Friday, April 27, 2012

Following rules can be harder on the parent

From today's Briefing:

What makes parenting so difficult?
I ask myself this question daily, sometimes hourly, depending on the circumstances.
At the top of my list lately is consistency. If I make a rule and establish a consequence for breaking the rule, it’s my job to follow through — even if it would be easier or less painful to let it go.
At the beginning of this soccer season, I placed Cooper in charge of keeping up with his gear.
I told him that I would wash, dry and fold his uniform in between games. The rest was up to him.
That means that when it’s time to leave on Saturday morning before a soccer game, he’s responsible for finding where he placed the clean uniform, plus shin guards, cleats, soccer ball and water bottle.
A couple of weeks ago, he was dressing for a scrimmage. Uniforms were required.
“Momma,” Cooper called from his room. “I can’t find my socks!”
I suggested that he check the sock basket on top of the dryer, just in case the black-and-white socks hadn’t yet been matched.
Not there.
He checked every drawer in his dresser. The floor of his closet. The playroom.
He pulled on some old white socks, and we headed to the practice field.
A year ago, I probably would have spent an hour looking for those socks myself. Or I would have added “buy socks” to my list of errands.
But this year I had declared that I wasn’t responsible for keeping up with soccer gear. The rules were clear: If you lose something, you find it or replace it.
Cooper spent more time the next day looking for the elusive socks. He finally gave up, pulled a $20 bill from his stash of cash (earned from cat-sitting over the past year) and asked if I would take him to the store.
Once there, he found a replacement pair, walked to the register and waited for the total. Including tax, he owed $8.66.
Cooper’s eyes widened slightly, but he handed over his money without complaint and with a barely discernible droop of the shoulders.
A year ago, I might have swooped in for the rescue, pulling my debit card from my wallet at the last minute.
This time, my purse stayed shut.
After we were buckled back in the car, Cooper said, “Those are some expensive socks.”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Socks can cost a lot.”
What I didn’t say was this: Letting you buy those socks with your own money, watching you draw down your relatively small savings for something I could have easily purchased was much more painful for me than you.
Those are the kind of words kids don’t want to hear, the kind of words I didn’t fully understand until I was a parent.
Besides, it’s not my words he’ll remember. He’ll remember spending his own money on something he lost — and eventually found.
A week after buying and wearing the new pair, Cooper was putting away clean laundry when he discovered his original pair of black-and-white socks, tucked in a stack of folded T-shirts.
He laughed at himself.
“At least I have a backup pair,” he said.
I’m guessing he won’t ever need it.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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