As soon as we got to school, my daughter realized she’d forgotten her lunch. She had a field trip today and didn’t have another lunch option. It’s not very far, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I went back home and got it.
I was a little self-conscious because I’ve been seeing that meme going around facebook, about not bringing your kids their lunches and homework when they forget them. It’s supposed to be bad parenting to help your kids these days.
Sure, that meme was aimed at parents of kids in high school, but most of the comments I’ve seen on this subject don’t specify any particular age. My daughter is only in sixth grade, but she’ll be going to the “big school” next year. Right now, I know this kind of help is good for her.
When I was newly a mom, and trying to figure out what on earth I was supposed to be doing in that capacity, I found a lot of good advice in the community at mothering.com. It’s an amazing, large, and diverse community that I would recommend to any parent for advice on practically any parenting question you could think of. Mothering.com mamas come from many political, religious, socioeconomic, and racial perspectives, and everyone gets along (or gets gently corrected by a moderator). What they have in common is a preference for natural, compassionate parenting.
One statement I saw people make frequently on the forums was, “I know my kid.” “I know my kid so I trust him not to bow to peer pressure.” “I know my kid so I can leave her at home alone.” Reading these comments, I always thought about the things my parents didn’t know about me in adolescence. I had no idea who I was, and often tried on different attitudes to see how they worked. Could parents know their kids better than kids know themselves? Are all these people kidding themselves?
Here’s what I know about my kid today: she isn’t very good at remembering things. She’s lost more than one item of value, things she really cared about, because she set it down and forgot to pick it up again. But I also know that she is more self-motivated than any kid I know (I’m sure there are more self-motivated kids, I just don’t happen to know them). She sets high goals, and strives to achieve them. When she fails, no one is harder on her than she is on herself. She may not be able to take the burden of remembering things off of the adults in her life, but she won’t hesitate to take on the burden of making herself feel bad. She’ll do it on our behalf, if that’s what we teach her. “Making her suffer” the consequences, lecturing, and anger do not enable her to do better; they break down her confidence and self-esteem. I can imagine the possibility that those strategies might work for another child, but they do not help this one. I know because I know my kid.
Sometimes kids need tough love. Sometimes they need compassionate assistance. Who knows when to do which? This is what I know: those people making memes and snarky comments, blogging about parenting, they don’t know my kid like I do. They don’t see the way she struggles to grow herself up, the ways she already suffers her own perceived inadequacies. They don’t see her kindness, or willingness to help others, or the ways those qualities might be connected to my choice to model them, by helping her. They may see the ways that I have failed to make her the kid they think she should be, and for that I do not apologize. She is her own person, with strengths and weaknesses, both known and unknown. We’re all just trying to figure out how to live the best we can, and today that means giving my daughter a little help.