Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mom, the human safety net

How often do you rescue your kids? I don’t mean rescuing them from physical peril, although I do a fair share of that as well. I mean saving them from their own mistakes or the harsh realities of life, shielding them, easing the blow. I’m not sure about this because rescuing my kids always seems right at the time. But then I read all the parenting experts who tell me that to raise independent, confident children, I have to let them learn a few important lessons in the school of hard knocks called Growing Up.

Today, for example, at the exact moment that the bus was pulling away from our house, I noticed Ethan’s homework assignment lying on the kitchen floor. I knew it was an assignment that was due today because he had worked on it for over an hour last night, typing it up, printing it out and setting it conscientiously on the kitchen counter where he would be sure to remember it in the morning…that is unless it managed to slip onto the floor somewhere between breakfast and his departure for the bus stop.

I felt terrible about the assignment because Ethan has been doing much better this year about remembering homework and being responsible for his own assignments. He brought home a report card last week with straight A’s and I think the sun shone a little brighter for a few moments in tribute to his accomplishment. He was so proud of himself (as we all were, of course, but I think it’s more important that he was proud of himself).

As I stared at the paper on the floor, I had one of those dreaded internal debates—the kind that, for some reason, one of me always loses.

Ack! He left the darn assignment.
There’s nothing you can do about it.
I could drive over to the school and deliver it to him.
Don’t be ridiculous. He’ll just have to turn it in late.
But he’ll be so sad about losing points.
He should have put it inside his school binder. He needs to learn from his mistakes…you can’t always be there to diminish the consequences of his actions.
(Me, imagining Ethan opening his binder, looking for the assignment, knowing that he finished it, getting more frustrated by the second as he looks through every part of it in search of something he will never find, the feeling sinking in that he has blown it again and left it home.) I just can’t let him suffer! He tries so hard. I will drop it off to him on the way home from taking McKay to school....just this once.
Pathetic enabler.
Heartless wench.
Gas waster.

Well, you get the idea.

I assume it’s a common problem: knowing when to sweep in for the rescue (when to push my stroller down the Junior High halls for the rescue, sneak a peak around the door of my son’s classroom, breathe a sigh of relief that he is sitting right in the corner nearest me, slip his paper onto his desk, and catch a glimpse of his surprised, glad face turning around to see me as I duck out the door) and knowing when to let them grow up and learn that life is hard and mom can’t always be there to catch them. Or then again maybe she can. You know, maybe I can keep up the human safety net act for a few more years. At least until they weigh too much for me to hold.


Annette Lyon said...

I think there's a balance here. Swooping in at every moment raises whimpy kids who can't take life. But then, never, ever coming to the rescue sends a message that you aren't there for them.

The older they get and the more responsibility they can handle, you adjust the "rescue" quotient. They learn, I think. My 7th grader gets far less rescuing than my preschooler, but then, it's a regular battle to know how much to rescue her and where to draw that line. Great post.

Luisa Perkins said...

Lovely post, JQ.

Annette's absolutely right. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis.

One time a couple of years ago, James left his lunchbox at home. At first I thought, oh well, he'll have to go hungry until he gets home. But then something whispered to me to take the lunchbox to school and have it delivered to him. So I did.

The next Sunday, he got up in F&T meeting and talked about how his prayer that I would bring him his lunch had been answered.

I'm glad I listened.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I think you absolutely made the right choice and I am a stickler for letting children suffer consequences. I think the trick is to make sure you aren't giving them a false reality. I have had cashiers chase me out to the parking lot with my forgotten wallet, or a bag of groceries that I left behind. I am always so grateful for that kindness. It would have been wrong of you to find your son's homework on the floor and quickly fix any mistakes he had on it though because no grocery clerk is going to fix my mistakes and keep me from buying fatty cookies and chips.

marinamo said...

One way to look at it is that you are teaching your son to help others when it is in his power to do so.

Jen said...

In this case, I absolutely would have delivered it to the school. Probably left it at the office so he wouldn't be embarrassed by the sight of me. :D

An Ordinary Mom said...

I would have done the same thing in this situation ... gravity loses a lot of things.

Shalee said...

Helping him with a smile, but a gentle reminder later that "you won't always be able to save the day so next time put your things where they belong so you won't lose points" works around here. (And there are times when I let my kids suffer the consequences because it serves as a better reminder.)

mindyluwho said...

I always get so excited when I see on my feeds that you have a new post, I always know it will be a good treat. Beautiful as usual!

There is a difference between enabling our children and serving them. Today I think you served.

The Lazy Organizer said...

It's a fine line. You did the right thing.

I seldom rescue. My kids feel competent but do they feel loved?