I dragged his bag behind me. The noise from the wheels rolling through the stray rocks in the parking lot grinding like gentle background music.
I dipped my head as I pulled open the high school door, pulling my hat down over my eyes. If I was a good mom I wouldn’t be bringing him the baseball bag he forgot. If I was a good mom I would let him learn from the consequences — missing the second day of baseball tryouts. I was both embarrassed and poised to defend my decision should anyone ask.
My words spilled out of my mouth faster than I could catch them when I presented the bag and my purpose to the school secretary. Things like, “just this once!” and “teenagers” with a roll of my eyes. My heart pounded faster than it needed to and I turned with a smile — practically running out of the office before I could be chastised for bringing my kid what he forgot. Knowing that I didn’t believe a word I just said. It wouldn’t be just this once and it’s not just teenagers. I forget stuff. Every. Day.
I wondered if they rolled their eyes back at me. I wondered if they thought, “just another snowplow mother.” I wondered what they thought of me and I wondered what they thought of my kid. I wondered if they believed my lies any more than I did.
I know what helicopter and snowplow parenting look like
I look at Facebook. I see the news. I belong to a parenting group — or two — and I know what helicopter parenting and so-called snowplow parenting look like. I also know that common wisdom — and every. single. responder. on a Facebook post would tell me I was wrong. I should never take responsibility for something that is his to do. I should never drag his bag through a parking lot and deliver it to him when he forgot it. I should not do what he can do for himself.
I can hear the chorus of keyboard warriors:
“Not in my house! My kids know I won’t bail them out!”
“You forgot your baseball bag? Not my monkey, not my circus! Figure it out!”
“That shows no respect for my time!”
“If they can’t remember it must not be important to them!”
Here’s the thing.
It’s not that he’s disrespectful. It’s not that he’s inconsiderate of my time. It’s not that he doesn’t love baseball and it’s not important to him. It’s that he’s 15, it’s that he can be scattered. It’s that leaving him to fret and worry about a forgotten bag all day will in no way fix the reason why he forgot it. And the fact of the matter is he is MY monkey and this is MY circus!
It wouldn’t have mattered if I let him live with the consequence of forgetting his bag. He was mortified when he realized it just five minutes after he caught his ride to school and I knew my boy would worry both about the forgetting and disrupting my day.
I knew he was embarrassed and ashamed of himself that he forgot. I also know the crappy way he felt today would not translate to him not forgetting again when the chaos of an early morning after a late night of practice, homework and chores was thrust upon him. I also know that I don’t want to use shame or embarrassment to help him learn about himself and how his brain works, or how to solve a problem.
So I took the bag to school. And when he got home we had a conversation and brainstormed together why he thought it was left behind and how he thought he could set up his morning differently so that he wouldn’t forget again.
I also told him I was happy to help him out of a tight spot, but there might be a day if he forgot in the future that I couldn’t do it. I wanted him to be prepared if it happened again and I couldn’t help him out — that it didn’t mean I wouldn’t or didn’t want to. I want him to know I have his back and will help when I can.
My son hasn’t forgotten his bag since we talked about why he needs to remember it
And you know what? He hasn’t forgotten it since. He came up with a plan and a solution — on his own — and he executes it.
So why then, if I felt good about what I was doing if I felt proud of his ability to problem solve, if I felt like my decision was right for my family did I feel so nervous walking into the school with what he forgot?
Because everywhere we turn there is judgment on our choices. Because everywhere we turn there are experts telling us we are ruining our children. Because everywhere we turn other moms (and dads) are telling us we are doing it wrong, that their kid “would never,” that their kid “knows better,” that they are the “mean mom” who demands their kids are accountable…insinuating with her ever righteous attitude that she’s rocking this mom thing way better than me.
Because I am expected to check their grades daily (why else would there be an app with notifications for every. single. assignment.?!) Because if I’m not checking the grade portal I’m ineffective and not paying attention. Because if I’m checking the grade portal I’m not holding them responsible.
Because I can see their exact location at every moment and track what they eat for lunch (I actually cried when they sent the link home for this app — I just can’t even). Because I can monitor their phone usage and read their text messages. Because if I do I am overstepping boundaries and if I don’t I am being irresponsible.
Because while we’re being told to hand out tough love and to let them figure out their own problems (which I must say, as a fully functioning, successful adult — I rarely solve a problem without any help) we’re also being told that we should be doing all we can to give them the best chance.
Depression and anxiety are on the rise in our young adults. I write a lot about anxiety — and I receive a lot of messages from mommas telling me about theirs. This was happening before the pandemic and has only gotten worse.
I don’t begin to know the answers as to why this is happening — but I know the stress I feel to get it right, to do as I’m supposed to has come dangerously close to disguising my compass and my own belief that I can make mistakes and correct them, that I can connect with my kids and I can decide what’s best.
We are caught in an ironic dichotomy of parental confusion. What would happen if we assumed that our answer wasn’t always the right solution for someone else? What would happen if we demanded less compliance from our burgeoning young adults and asked for more collaboration? What would happen if we understood that kids develop at different ages and stages and that simply expecting a child to be ready to handle what’s thrown at them doesn’t mean they are actually ready. What if we stopped being right?
When a child learns to walk we provide them with support and help — we hold their hands we encourage them, smile when they fall, and joyfully urge them to try again! We video their successes and even their failures and share with them their journey. I never let go of my son’s hand and said, you should be walking now! Figure it out on your own.
But as soon as that child hits early adulthood — conventional wisdom tells us to be ready to throw them to the fire. Ready or not. I’m not buying it. I’m just not.
What about when they learned how to ride a bike? I didn’t take my kiddo to the top of the hill, pull off the training wheels and proclaim, “You should be able to do this by now, figure it out!”
So as my kiddo slowly begins to turn the pedals on the bike of young adulthood, for me it makes sense that I would help him learn when to take off the training wheels. That even when he has mastered biking on smooth, solid ground that I will help them navigate a bumpy, root covered, sand pitted nature trail.
There is a space between sending an excavator in ahead of their path, clearing the stumps and rocks and trees that are hazardous and sending them down that path with no map and limited knowledge about how to ride a bike through rough terrain.
I’m trying to find that middle ground.
This is my circus. These are my monkeys. And I’m doing my best. I really am. And I hate that while doing what I know was the right thing to do for us, I felt small. I felt I had to defend my parenting. I felt embarrassed that I had consciously made a decision to help my son that others would see as weak, and even worse, they would see as damaging.
Parenting has humbled me. Parenting teenagers and young adults have brought me to my skinned knees praying with everything I have. Everything I thought I knew — even just a few years ago — has come to be questioned. I used to be the one judging. I was the one who assumed I had the answers. Because when things are going along in an uncomplicated way, it’s easy to know what to do. Now I know better. Way, way better.
I don’t want to be the one who makes you feel small. I don’t want to be the one to make you feel wrong and embarrassed. I want to help you feel empowered. I can’t do that if I’m busy believing I’m right.
So here’s to listening without judgment. To honoring good intentions. To supporting and encouraging. To allowing for mistakes and for understanding our motives. Here’s to dropping my kid’s bag off because it’s what’s right for us, without feeling bad about it.
And here’s to deleting the food app. Or not. Whatever works for you.
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