One thing I strongly believe in is beautiful outerwear, so this time of year my children wear identical powder blue swing coats with a tailored bow detail on the back.
The good news is the coats are fabulous; the bad news is that since the coats are identical, sizes can get mixed up. (Yesterday, Betty, the kindergartener ended up wearing the fifth grader’s coat to school all day). Today all the coats were in the wayback of the family wagon, and, bless her heart, all Anna Mae had to do was check the tags and grab the right coat when she was taking out her backpack during school dropoff. Alas, this simple task was more than she wanted to deal with, so she ran into school coatless. I pulled over, parked, opened the liftgate, found the right coat, and had the helpful kindergartener run it in to her.
It wasn’t a huge deal, but the whole extra production could have been avoided if she’d taken the time to check the tag.
I’m reading a book titled The Vanishing American Adult, by Senator Ben Sasse. It’s about our education system, and teaching kids and teens to be self-sufficient and resilient before they launch into college and beyond. It’s interesting to learn about the roots of the progressive education reform movement in the last part of the nineteenth century, and its lasting effects today. The book argues against coddling children; it advocates the importance of trying and failing, a key part of growing up. I agree with about 95% of it. (Sasse criticizes Botox—and that’s not cool).
This morning’s coat distraction led to another consequence: in her haste to get away without listening to me insist that she check the tags, she ran into school and forgot her lunch. The school called to let me know—our school is a much kinder, gentler place than schools like this one—but I’d already taken her the coat. Since I’m in the middle of this book that says I shouldn’t coddle my children, I had to ask myself those immortal words: What would Ben Sasse do?
Then I remembered that I myself am a grown adult capable of making decisions, and I also remembered that I’ve been figuring out this whole parenting thing for almost eleven years now, so of course I didn’t hesitate before taking her the forgotten lunch.
There has to be some balance in parenting. My children do have to try and fail. I have to watch them climb to the top of the jungle gym on their own, no matter how much I want to stand underneath the whole time. And when the art major in me wants to art-direct a diorama of the planet Mars or a turkey decorating project, I need to check myself before I wreck myself, and at the same time wreck my children’s ability to see their own ideas to fruition. I really try to reign in my impulses and give them the freedom they need.
But when it comes to being there as a support system for my children, I will always let them know that I have their back. Yes. I will bring a forgotten lunch, coat, or homework paper—if the school allows it—because I am on their side. Even when—especially when—they make a mistake.
If I can be there for them in small ways every day, my hope is that they’ll know they can ask for my help when a larger problem comes along. It’s not my job to fix every problem—each of my daughters will have to learn that for herself. It’s my job to let my children know they can turn to me when a problem comes along, and they can depend on me to listen and do what I can to help them figure it out. It’s an important distinction that could make or break the job I’m doing as a parent.
Institutions, employers, or peers will try to knock them down at some point in each of their lives. I’ve got their back in small ways today, and when their worlds get larger, my support for them will grow too.