Missing parent/carer syndrome

Missing parent/carer syndromeDownload a printable copy of this article (PDF 474KB)

  • Make the most of the attention your parents and carers afford you.
  • Empathise with the busy lives of today’s parents and carers.
  • Communicate with WHY in mind … not WHAT.
  • Communicate through multiple channels.
  • Persistence will be your most valuable weapon.

I’ve discovered some commonalities in schools as I move around Australia visiting our Real Schools Partners. For example, there’s a moral imperative about teaching the whole student that exists in almost every Australian school. We also seem to have a genuine interest in equipping our young people for the ever changing workforce that awaits them. These are noble collective objectives and should be preserved certainly and cultivated.

“Make no mistake about it: Next to parents and families, our teachers are the most important influence in our children’s lives.”
– Kenny Guinn

One discrepancy that I’ve discovered in Australian schools is the level of involvement that parent and carer communities have in our schools. While some schools have full and active Associations and well-attended parent and carer sessions that both add value and invite input, others are finding it challenging to establish a partnership with the community. These schools find themselves unable to get a quorum at a School Association or Board meeting unless there’s a sausage sizzle and a famous guest speaker. And then there are all of the schools in between.

Today’s parents and carers are busy. They are often operating complex family situations full of commitments to work, sport, community, social groups and also other families.

Parents and carers are told they need to be many things and the messages about parenting are more pervasive than ever, such is the focus and saturation of contemporary media. They need to provide, to discipline, to clean up, to empower, to share, to talk and to survive the time and recovery that occasionally saying no can mean. Parenting is taken on voluntarily, but it is taxing and all-consuming nonetheless.

In a nutshell, parents and carers are time poor. Although today’s parents and carers may want or like to be an active part of the school program, the reality for most is that they can only allocate a certain amount of their time and energy to activities outside their regular work and family commitments.

We need to make the time available to us count. Far too often we waste our parents’ and carers’ time with messages that they don’t need to hear. Here are some examples to ponder:

  • Filling weekly printed newsletters with reminders– about head lice, about homework, about photo day, about school fees, about library books and about the next School Association meeting.
  • Sending home a class letter each term brimming with content about what lunch is acceptable, when PE uniform day is, when spelling tests will be and what stationery is required.
  • Using changeable signs in front of the school to inform about Student Free Days (which have usually already passed), the upcoming Mothers Day stall or when the next assembly is.

All of these communications address the WHAT of running a school but fail to connect with WHY parents and carers send their children to school. It’s in the WHY that our motivation to engage is driven. (For a little proof of this check out Simon Sinek’s acclaimed TED Talk titled “Start With Why”).

Schools which maximise parent and carer involvement are those that, implicitly or explicitly, have tuned in to what motivates them to engage. It’s in our statements about practice, conflict resolution, relationships, character building, bullying, safety and social competencies that we are most connecting with the WHY being asked by our parents and carers. So this is where we need to start.

The WHAT might still need to be communicated, but start to think of other and less traditional channels through which this can be managed. Social media, video, SMS, parent and carer portals, email and YouTube all present opportunities to communicate both the WHAT and the WHY. But it’s the communications with a focus on WHY messages that engage parents and carers more consistently.

Finally, there is simply no quick fix when it comes to improving parent and carer engagement. It takes time. So don’t give up when the first parent opportunity isn’t embraced fully by the throngs. Persistence will be your biggest weapon in this battle.


Simon Sinek TED Talk.
Bibliography: YouTube. (2019). Start With Why – Simon Sinek TED talk. [online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE

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