Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm learning to teach kids to rescue themselves

From today's Briefing:

Parenting is the toughest job I’ve ever had.
I’m reminded of this daily, often hourly, depending on the circumstances.
A recurring theme in my mom struggles: How often I rescue vs. how often I let my children learn about life the hard way.
Last week, I rescued.
Katie’s second-grade class has had some unexpected transitions, and last Thursday was the first day for the room’s new teacher.
Katie was circumspect about the change, and she’d pinned huge expectations on the new teacher and how the first day would go.
She also had big plans for recess that day. She and some friends have been playing an intricate game that involves searching for fairies, and she’d promised her friends that she’d bring a book on fairy houses to school.
I was already late leaving the house for work when I noticed that Katie had forgotten the fairy book.
Most days I would have left the book behind, but this day was already so emotionally iffy.
I ignored my usual rule — “if you leave it at home you’ll have to live without it” — in light of Katie’s vulnerable condition, and I delivered the book to school on my way to work.
This week, I refused to rescue.
I was pulling in to my workplace parking space when I received a text from Cooper, still on the school bus: “Forgot my clarinet.”
He didn’t ask me to deliver his instrument, though that was my first instinct.
I looked at the clock and figured that I could turn around, drive home, pick up the clarinet and his music and get it to school just as the first-period bell was ringing.
Or I could ask one of my stay-at-home mom friends to swoop in to rescue on my behalf.
Or I could write back “So sorry!” and let him learn from the small mistake.
That’s exactly what I did, though I felt a little crummy about it. I worried over how embarrassed he might feel or how frustrated his teacher might be.
I even started to compose an email to his teacher, with the intent of apologizing on his behalf.
Halfway through the note, I stopped and hit delete. Cooper can speak for himself, and he can take responsibility for accidentally leaving his clarinet at home.
His tiny lapse wasn’t a reflection on my character or his.
As soon as Cooper got home that afternoon, I asked about band. His teacher wasn’t the least bit angry, he said.
During class, he went through the motions of playing an invisible clarinet. And he’d already developed a strategy to make sure he didn’t forget again.
I can’t guarantee that he’ll always remember his instrument — or his binders or lunchbox or jacket. In fact, I’m certain that he’ll forget something again soon. (Don’t we all?)
But I take solace in knowing that nothing awful happened because I refused to step in.
In fact, if I keep stepping out of the way — no matter how difficult for a worrying mom like me — something really wonderful might happen.
My kids might learn how to rescue themselves, and that will make everyone’s life a little easier.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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