There are many times when I sit in parent conferences with families of students who have made mistakes and mothers and fathers tell me, “I just don’t know what do anymore” I find myself limited when wanting to offer advice because I don’t have children and find it ironic to give parental advice. But I wanted to be able to offer the families I serve as a Dean of Students answers and options. I wanted to give them solutions when they were throwing in the towel because I never wanted to give up on any of my students. I decided to reach out to an outstanding parent, one that has raised six children through an educational system in a low-income community with limited resources, just as the parents at my school are trying to do. I reached out to my mother, Rosie Gonzalez, and asked her what advice she would give parents in low-income communities who are facing similar obstacles because even with the adversity we faced, she managed to help her children through three bachelor’s degrees, three bachelor’s degrees in progress, two master’s degrees, another master’s degree in progress and one PhD in progress.
My mom made higher education a priority in our home and thought very carefully about the advice she would give other parents. She concluded that the following five things helped her raise her six children and guided them towards success in their educational careers.
- Set clear expectations.
According to Mrs. Gonzalez the first step to parenting is to make expectations crystal clear to your children. They should know exactly what is expected of them at home, at school, in public, when visiting company, when going to the park, and so on. She reminds me in our conversation that she would always sit us down before school started every year and she would talk to us about her expectations of our behavior in school. “Don’t talk back to your teachers, work hard to get the best grades, do every assignment, and don’t ever be mean to any of the other kids, and if someone is mean to you tell the teacher.” This speech was given to us constantly throughout the school year because my mother wanted to make sure she was sending hard working, respectful, and thriving children to school everyday. Her expectations were clear, so we knew what she expected of us. My mom remembers her parents not knowing about the educational system; she remembers them not having expectations of her with regard to school, so, consequently, she was not successful and dropped out when she got pregnant her junior year. She did not want that for us and wanted us to achieve much more than being high school dropouts like her.
- Follow through with expectations.
The second thing my mother suggested to all parents is that they must establish consequences for times when expectations are not met. More importantly, they must enforce those consequences. If we were not meeting expectations with our grades, there were consequences involving a reunion with her sandal, losing free time to play outside, or even added chores to our day. The key, according to my mother, was to follow through, and she made sure that every time we brought home a C there was a warning, but a D or F would raise a lot of questions in a conversation and had a guaranteed consequence. The consequences were always worse if we disrespected any of our teachers or peers because my mother made that really clear. We were to hold ourselves to high standards in the way we treated people, and in the way we were viewed as a family. She reminded us that our behaviour was a reflection of her and she did not want to look like a bad parent while she was not around. Among the six of us we rarely failed a course, and almost never got in trouble at school because we were clear on what would happen if we failed to meet the expectations, and her consistency kept us from pushing the limits.
- Don’t be their friend.
“I am not your friend, I am your mother and you will respect me that way,” was something that we heard growing up almost daily. Mrs. Gonzalez made it clear that not being your child’s friend does not equate to not having a strong bond with your children. She mentions that there needs to be active communication where you are constantly talking to your children about their lives, their friends, and their aspirations. The key was drawing the line between being there as a friend versus a parent. “They should never be too comfortable around you,” my mother said. They should be open to share things, but to always view you with great respect. My mother shares her insight and she feels a lot of parents make that mistake. They do not know how to have open communication with their children while ensuring that they do not disrespect you or get upset when you try to parent them. “Too many of these new age parents are trying to be their kids’ friends and forget that they need to parent their children, make sure they are following their expectations, and guide them so they become good people,” concluded Rosie.
- Keep them busy.
Another tip my mother has for parents is to keep their children busy. She shares that making sure children have busy schedules with things they love prevents children from being bored and creating space for big mistakes. She remembers that as a teen, she had so much extra time while her parents were at work that she became involved in gang activity. She was following her peers who also had too much time on their hands. That’s when she promised herself that she would always have things for her children to do so that they never had time to get involved in gangs, drugs, or other things that could be obstacles in their life. Therefore, she instilled in our lives playing sports, joining clubs, and doing any extra curricular activities that we were interested in. Along with school responsibilities she always kept us busy at home with daily chores and expectations we needed to fulfill to enjoy privileges such as hanging out with our friends, watching tv, and playing with our electronics.
- Be involved as a parent.
My mom says you need to know what your children are doing at all times and be as involved with the people that are interacting with your children as much as possible. My mother worked full time and had six children, yet still managed to make it to every baseball game, every parent conference, and every fundraiser. She knew all our teachers and friends so that she would ensure we were surrounded by people who would be a good influence on us. She reminded us how she would always go out of her way to let teachers know that she took an interest in our education and would make herself available for anything the teachers needed from her in order for us to be successful. She recalls being treated differently by teachers because she was so involved and present in our academic lives, and she wants other parents to do the same so that the educators in their children’s lives are as supportive as possible.