Yesterday was Grandparent's Day at my daughter's school. If you teach in an elementary school you know that any day out of the ordinary is a recipe for craziness. Combine the change in routine with beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and various other "special friends" coming to visit at the end of the day and you can count on the first four hours of the day being unbridled insanity.
But everyone survived. The program went off beautifully (all credit to our amazingly patient and unflappable music teacher) and the students happily reunited with their precious family members and friends to escort them to their classrooms to show off their best work.
I stood in the hallway and waited for my daughter to finish reading her Oma the short novel she had written. I knew it would take a little while and the classroom was crowded and hovering somewhere right around one thousand degrees so I positioned myself outside the door where it was a mere one hundred degrees. A friend joined me, also waiting for her kids to finish up in their classrooms. As her son raced by, recorder in hand, she shook her head and confessed to me, "I'm the worst Love and Logic mom. He actually forgot his recorder today and I brought it to him." She went on, "I mean...if it had just been an assignment or even his lunch, I wouldn't have come to his rescue. But, it's Grandparent's Day! And he would have had to sit out the performance!" She was obviously struggling over this decision and probably figured the Parenting Police were going to swoop in at any moment and tattoo "Helicopter Mom" on her forehead.
I couldn't help but laugh a little at her distress because she is truly one of the best moms I know and the farthest thing from a Helicopter Parent. Her children are all bright, self-reliant, incredibly sweet and unfailingly polite. The idea that she had violated some indefensible Mom Law and now needed to plead Guilty and send herself off to Mom Jail would mean there was little hope for the rest of us.
But I could see she really felt conflicted over her decision and so I made my own confession, which is that I don't always subscribe to the hardline Love and Logic, "natural consequences" school of parenting. (I'll pause for shocked gasps). I know, I know. The heresy. I get it. I know it puts me at risk for the Parenting Police knocking on my door, too, but I'll take my chances.
I told her, "I think you absolutely did the right thing. We have to teach our kids consequences and responsibility, but we also have to teach them grace. Where else will they learn about grace and forgiveness and mercy, if not in their family?"
Where else will they learn about grace and forgiveness and mercy, if not in their family?
I mean, here's the thing.
(I love to say that. And it's one of those phrases that is so comical in its meaninglessness. Here's the thing? What thing? And is there only one thing? I digress...)
Seriously, here's the thing. Let's imagine you locked your keys in your car. I know, I know...today's cars make that a lot harder to do but it can be done so let's imagine it. Got it? Have you conjured up your mental picture? You are stranded in a grocery store parking lot having locked your keys in your car. You know your husband is not far away, is available, and has in his possession a spare set of keys to your car. You call him on the phone and explain your dilemma, and he says this (Cheerfully but sympathetically, I might add, which is another pet peeve of mine of the whole L & L philosophy, the false cheery/sympathy you are advised to adopt.):
Oh, wow, honey. I am so sorry. That is such a bummer. I am so sad for you that this happened. What do you think you are going to do? Would you like to hear some ideas of what other people have done in your situation? I can't wait to find out how you solve this problem. I'm rooting for you!
Can. You. IMAGINE?!?!
Better yet, can you imagine what your response would be?
I am going to advise something completely revolutionary which will mean, again, I am going to have to be looking over my shoulder for the PP.
I am not an expert on anything. Truth be told, I probably won't even shower today which doesn't really mean anything except to say that I do not think I am the be all and end all of anything. Zilch. In fact, I will be the first to tell you that you should take or leave my advice according to your own inner wisdom.
Disclaimers aside, I'm going to offer some advice.
When your normal, mostly responsible, decently polite, generally even-keeled kid leaves his lunch sitting on the kitchen counter for the first time, or even the second time, or even the third time-but-the-last-time-was-four-months-ago-and-he's-remembered-it-like-sixty-times-since-then....and you are able and willing...take it to him.
When your daughter, who has been struggling and striving and working so hard to master long division comes to you with tears in her eyes because she left her math assignment at school...help her find a solution. Call a friend and see if they can email it to you. Figure out if she could go in early and get it done. LOOK HER IN THE EYES AND TELL HER, "I LOVE YOU. THIS IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD AND WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER."
Because we are a family. And in families we help each other.
I'm not talking about entitlement. If you see your kid slipping into a pattern of irresponsibility and an attitude of 'what can the world do for me' then by all means, nip that nonsense in the bud, swiftly and efficiently.
But the idea that if you don't let your kids suffer small consequences now means they will automatically be facing BIG consequences later is silly. Taking your 2nd grader their lunch, or their recorder, or their math assignment a couple of times over the course of a school year does not mean they are on a direct route to prison.
Consequences are a reality. We all come to face to face with them all the time. Yes, kids need to feel the weight of them now and then. But I think we are playing with fire if we don't realize how many consequences kids face on a daily basis that we don't even see. The missed recesses for assignments that weren't finished, or talking in class. The friend who won't play with him now because he didn't play fair yesterday. The coach who made them all run extra laps for goofing off. The class who all got assigned extra homework because of the actions of a few. And any parent who takes their job seriously (which most parents do), knows there are plenty of consequences that happen at home, too.
Don't be afraid to teach them grace.
And when they offer you that sheepish, "thank you", or a hug, or even just a grateful smile, tell them,
We are a family. This is what we do.