Please Don’t Become THAT Mom


I’m the first to admit that the special education system has the capacity to chew parents up and spit them out. It’s not a level playing field. Parents are dramatically outnumbered at the IEP table. Unless they have a background in child development, teaching, or the law, the parents of children with disabilities are at a tremendous disadvantage. But, no matter how frustrated or helpless you feel as a result, please don’t become THAT mom. 

THAT mom. You know, the one who comes to IEP meetings prepared for an all-out battle instead of positive collaboration. 

THAT mom. You know, the one who makes unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand, and then trashes the teachers on social media for their failures and ineptitude.  

THAT mom. You know, the one who emails her child’s case manager and actually types the words, “You are the worst case manager my child has ever had.” Yes, I’ve seen it happen.

Can we pause for a quick second and think about the chaos that would ensue if the roles were reversed? Can you imagine receiving an email from your child’s teacher saying something like, “You are the worst mother that I have ever encountered”? No, you can’t. Because that would NEVER, EVER happen. It’s a vicious, personal attack and extremely unprofessional. In fact, I could see a teacher getting severely disciplined for it.

The truth is that respect and courtesy are two-way streets. If you hope to have a productive dialogue with your child’s school team, insulting them is a surefire way to derail your efforts. This is the opposite of effective advocacy. Trust me when I say that it’s always in your child’s best interest to maintain a good working relationship with your child’s school. You don’t have to all be besties, but there must be an invisible line of respect that is never crossed.   

When I’m doing an initial phone consultation with a parent, I can tell pretty quickly if it’s someone I think that I can have a healthy working relationship with. If not, I typically say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the right fit for you.”  

I recall being contacted by a single mom named Jasmine last year, who was irate with the rest of her child’s IEP team. Sadly, this is not uncommon. By the time parents have decided to reach out to an advocate, things typically aren’t rainbows and unicorns on the school front. They are fired up emotionally and not always making decisions with a rational head. 

I do my best to listen. I let the parents unload some of their frustrations. And then slowly and gently start to plant the seeds to de-escalate their anger and shift their mindset from an angry, adversarial one, to a reasonable, collaborative one.  

Jasmine started off her story with disparaging remarks about her children’s teachers and other school staff. When she came up for air, I shared that I believed most educators were good people. Her reply, “I disagree. A friend of mine became a teacher just so she could have her summers off.” I didn’t know how to respond gracefully, so I kept my mouth shut. 

As an aside, teachers are not evil. They went into the field to help children. Yes, sometimes they get jaded, pessimistic, apathetic, or caught in the trap of, “this is how we’ve always done things.” There are times when they need to be held accountable. Like in any profession, there are always going to be bad apples that spoil the bunch. Education is not immune. BUT, as someone who has spent the last 25 years teaching (4 states, 4 school districts), and training, and subbing, and parenting, and volunteering, and advocating in public schools, I can confidently assert that the vast majority of teachers are good people. As a whole, they are some of the kindest, most compassionate, optimistic, nurturing, smart, hard-working, selfless, creative, loving humans you will ever encounter. I believe that with every fiber of my being. 

Further, anyone who has ever taught knows that the time and effort exerted over the course of a 10 month school year, far exceeds what the average worker puts in during a 12 month calendar year. Educators are “on” for 7 hours straight each day. On stage. Performing. Every second. And I hardly know any teachers who take summers completely “off.” But I digress…

Jasmine went on to explain that she was “shut down,” in the middle of the school year. The teachers and therapists were told not to communicate with her directly anymore. From that point forward, all correspondence went through her child’s case manager. She also mentioned that they counted the number of emails she sent last year and it was approximately 500! First of all, I don’t even know how that’s possible. Second of all, the sheer magnitude of that number should make a parent realize that they need to rethink their communication strategy, pronto.  

Okay, here’s one final aside. I know that for many other professions out there, quick and frequent communication via email throughout the day is the norm. It’s akin to a text thread. The public school classroom is NOT like a cubicle or office in the real world though. Teachers are lucky if they check their messages more than two times a day. There simply isn’t enough time. I advise parents not to send more than one email per day unless it’s an emergency.     

Look, I fully understand that sometimes parents are extremely concerned about their child’s education. The school district isn’t providing what their child needs and they’re simply trying to advocate on his or her behalf. But then there’s something called harassment. There is a fine line between being proactive and pestering sometimes. But if you’ve sent 500 emails, I think it’s safe to say that you crossed it a long time ago.  

I could tell in my gut that I was talking to someone who was unreasonable and had already villainized the entire profession. She was very firm in her beliefs, and not open to hearing any evidence to the contrary. So now what? Where could I go from there? Was it even worth my effort?

And then I heard myself say, “I’m sorry Jasmine, but I don’t think I’m the right fit for you.”

The IEP Parent's Guide
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A month-by-month checklist of Best Practices 

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Simple, monthly action steps to keep busy parents on track all year long.
*Relevant for all grade levels and disability categories.*