I wish my kids could be comfortable and happy at all times. I’d like to protect them from every form of heartbreak and disappointment, to encase them in plastic bubbles and bounce them through a cushy life where they’ll never deal with a single hard knock or shattering letdown. I wish they wouldn’t have to feel the sting of shame and embarrassment, or the tug of guilt.
You won’t find me scrambling to drop off a forgotten backpack or library book, or emailing the teacher to negotiate a better grade on a test my kid neglected to study for, or dialing the school to give permission over the phone because my child didn’t remember to have me sign a permission slip. If they choose not to eat the dinner I prepared for them, it isn’t my fault if they go to bed with a rumbling tummy. If they fail to put their socks in the hamper, well, it’s really going to suck for them to go to school without socks on (or, heaven forbid, borrow their sibling’s) when none of theirs have been washed. In situations where they have a choice, and they make the wrong one … I let them experience the effects.
This is because a couple of years ago, I asked myself an important question: Am I trying to protect them for their benefit, or for mine? Like most moms, I feel what they feel. Their losses and setbacks weigh on me as heavily as if they were my own – maybe more so. There’s nothing harder for a mother than watching her children suffer, and my heart aches right alongside theirs. Sheltering them from the natural consequences of their actions keeps me from being anxious and upset, but this isn’t about me. It’s about them.
It sucks, because I do have the impulse to intervene and save them from any negative consequences. I hate seeing my kids flounder or fail, and I have to bite my tongue and remind myself that this is for their own good, no matter how it makes me feel. Standing firm and letting them deal with the fallout of their poor decisions is one of the most difficult parts of parenting, but it’s a necessary evil. Nothing provides a more thorough lesson than experience, and it helps them to realize that they’ve got to take responsibility for their actions, and own their choices – even the bad ones.
Sometimes they’ll be hurt for reasons beyond their control, through no fault of their own, because life is unfair. And when that happens you can bet I’ll be there, a soft place to land, ready to soothe and support them as best I can and hold their hands as they sort through the aftermath. I’ll defend them against whatever injustice I need to. But when their discomfort is due to something they could have easily avoided – missing recess with their friends to finish homework they should have done, for example – I let the chips fall where they may.
If I don’t let my children learn that there are consequences, and what it means to work through them, and how to make better choices the next time, I’m doing them a huge disservice. Because while my job does encompass giving them all the joys of childhood, it extends far beyond making mac and cheese and taking them to the zoo and reading bedtime stories. They’re going to be adults for far longer than they’ll ever be children, and it’s my duty to teach them how, to get them ready to go out into the world and be functional.
I wouldn’t put them behind the wheel of a car without teaching them to drive. And I won’t send them into adulthood without allowing them to learn about good decision-making. Protecting them from natural consequences may prevent hurt feelings, sure … but I’m not going to keep my kids from learning just to make myself feel more at ease.