Just Because I Help My Teen Out Doesn't Mean She Won't Know How To Adult

by Lisa Sadikman
Brainsil / Shutterstock

It’s 7:58 a.m. and the mad rush out the door to school is over. I head back into the kitchen to survey the damage: coffee cup rings, splashes of spilled milk, crumbs of all kinds, and smeared peanut butter cover the counter. Soggy cereal floats in the dregs of one bowl while a smattering of oatmeal hardens in another. The dog valiantly strains for a taste of the leftover scrambled eggs abandoned by the kindergartner. In the middle of it all is my teenager’s forgotten lunch.

I text my daughter:

“U forgot your lunch”

“Oops sry. Can u bring it?”

I quickly scan my calendar, then let her know that I’ll drop it off at the front desk in the next hour. “Thanks momma,” she immediately texts back. I respond with a kissy face emoji, pile the dirty dishes into the sink, swipe at the counters, and get on with my day.

I now have to make an unplanned stop at my daughter’s school, but I’m totally okay with that. In fact, I’m thrilled to do my teenager this favor, despite dire warnings that she will never learn how to be an honest-to-goodness adult if I keep saving her from her mistakes.

What a big, stinking load of crap.

I’m so tired of parenting pundits telling me all the ways I’m ruining my teenager’s oncoming adulthood. If I’m too much of a “friend,” then I’m not being enough of a boundary-setting parent. When I do her laundry for her, I’m really robbing her of essential life skills and coddling her. Delivering her forgotten lunch is a huge no-no: How is she ever going to deal in the real world if she doesn’t experience a rumbly tummy and the distraction of a hungry brain?

I’m not convinced that hanging our teens out to dry is the best or only way to prepare them for life outside the nest. I get it: We need to stop the wave of demanding, entitled kids rumored to be taking over the world by letting them suffer the real consequences of their actions or inactions. I don’t disagree with this goal. I just don’t agree that the way to achieve it is so clear-cut or without its own set of consequences. Leaving my daughter without her lunch to teach her a lesson in responsibility means she’s also getting the message that I’m not available or willing when she asks for my help. That doesn’t work for me.

Being self-sufficient and taking responsibility is important, absolutely. There are basic skills young adults need to have, like waking up on their own in the morning, feeding themselves when they’re hungry, managing their own, often very hectic, schedules and taking care of their own personal hygiene — and that’s just a sampling.

Add to that the daily demands of being a teenager. My daughter puts in a long day at school, then heads off to sports practice. She has a ton of homework each night plus tests to study for. Technology keeps her plugged in for both her schoolwork and social life. If she wants to spend IRL time with her friends, she plans ahead to make sure what she needs to get done gets done. Lately, she’s been voluntarily turning her phone off well before lights out because she’s simply too exhausted to stay connected.

Before you go rolling your eyes over my “perfect” teenager, let me assure you that she’s plenty sassy and demanding. She complains when her soccer jersey isn’t clean for the next day’s game or we’re out of her favorite cereal. Of course, it’s my fault for not running the laundry or going grocery shopping. That’s when I remind her that she is perfectly capable of sorting clothes, pouring detergent, and pressing a few buttons and that there are several other breakfast options.

We aren’t doing our older kids any favors by constantly saving their asses or snowplowing the way for them. Dealing with uncomfortable situations and overcoming obstacles is how our kids figure out who they are, where their strengths lie, and what they can do better.

Great. I want that for my kids too, but I also want them to know that it’s okay to ask for — and expect — help when they need it. My goal is not only to raise competent, capable adults, but also people who feel loved and cared for, especially if they’re making the effort (most of the time) to keep all their ducks in a row.

I don’t respond well to demands, but I see offering to help my teenager as an opportunity to model understanding and kindness — traits I want her to carry forward. Being an adult isn’t just about being responsible or knowing how to complete everyday tasks. It’s also about knowing when you need help and asking for it. Cutting my teen some slack helps her feel supported, which I believe builds her confidence and helps make her a more empathetic person — and Lord knows this world can use as many caring, helpful humans as possible.

Being a teenager is hard. I’m not about to make it any harder. So yes, honey, I’m happy to bring you your forgotten lunch today. Just remember to run the laundry when you get home.