The pre-eminance of Wal-Mart parents

by Tom Deighan

Somewhere around the age of 2 or 3, children try to leverage pressure on their parents in public. I call those the Wal-Mart years, when children test us with fits, tantrums, and other tactics whenever they have an audience.  The goal is to get what they want, be it a toy or candy, but the larger goal is determining who’s boss, and it doesn’t just happen among toddlers. I have a friend who admits to losing it in the cereal aisle when her child threw a tantrum during one hectic trip to the store. She raised her voice, grabbed her child by the arm, and corrected him sternly right there in the store. She never hurt her child, but it was enough of a scene that a concerned bystander scolded the mom and told her just to give the kid the cereal he wanted. Before the mom could respond to the stranger, her kid popped off, “Mind your own business, lady, or my mom will kick your butt!”  

The lady in this story is a great Mom, but everyone loses it in Wal-Mart eventually. It does not make someone a bad parent, and kids rarely lose love for parents who correct them. This is even true when the relationship is not perfect.  Even more remarkable, when the parent is derelict or abusive, however, children will still often defend them with a loyalty that defies logic. That’s the power of the parent-child bond, and educators know that anyone who dares get between a child and a parent does so at extreme peril.  And when I say parents, I am referring to the caring adults in children’s lives who nurture their education. That role is often filled by someone who is not the biological father or mother.  Every child who has such an adult parenting their education is generally ready for school.    

Educators whom I respect hold the parent-child relationship as sacrosanct, for we know that it is an unbreakable bond. Parents are the preeminent influence in children’s lives. Teachers know that their jobs are infinitely easier when the parent supports their child’s education, even in the smallest measures.  An educator can never replace the parent as the most important influencer or educator. We can often only enhance and support. If a parent resists or devalues education or holds hostile feelings toward the teacher, educators struggle, often in vain, to overcome that child’s resistance to learning. On the other hand, when a parent participates or even tacitly supports in the simplest of ways like checking on their children’s grades online, that child enters the classroom with a tremendous advantage.  

Educators assist the parents, but we can never usurp, override, undermine, or replace the roles or responsibilities of a parent. Contrary to the extreme examples we may see in the news, virtually all educators know that the power of a parent is unparalleled. It is first biological, which is almost impossible to overcome, and then it is based on simple time and relationship. Think about it, children spend about 15% of their time each year in school, and they get new teachers every year. The remainder is under parent or guardian supervision, year after year. (There are 8760 hours in a year, and children only spend 1260 hours in school, which is about 15% of their lives: 7 hours each day X 180 days = 1260 hours.) 

Educators assist parents, and I know educators who can help children overcome overwhelming obstacles, even those children who are unsupported in their education, but no educator can completely replace a caring, attentive, and invested adult in the home. That’s why parents will always be the most important educators, and nearly all educators honor this parental role in a child’s life, especially during the challenging years!  Wal-Mart parents unafraid to correct their children in public are our heroes, for they are making our jobs much easier. Thank you for being the most important educators.

Tom Deighan is currently the superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at and read past articles at

Comanche Times
United for Oklahoma - September