My son’s text came just as I was sitting down at my desk to start my workday. “Mom, can you bring my homework folder to school? I forgot it on the table.”
Sure enough, there it was. His black accordion folder which was basically held the entirety of his middle school life (at least as it pertains to his education, that is).
I groaned, audibly, when I saw his text. Even though driving his folder to school wouldn’t be an insurmountable task – we live only 5-10 minutes from school and I work from home – it was annoying. What’s more, if I brought him his forgotten folder, I would be breaking the cardinal rule of parenting experts.
You know the one? It’s the one that says we need to let our kids fail. We need to let them deal with the consequences of a forgotten lunch bag, an incomplete assignment, or, say, a forgotten black accordion folder that held anything and everything important.
I could hear all those parenting experts in my head telling me not to go. This is how he’ll learn, they said. If you bring him his folder, you’re setting a bad precedent. He’s basically gonna be one of those entitled Gen Zers who expects their ‘lawnmower parents’ to fix all their problems.
Still, I took him his folder. And here’s why.
I took his folder to school because I could. It required minimal effort for me to get in the car and take it to him. There are plenty of times when I will not be able to help him out – when my husband and I are both unavailable, when he fails a test, or when he doesn’t make the basketball team – and he’ll have to deal with those consequences on his own. And I’m all for feeling the pain of those consequences. After all, learning to deal with challenges when the consequences are minor will help him learn to deal with setbacks and hurdles when the consequences are more significant. But in this case, I could help him so I did.
Even more than that, though, I broke the cardinal rule of parenting teens because I believe that the message I sent by bringing him his forgotten folder was more important that the lesson he’d have learned if I hadn’t.
Here me out… By not bringing him his folder, he likely would have learned the harsh – though still relatively minor – consequences of not having your work turned in on time. His assignments would have gotten a lower grade because they’d have been late. He would have had to explain to each of his teachers why his work wasn’t ready to turn in. He would have felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. And he probably wouldn’t have forgotten his assignments again. (Then again, he’s 13 so he probably would.)
But even though he may not have learned the “I need to remember everything everyday without any leeway” lesson, I hope that he learned something else when I brought him his forgotten schoolwork.
I hope that he learned that he can count on his parents to catch him when he falls, to ask people for help when he make mistakes, and to give grace to others when they make mistakes. Like most middle schoolers at one point or another, he’d been struggling lately and not bringing him his folder for the sake of “teaching him a lesson” didn’t just seem silly, it seemed downright cruel. He was already feeling insecure and down, so why make him feel even worse? Tough love might get results, but in some situations, it isn’t necessarily kind.
So I hopped in the car and brought him his all-important homework folder, telling all those parenting experts tsk-tsking me in my mind to hush up. Because sometimes parenting is about following your gut – and your heart – and not your brains and the advice (even if it is technically “right”).
Our kids aren’t robots, and while I’m all for the tough love, work-it-out-on-your own and learn-how-to-fail philosophy in some situations, I also throw it out the window in other situations. Sometimes our kids need compassion and a little grace more than they need the hard lesson. Sure, it might make learning take a little longer (and yes, my son did forget his school work again and I drove it to school again), but they’ll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, they’re learning that they can count on us to have their back – not all the time, of course, but when we can.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of situations in which I let my kids fail and times when I won’t fix their mistakes. But a forgotten folder isn’t one of them.