This is a guest post from a school leader who wishes to remain anonymous
She sits on the edge of her chair, fists clenched.
“What’s he done now?”
Wearily I go through the latest string of offences.
We’ve been here many times before this young mother and I.
We know the steps of this dance well. There will be recrimination and accusation. The rehashing of old grievances dating back years. Complaints about teachers and broken promises. These meetings never end pleasantly. Sometimes they end with shouting and the slamming of doors.
But today for reasons that will remain forever mysterious something unexpected happens. She weeps.
“I hate coming here,” she says through her tears. “Hate coming here to be told again what a shit mother I am.”
“I didn’t..”, I try to interrupt.
“I know I’ve messed it all up.” She says. “Look at the state of him. Look what he does. He doesn’t listen to me whatever I tell him. Sometimes I’m scared of him. He’s nearly sixteen now. He’s barely at home. I don’t even know where he is now. I know this is my fault but what chance did I have? I was younger than he is now when I had him. All on my own. Nobody told me how to do it and by the time I realised I was doing it wrong it was too late. I see other mum’s with their little kids letting them do what they want and I want to go over and shout ‘stop them now, they don’t get better, they get worse’ because it’s too late for me and him.”
She stops and sobs again.
“I love him though I don’t think he cares. Every other day I’m here being told what a shit mum I am by you lot. Every minute I’m dreading the phone going with your number on it. I don’t know what to do. What do you want? Want me to say sorry? OK sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry.”
She sits back, folds her arms and looks right at me.
I stutter meaningless and inadequate things.
What I should have said only comes to me as I drive home.
“You aren’t a bad mother. You are a brilliant mother. You got a terrible deal and you played your awful hand as best you could. You turn up at every meeting. You answer every phone call. You shrug off the humiliation and despair and even when all hope seems gone you keep trying because deep down you know this is not hopeless and there’s always a chance. You fight and fight and fight. Your sorry? I’m sorry. I’m sorry we have to sit in these small grim rooms and have horrible conversations. I’m sorry I don’t have what I need to fix what’s gone wrong and keeps going wrong and I’m sorry you think this is all your fault when it isn’t.”
A couple of days later I see her on the street as I leave work. I wave at her.
She catches my eye, smiles, waves back.
“I’ll never say what I want to say,” I think. “I’m sorry.”