“Love you! Have a great day!” I yell as my kids scooter down the sidewalk towards their elementary school a few blocks away. I then flop onto the couch, mentally drained. I need just a few minutes to regroup before starting my own workday. By the time I get four kids and all their stuff out the door most weekdays, I am a frazzled mess.
This particular morning, before I’ve even finished my first cup of coffee, I got a call from the school. It was one of my kids, letting me know they forgot their library book. Again.
I’m not surprised given the tornado of papers and bags we deal with each morning, but I did sigh heavily. Now, there is no big consequence for forgetting your book. Students just don’t get to check out a new one until the following week. For my child though, who already struggles with organization and staying on task, it was devastating. I knew from their voice on the phone that their anxiety was spiking over not being prepared for yet another part of the school day. “Please, mom.” I heard the tinge of tears in those words, threatening to spill over.
There was a moment where I wavered. The book was sitting right on the table. I work from home. I live three blocks away. Should I bail my child out? What lesson was I teaching if I did?
A diatribe of other voices ran through my head. Plenty of adults would say that we, millennial parents, are making our children less resilient by over-functioning for them. I don’t believe that’s true, but it can be hard to ignore the very loud messages we receive from the broader culture. I shook off that fear, though, and grabbed the book. I can’t always drop what I am doing to help my kids at school, but today I could.
When I got home I posted a photo of the book to my Instagram and shared a little bit about my decision making process.
I was surprised by the messages of support that flooded my DMs. So many other parents would have made the same choice I did, if they were able to that day. One friend said that if her spouse left for work without something he needed, she’d run it over to his office if her schedule permitted. Another friend said she was healing her own childhood hurts — her mom never showed up for her when she needed it, so she wants her kid to know they can count on her. Many parents said their schedules precluded them from being able to run over an errant library book, but they bail their kids out in other ways.
“Being able to ask a trusted loved one for help is also part of life,” one friend commented. “I get the idea that we should teach them consequences, but people often forget that we should also teach them it’s okay to mess up from time to time.” That resonated with me. Would my kid be okay without their book? Of course. Did it mean a lot that I brought it, anyway? It did. I have a hard time asking for help as an adult; it can feel like a weakness on my part. I don’t want my kids to feel like that some day, too.
There are many natural consequences our kids will experience in life. Left your bike out in the rain? Guess you’re riding with a squishy seat. Forgot your muffin on the coffee table while you ran off to play? The dog definitely ate it. If your room is a wreck and you can’t find your things, that might mean it's time to clean up (actually, this is one I myself am still working on learning).
Life lessons abound, and they are often difficult and a bit painful. I am okay with my kids experiencing the fallout of some of their decisions. Creating a life free from growing pains is not my goal. At the same time, I want my kids to learn about community, support, and family. My own mom cannot always show up at the drop of a hat to help me when I am in a jam — but when she can, she does. That fact has not made me less self-sufficient, but it has helped me learn that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
There will be plenty of days I cannot drop everything to run something to our school. Not every morning is appointment-free, and there will be times I have to let my kids feel the weight of that natural consequence. But for them to know I could have supported them through their anxiety and stress and simply chose not to? That is not a lesson I want my kids to ever learn.
Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.