How to stop mothering your child and why it starts earlier than you think
I’ll never forget sitting at back-to-school night for my 1st grader. He was in a new school, he loved it, and this was our first real view of the classroom and the school. That evening we all gathered in the main room where the principal of the school addressed us. I don’t remember much of what she said, but there was one sentence that stood out in my mind and shaped me as a parent in a way I never expected.
She said, “stop sending your child the message that they cannot do something that is or should be age-appropriate.” She went on to say, “I see all you moms and dads standing at the bus stop with your children waiting for the bus to pick them up. I see you out there with your Kindergarteners and your 4th and 5th graders. If you live in an area of concern, the first year might be okay to teach your child, maybe even into first grade. By the time your child is in 3rd grade, I’m pretty sure they now have been taught by you where to go, when to go there, and how to board the bus. I bet they even know how to get off the bus themselves and walk home. Did you know that every time you do something for your child that they know how to do themselves, you send them the message that they are not capable and you DO NOT TRUST THEM? That is why you must do it for them.”
Wow, I looked at my husband, and he looked at me and thought this was the best thing we’d ever heard. We vowed coming out of there that we did not want to send our kids that message every day. What parent does? Most parents’ primary goal in life is to teach children to be independent and trustworthy. Here we were sending them the wrong message and not even knowing how it would affect them down the road. I feel fortunate to have been there that day and heard that talk.
So, yes, we were the parents you didn’t see at the bus stop. I told my kids they were capable of walking to the corner and getting on the bus. They did it in the snow and the rain because, well, they were capable of doing that. They were the kids that got themselves dressed, brushed their teeth, and washed their hair. They didn’t always match or look handsome, but they got the job done and were proud and capable. When they learned how to do laundry in the 7th-grade FACTS class, I showed them how to use our machines and clean the lint trap. When they passed the class, I said, great, now you are capable of doing your laundry, and they did. I stopped doing their laundry, not because I didn’t care but because I did care. I cared enough to send my child the message that you are capable.
The best part of letting your kids do their laundry is that they appreciate it when you help them do it on occasion because they have a game or finals. The other great thing is that when they went off to college, it was one less thing they stressed about because they had been doing it for years and knew when it needed to get done and when to fit it in. They went to college, and they were confident, as were we, that they could do it all.
I had boys who lived in shorts and sweatshirts. No matter how cold it was, I found myself constantly nagging them to wear a coat or pants. My son turned to me one day and said, I’m capable of deciding what I want to wear. Wow, mental check right then and there. I never said a word again and realized if he were that cold, he would adjust accordingly. One cold December morning, he walked to the bus stop with his brother in shorts, sneakers, and a sweatshirt. It was freezing, and there was a dusting of snow on the ground. I think he was in 7th or 8th grade. They stood out there waiting for the bus while all the other kids sat in their parents’ cars waiting for the bus to come. Later that morning, a well-meaning mom, I’m sure, called to let me know that my son was at the bus stop in shorts this morning. Yes, I said, I’m aware. I guess he’s not cold. Call me when he wears pants, because when he is cold enough, he has them to wear. I’m pretty sure he knows when his body is cold and when he needs to wear pants. I figure if he learns this lesson now to trust his own body and dress it accordingly, I won’t have to worry about him when he goes off to college.
They made their own lunches. They cleaned their own rooms, and they paid for their own activities and extras. We told them we would always provide them with the essentials and meet their needs, but their wants were on them. They learned this in elementary school. We used to take them to Rita’s Ice and buy them water ice. They wanted a misto or a gelati, so we said, okay, bring your allowance money to pay for the upgrade that you want. Sometimes they did. Most of the time, they did not. They learned they could buy a gallon of ice cream for $4.00 and have it to make a sundae one night, a shake one night, and several nights of ice cream dishes. We didn’t do this because we couldn’t afford it. We did it because we wanted to teach them the value of a dollar. We want them to make sound financial decisions and know if we started them young, they would have no problem with money decisions in the future.
My daughter told me one time that she was the only one who had to pay for her dinner when she went out with her friends. I won’t lie. It tugged at my heart….for about 2 minutes. Then I thought about how she was learning to navigate that and manage her money, and more importantly, she now had a desire and a reason to make money. She got her first job when she was in 6th grade. She got home at 2:30, had a snack, did some homework, and then guess what? She walked to the bus stop, got a 2nd grader off the bus and walked her home, got her a snack, did her homework with her, and watched her till her mom got home at 6:00 pm. She did that five days a week and made $100 a week. She did that for a year, and then other moms started calling her to babysit, and they knew she was capable.
I’m sure the parents sitting in their cars with their kids on rainy/snowy days saw my kids out there and made some judgments about our parenting. I’m sure they wondered why as a stay-at-home mom, I wasn’t there to get them off the bus each day. I will admit, I wanted to be there with all the other parents, but I kept hearing those words in my head, what are you teaching your kids. Every time I felt the pull to step in, give advice, tell them what to do, I sent them the message that they couldn’t figure it out independently. I would forget, I felt pressure to be like the other parents, and I’m sure I failed to send the right message on many occasions. I also know that I got it right more often than not. My kids all went out of state to college. In year two, they moved in and out if they could. They helped to shop at garage sales for old furniture and then helped to refinish it to look new for them. They knew how to cook, manage their money, do their laundry, get themselves up and manage their time when they left for school. We never woke our kids up for school. We gave them an alarm, taught them how to set it, and never through 12 years of school did they not get up and get to school.
That one principal taught me more in one hour than I ever learned in a parenting book. I hope in some small way you have learned from me sharing this story as well. It’s not easy flying against the pack but isn’t that what we tell our kids to do? Don’t follow the crowd. Now when I pass a school bus stop and see parents standing there, I wonder at what age will that parent be able to let go of their child.
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