If you notice your child’s lunchbox sitting on the counter after they’ve left for school, what do you do?
I asked a few of my mom friend’s this question the other day. They all said they would drop off the child’s lunch at school. That was my answer too. But now I’m realizing it’s not the right thing to do. I’ve been reading a book called Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World about raising children who are capable and well, self-reliant. It’s been an eye opener.
And wouldn’t you know that just a few days ago my daughter left her lunch on the counter. I didn’t take it to school. I knew she had money in her lunch account and there was a perfectly acceptable lunch option for her at school. When Anna got home she was appalled that I didn’t bring her lunch to her. I explained that remembering her lunch was her responsibility, not mine. As you can imagine, that did little to assuage her anger. “But I thought you would bring it to me! I had to eat (gasp) ravioli!” I held firm and told her I thought not having her lunch today would help her remember it in the future. She didn’t have a rebuttal for that. In a few minutes she had forgotten about her disappointment in me and moved on. And she hasn’t forgotten her lunch since.
This kind of parenting is hard. John Rosemond says modern moms are spineless. There may be some truth in that. I hate it when my kids get upset with me, I’ll admit it. So sometimes I put their clothes in the hamper for them instead of asking them to do it for the 43rd time. But I know I’m not doing THEM any good. In fact, I’m taking the easy way out. We parents know very well that most things are easier to do ourselves than to ask the children to do them and a) create a ginormous mess or b) moan, groan and complain, whine or cry…and make a ginormous mess.
My daughter’s third grade teacher (with 23 years under her belt) gave us parents this message on curriculum night. “When they hand you their homework or their folder, look at it and hand it back. It’s their responsibility. And if you see them leave homework behind in the morning, just let them leave it. They’ll learn not to forget it that way.” She’s right. But it’s one thing to agree with the concept and another to watch your child head to school knowing she’s going to get a zero on her assignment that she worked so hard on the night before.
It’s the tendency of our generation to swoop in and soothe our children, to save them from their mistakes and hurts as much as possible. Even grandparents are in on it, though they likely won’t admit it. Sure, they’ll tell us we do too much for our kids or coddle them, all while showering them with gifts and generally letting them get away with murder. (Stuff they would have killed US for doing.)
Money and materialism are not all to blame here though. Our kids generally live lives of pampered leisure. Someone washes their clothes, cooks their meals, organizes their schedules, cleans their rooms, and makes their beds. Long gone are the days of young kids milking cows or feeding chickens at dawn. And, so is their sense of purpose in the family, according to the authors of Raising Self Reliant Children. They recommend sitting down and having a family meeting, making a list of all the things that need to get accomplished by the family during each week and how everyone can do their part to help the family meet the goals. Kids should be a part of the list making and the suggestions. This should not be parents dictating a to-do list to the kids. You may be surprised at what your kids come up with too. My husband and I had a meeting with our kids about what we could do to make school mornings run smoother. Cade had a great suggestion. “I need an alarm clock,” he said. Then you wouldn’t have to get me up in the morning. I could get myself up.” Who knew a 6-year-old could come up with such a good idea…one that hadn’t even occurred to David and me? And one that would save me time! Maybe we’re really on to something here.
Now it’s time to get the alarm clock and put Cade’s idea into action. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.
Sara Ellington is the author of The Mommy Chronicles: Conversations Sharing the Comedy and Drama of Pregnancy and New Motherhood (Hay House, 2005) and The Must-Have Mom Manual (Ballantine/Random House, April 2009)