In praise of restraint

Published September 23, 2014

The folder is labelled “Emails I didn’t send to the Principal.” It contains one unsent message: a rant about leprechauns and St. Patrick and, Why so much of the former and so little of the latter?

I created the folder last year, when my son was in Grade 1 and I realized how big a test of faith it was going to be to sustain positive, long-term relationships with the people who will educate him.

Unfortunately, I am genetically predisposed to high-strung, emotional responses. Add to this an acute case of “Mama Bear Syndrome” and I have the potential to be an elementary school teacher’s worst nightmare.

Whether it’s bristling at the heavy-handed tone of a letter-Thou shalt make cupcakes, or else!-feeling embarrassed by an unfavourable note in the agenda or a knee-jerk reaction to my son’s one-sided account of a bad day, I’ve been amazed at how quickly a hot head of steam can build.

My mother was a teacher, though, so I grew up with an insider’s view of the chain of command: when to have a rational conversation with the teacher versus when to bear a lit torch into the principal’s office. Going over a teacher’s head is a huge no-no, so I created the email folder as a way to train myself to bite my tongue.

Practising restraint in such a way called to mind some friendly advice, given to me years ago: “You need to be a non-anxious presence.”

At the time, my friend was referring to church, not school. Once upon a time I was similarly tied up in knots about parish life-prayer books and soup spoons and tea towels and other petty distractions that prevent Christian people from behaving like Christians. Having spent the first three decades of my life as a fringe participant in religious culture, becoming Anglican was a challenge.

To be a non-anxious presence is not in my nature, but I took the advice to heart. I continued to advocate for a changing of the ways-outsiders can have good ideas and I’m convinced God brings us inside the church for a reason-but I did it with less urgency and judgment.

Interestingly, when I was no longer frothing at the mouth, I could see that although many of us had different worldviews, we were all there for the right reasons: everything we did, even the things we did imperfectly, was out of love for Christ and his church. I remain convinced that the same is true about education. The system is not without flaws-some very big ones, in fact-and yes, the people in it make mistakes, but they are, for the most part, there for the right reasons: they are passionate about teaching and they care very much about our kids.

I reread my leprechaun email recently and was terribly relieved that I hadn’t sent it. In hindsight, the message is emblematic of the worst kind of micromanaging-a nuisance that teachers and administrators need less of, not more.

Why not work with them, instead of against them? Why not be at least as willing to pray for them as to criticize them?

I got my son ready for school earlier this month: he got new coloured pencils, notebooks and shoes. I got myself ready, too, but my back-to-school checklist looked a little different:

How to be a non-anxious presence

  • Continued commitment to restraint
  • Unshakeable faith
  • Always remember the power of prayer
  • Note to self: “Light torch only when necessary.”


Michelle Hauser is a former fundraiser, turned newspaper columnist and freelance writer. She and her husband Mark live in Napanee, Ontario with their son Joseph and worship at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Her work includes contributions to CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Kingston Whig-Standard. She can be reached through her website at




  • Michelle Hauser

    Michelle Hauser is an award-winning freelance columnist and freelance writer. Her work includes contributions to The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Kingston Whig-Standard and numerous other publications. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at St. Mary Magdalene. She can be reached at [email protected]

    [email protected]

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