just couldn’t see it and it hurt. I didn’t cry in the meeting. I managed to make it back to my office. But I cried. I have learned that crying happens, and that it is okay. I am human and I care.
- It’s not me, it’s them: It doesn’t happen as much in schools, but something that I have realized lately is that sometimes the reason THAT parent is not happy with the services you are providing is not you, it’s them. I do my best to work with every family that I have. It can be hard to balance the environments, lifestyles, parenting, and people of so many different homes. I do a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. However, I have already experienced THAT parent. A parent that does some very acrobatic “therapist jumping” with regards to the services their child receives. No amount of bending could make THAT parent happy… so they moved on, and so did I. At first, I second-guessed myself. Was this where I was supposed to be. But some co-workers helped me realize that it was not me. I have learned to move on, not dwell, and let THAT parent go.
- Allies: I have experienced the joy of THAT parent becoming my ally. It took using all that I have learned from other “THAT parent”s to do it… but it happened. I listened to them, I was confident, I kept impeccable data, I communicated with them, and I cried (only once and then promptly joined friends for a glass of wine after work). We got there. I will never forget the meeting where THAT parent backed ME up! I was stunned. THAT parent used me as an example of how they wanted to be worked with. The only sad part was, that we were dismissing the child from speech therapy services at that meeting. But it was a huge victory. I have learned that you can have THAT parent as an ally.
THAT parent isn’t easy. THAT parent will inspire several Happy Hour sessions. THAT parent may help your hair go a bit more platinum than you were ready for. But, THAT parent should never effect how you work with their child. If you work with children, you really do work with entire families on many occasions. But, it is still ultimately about the child. I know that there will be several more “THAT parent”s in my career. I look forward to learning more lessons from them.