Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This would be more fun if somebody's nose lit up

I had every intention of sitting down this morning to write something thoughtful or amusing about ANYTHING other than my kids. Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time seeing the keyboard through all of this mommy guilt, so instead ...

This morning A___ dragged her feet getting out the door, causing us to arrive at her school a minute or two later than usual. There's a five-minute grace period between the first and second bells, so this would not be a big deal for most kids. But I'm not parenting "most kids."

For my daughter, arriving at school is akin to a delicate game of Operation. Those bells form the boundaries of her carefully timed sprint from the van to her classroom door. A second or two on either side leaves her caught outside when a bell rings, an admittedly grating sound that rockets her nervous system into red alert.

Since it was clear the first bell had already rung when we pulled up, she refused to get out of the van until after the second, necessitating yet another trip to the office for yet another tardy slip. Some days, even knowing the reasons behind them, her rules and inflexibility get to be too much. I decided on the fly that it was time to learn a little something about responsibility.

I announced, with something resembling authority, that she could wait in the van for the second bell if she chose (not particularly relishing the thought of dragging out a kicking, screaming 8-year-old) ... but she would then walk into the office for that tardy slip on her own, without me there to excuse her. This seemed to me a reasonable way for her to take some responsibility for the morning's dawdling.

She did not see things quite the same way. In fact, to a casual onlooker, I'm sure it looked like I had just ordered her to march across broken glass in her bare feet to meet a firing squad. Oh, there was drama. There were tears. And why? Because she knows just where to find my guilt button.

Every time something doesn't go exactly right with the kids, my first instinct is to search back through a long chain of my parenting missteps, beginning at their births, for a reason to believe their behavior is all my fault. I don't usually have to look very hard.

There were some prime opportunities to blame myself for this morning's meltdown. I could have used the word "choice" instead of "fault" to describe her role in our late arrival. I could have spelled out the whole scenario for her earlier, so she could have made a different choice or at least have been better prepared for the consequence. I could have driven a little faster to get through that yellow light, said a quicker goodbye to her brother, or simply curbed my frustration when things came to a head.

But you know what? In the end, I think I parent more effectively when my guilt and I are not standing like a human shield between my children and the cold, hard world of cause and effect, choices and consequences.

I am all in favor of the perfect parenting I read about in books (oh, so many books!). Books where parents always remember to prep their kids in advance and mete out consequences (on the rare occasions it comes to that) with logic, consistency, and minimal emotion. Yes! I think. Good for you, fictional parent! Look how well that works on your made-up-to-prove-a-point child!

But things don't usually go quite that smoothly here in the real world. Most of the time, no matter how calmly and effectively I set the stage, my kids learn their lessons from experiencing consequences (multiple times), not from being warned in advance.

So here I am ... playing my own version of Operation. Delicately maneuvering my tweezers between the booby-trapped edges of "too strict" and "too lenient." "Insensitive" and "overprotective." "Overly flexible" and "Damnit sometimes you just need to suck it up and adapt to the world."

Trying hard not to be distracted by the grating sound of the guilt buzzer.


  1. So did she walk into the office to get the tardy slip on her own?

  2. Against all odds ... yes! And this afternoon? Not a word from her about how traumatized she was by the experience. There might be something to this backbone thing ...