The story so far. Two elderly grandparents have two children; a middle aged son married with two children, and a younger daughter who is single. The two children of the married son and his wife are Tobias aged 17 and Mavis aged 14.

An issue has arisen with the granddaughter Mavis, otherwise a natural, happy-go-lucky young teenager. Her form teacher, quite innocently, decided to discuss the question of family trees and discovered that Mavis behaved out of character when asked to tell the class about her own family. The teacher, realising something was afoot, quickly moved on to another pupil and the lesson proceeded.

The Teacher mentioned the moment to the Head who met with Mavis, initially, in the School Hall and then in her study. The Head realised that something was up and – with deliberate intent and care – mentioned her own lack of cousins. Mavis tensed up, her cheeks reddened and tears appeared. The Head knew there was more to come and talked just long enough for Mavis to regain her composure. But what was the problem? The Head, experienced in her role, decided to press a little further. She clarified the names of the family members and listened – with emotional intelligence – to Mavis’s responses to the Head’s innocent queries.

The Head asked about the grandparents and sensed Mavis’s difficulties when she did not know what work her grandfather had undertaken and, more telling, she stumbled when asked to describe where they lived. She remembered that the grandparents had a pet dog but could not recall his name. A picture quickly emerged – Mavis had little or no contact with her grandparents. Hence her awkwardness when called upon to discuss her family tree in class.

The Head had choices; she could send a letter to the parent thus ensuring privacy or she could leave it until Parent’s Evening in two weeks and raise the incident in quiet conversation – but with less privacy. Throughout her career the Head had always chosen the person-to-person approach but would both parents attend? Fortunately they did and the Head picked her moment but she was not prepared for the reaction. “My blasted sister again. Always the problem” said the Father irritably. Clearly Parent’s Evening was not the right setting to carry matters forward.

The Head suggested another more private occasion was the best way forward. She did take the opportunity to talk about Mavis and the progress she was making at the school although she sensed that both parents’ thoughts were elsewhere. She was right – anger, if not rage, had taken hold. But the Head did not want to conclude the encounter on a sour note. She allowed herself a final word – “you are the parents, not me, but it might be better not to raise this with Mavis until we have spoken further.”




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