As parents, we want nothing more than to give our children the best. Regardless of what kind of childhood we had, we want to give our children better than what we had.
That’s the unconditional love a parent has for a child. We want to give them the best of everything. Yet, is the “giving” the right thing to do? That’s a tough question and one we as parents should reflect upon throughout parenthood, which starts with the birth of the first one and never ends.
When our kids are young, we are always there. We have to be or we will find the dishwasher taken apart or an entire game of “Don’t Spill the Beans” game in the toilet.
There was one moment when I realized one of my kids was being extra quiet only to find Desitin ointment slathered all over a bedroom wall and furniture. It’s those times I was taught that the clothes in the washing machine can wait; my vibe says it’s eerily quiet upstairs where the kids are.…
We also need to be there for safety reasons. Another one of my children, at age 3, was curious about light bulbs. He was obsessed with the desire to touch them. I kept telling him all of the safety words: “hot,” “no touch,” “makes owies” and the famous “NO!”
So, of course, when I was too far away to intervene, he satisfied his curiosity by touching a lamp that was just turned on. God was watching him because there wasn’t enough heat to injure him but there certainly was enough heat to get the message across.
Naturally, he let out a wail and said all of the warning words I used: “I touched,” “hot,” “owie!” To this day, he has never touched a light bulb again.
I felt like a lousy parent because he was hurt. Little did I know it was a life lesson for both of us; the curiosity of a 3-year-old never fades, and light bulbs are indeed hot.
The light bulb situation could have been a far more dangerous one, and our child’s safety is Priority One. Yet, I have learned that kids learn best from their mistakes.
I am talking about the small stuff we sweat for our kids. We want to make sure they have a lunch if they forget theirs. We don’t want them to get a lower grade because they left their homework on the kitchen table. How cold will they be because they refuse to wear a coat to school? Sure they wore snow boots to school, but — oops — they forgot their regular shoes. They will be in trouble if they forgot their gym clothes the third time this month…..
So, as parents, we bring their lunch to them. We find the homework with jelly on it and bring it just in time for science class, or write a note to excuse work that wasn’t completed.
We don’t want them to be chilled at recess or, even worse, have to stay in because they don’t have a coat, so we bring one to them. We don’t want their feet to overheat in the slow cooker an indoor snow boot all day creates, let alone have to put up with the odor. We find their smelly gym clothes that they forgot to mention needed to be washed, put fresh ones in the bag and deliver it quietly into their lockers to save the day.
But are we really saving the day?
What are we teaching them?
We are teaching our kids their irresponsibility will be “fixed” by someone — usually parents. In time, they will be less likely to remember things because there is no consequence to their irresponsibility. In fact, they may become irritated if the said issue isn’t resolved by parents in a timely manner, or in a way the child thinks is “fair.”
They learn this quickly and, wow, is it a hard one to reverse. It may even escalate to greater issues. For example, parents defending their child for behavioral issues before both sides of the story are heard. We want to protect them.
We want to save the day.
Are we really saving the day?
What are we teaching them?
The small stuff is what we, as parents, need to let go. Let them eat a part of Johnny’s sandwich and Julie’s apple.
They won’t starve.
Let them get the lower grade, or the recess punishment for forgetting their homework. They won’t fail the third grade. Let them be a little chilly, or serve the “no coat/stay in” punishment because they are not properly protected.
Let them try to run in gym with snow boots and feet evenly cooked all day. Let them serve the consequences they received in gym because the expectations were not met.
Their lives will not be ruined because they “suffered” the consequences of their irresponsibility. If anything, they learned the “small stuff mistakes” while they are small which may lead to preventing them when they are older.
Maybe the homework that needs to be completed goes in the backpack. Later in life they may be more responsible to remember that college essay or job project that is due. They learn to have their lunch ready or later in life make sure they have enough money for a meal.
Down the road they may learn it’s easier to take off a coat than not have one at all. As for the gym clothes? Ask anyone who has been next to someone on a treadmill who thinks no one will notice.
With God watching over the big stuff, we need to remember he is also watching over the small stuff. He’s got this. He’s by our side. They will learn from their “small stuff” mistakes. He will help with the big stuff, too.
That’s when we have saved the day.
Because we taught them.
With God at our side.
(Michele, a mother of three, teaches fourth grade at Waukesha Catholic School, Waukesha.)