Monday, April 30, 2012

This Kind of Mother

Cutting the pasture today gave me a lot of time to think. I thought about the kind of parent I am. And the kind of parent I want to be. Then I thought about the kind of parent I should be or that parenting experts think I should be. Which led to thinking about the kind of parent my own parents were. Having a lot of time to think can tie my mind and heart in knots.

Here’s what I thought.

My own parents were much tougher than me, but also much more lenient than me. No, that’s not a contradiction. They were tougher in that I didn’t have much say about things like what’s on the menu and if I had to eat it, whether I’m taking tennis lessons, the clothes they bought for me, or whether we went to church. My own children actually have voting rights about all those things (although the votes are weighted when it comes to what’s on the menu). 

But they were much more lenient in that they never restricted our “screen time” (granted the only screen available to me was a TV that carried only the major networks), and they gave us a lot of independence – letting me go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted with whomever I wanted. I never really abused that trust, so maybe that’s why it worked.

This morning my daughter called about 30 minutes after she got on the bus to say she needed her homework folder by second period. And I drove it over to her because A) she asked nicely and B) she hasn’t forgotten anything in a while and C) she’s overloaded with responsibility right now between school work, extracurricular activities, and sports. But as I drove to the school I thought about what Love and Logic parenting would say about what I was doing – I’m teaching her that she isn’t responsible for her own mistakes. Maybe. Or maybe I’m teaching her that her mother loves her and will help her out when she’s in a bind and she’s doing the best she can.

This afternoon I’m rescuing my son from school at 2pm. I wrote a note that says he has an “appointment.” I didn’t specify what that appointment was – to him or to the school. This afternoon the school is having a school-wide “reward” for all the kids who earned enough “punches” this month. Punches are earned for good behavior. Ian didn’t get enough punches. 

No, he’s not a behavior problem. In fact, in the five years he’s attended the school, I’ve never once gotten a call home about his behavior. Most teachers write “is a pleasure to have in class” on his report card. And no, his grades are not suffering and he doesn’t neglect to do homework. He’s made the “Academic Excellence” report each marking period and has had only one homework slip all year.

He didn’t get enough punches for the second time this year because he forgot to take his punch card with him everywhere he went and missed out on punches he earned because he couldn’t produce his card. So today at 2:15 he’s scheduled to spend an hour in the principal’s office with all the kids whose behavior (or inability to take a silly little card everywhere they go) landed them in the same predicament. They have to sit with the administrators and come up with a plan for how they will be successful next month. Ridiculous (with a capitol ridiculous R). 

So I’m springing him. He has an appointment to do something better with his time – like get a reward for being a good student and a well-behaved child. We’re going to try the new ice cream place in town.

As I turned circles on the mower in the field, I wondered, am I spoiling him? Should I make him stay at school and face the consequences of his actions? I would if the consequences of his “actions” made sense. Making him sit for an hour with kids who are truly behavior problems because he forgot his card a few times seems like the worst kind of overkill.

Maybe I’m spoiling him, or maybe I’m teaching him that his mother’s got his back. Maybe I’m teaching him to question authority when that authority doesn’t make any sense. Maybe I’m teaching him that he is a good student and a good kid, and I won’t let the school tell him otherwise.

Time will tell what kind of mother I’ve been. My goal is to raise conscientious, kind-hearted, decent kids who can think for themselves. They’ll figure out soon enough that they have to remember to take the things they need with them to work every day. They’ll have a boss to teach them that, although I have great faith that they already know it. But for now, when they are only 12 and 9, the bigger lesson is that when someone needs your help, you give it. When you are treated unfairly, you stand up for yourself.

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