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Friday, March 12, 2010

Teach Your Children Well

Sometimes, a parent needs to let their children fail, in order for their children to grow.

For a long time, I have not been able to do this.  I continue to "save the day."  I constantly solve problems that my children should be solving for themselves.

This morning, one of my children woke me at 7:15 am for help.  The child had a Bar Mitzvah at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, and did not know how to get there.  The child wanted to arrive early, for the first part of the event: observing the staff free birds.  The child planned on taking a bus, but did not know which buses to take or, it turns out, even where the place was.

The child could have gotten this information in advance.

I would have been happy to help the child find a ride, or figure out which buses to take, or draw a map.  Had the child planned in advance, the child could easily have gotten to the Bar Mitzvah (without waking me up in the morning).  Instead, the child got up early, and discovered that getting there by bus would not be simple, or quick.

When the child woke me up, I did not want to wake up, but I did. I made several suggestions to the child, who then proceeded to argue with me about "what ifs."  When the child finally followed through with my suggestions, over an hour later, it was too late.

I still tried to help the child, and, at one point, was ready to drop everything and actually take the child. 

I wondered if I was doing the right thing.  Maybe I should let this child learn, the hard way, to be more responsible.  Maybe missing this Bar Mitzvah would teach the child to appreciate that you have to be nice to people who are trying to help you, even if they are your parents.  Maybe, by not "saving the day," I will help my child learn the consequences of the one's actions, and inactions.  Maybe I was denying this child the opportunity to learn a valuable life lesson. 

Still, all my mothering love made me want to help my child.

With my car keys in hand, I casually mentioned that the child really should have talked to me in a nicer, more respectful way.  "You were mean to me," the child responded.

No apology, no responsibility.

I threw down my keys.  "I am not taking you."

My child has to learn that you cannot be rude to the people who are trying to help you.

"Do not wake me again for something you should have planned in advance," I commanded.

I was angry!

Too angry to fall back asleep.

Over the next two hours, I waited for my child to apologize.  Intermittently, my child attempted to "explain" things to me.  Unfortunately, the tone my child used to talk with me was full of hostility and aggression.  The child blamed me, accusing me of "not wanting to help."

I wanted so much to help my child.  But I could not continue helping under those circumstances.

I determined to let my child miss the Bar Mitzvah, in order to learn this lesson.

Then, when my child was "broken," and all the child's anger spent, my child finally turned to me, in sorrow.

The child had really tried hard to be responsible, waking up at 6:00 in the morning, in order to get there on time.  The child had tried to explain, tried to get help, tried to apologize. 

My child was so frustrated, so sad, and so resigned.  There was no longer any anger in my child's voice, just sadness.

It broke my heart.

I got up to give the child a hug.  To my surprise, my child allowed me to hug, and even stayed close, while I held on a little longer.  The child did not pull away.

I sat down and looked into my child's eyes.  I waited.

We spoke a little more.  My child continued to speak softly and gently.  We hugged again.  We looked into each other's eyes again.  I waited.


"Ask me again," I softly instructed my child.

"Would you please take me," my child asked, just as softly.

I wondered, again, if I was doing the right thing.  My child had already missed several hours of the Bar Mitzvah.  I hoped that was enough.

On the way, we talked.  I gently pointed out that the child could have been there three hours earlier.  As much as possible, without being too chastising, I wanted the child to understand the consequences of not behaving nicely.

I suggested that later, the child sit down and make a list of things the child could have done differently.  I offered to sit and help with the list.  I emphasized that the list would be about what the child could have done, not what others could have done.   Again, to my surprise, the child agreed.

When we arrived, I asked the child if I should wait, but the child said I should leave.  I would have, had GA not appeared at my window!  I watched my child meander to the entrance, then turned my attention to my friend.  Five minutes later, we were still chatting, when I saw my child meander out of the observatory, from the opposite direction. 

My child did not find the group and did not ask any of the staff for help.  Once again, the child felt helpless and did not know what to do.  I waited for the child to ask me for help. 

The child did not know whether to stay or go.

Finally, I asked "What do you want?  Do you want help?  Do you want someone me to come in with you?"

Quietly, the child answered, "yes."

GA was definitely my angel of the moment.  He offered to help my child find the Bar Mitzvah group, and they ran off together.  A few minutes later, GA returned to my car.  They had found the group.  My child was fine.

I was not fine.

I wondered if I did the right thing.

I am this child's mother.  I will continue trying to help, and I will continue to forgive, because I love this child.

Still, this child must develop responsibility.  That is part of growing up.

On the other hand, "losing three hours" of the Bar Mitzvah seemed like enough of a loss.  Especially considering the child really had shown initiative and responsibility, just not enough.  And the child really did attempt to behave properly, just not enough.

If I continue to swoop in like "supermom," then I am not helping my child learn responsibility.

In the "real world," people are not so forgiving.

But I do not represent the "real world."  I am the child's mother.  If my child comes to me with true remorse, how can I turn away?

What do you think???

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Val said...

Oh boy... this is one of the top 3 (at least!) parental challenges! So tough. You did very well and I could feel the anguish you felt as I was reading this.

You didn't mention the age of your child, but it doesn't matter, because I'm a firm believer that it takes years and multiple 'emergencies' for it to sink in to the child that they DO have some responsibility for making things happen for themselves and smoothly.

Repetition is what is needed... but I know how it pulls at your heart as you watch them looking so helpless. But it's easier to be tougher with them when they are being disrespectful, right??!! But then that's a whole other subject to tackle on top of the original one.

Oy.. parenting sucks sometimes, no?!!!
Hang in there. You're not alone with this battle.

And it does help to read about other parents' struggles in combat!

Shabbat shalom.

Sandi said...

I think you absolutely did the right thing. You made the child take responsibility and the child suffered consequences.

I've been teaching for 14 years and when parents always "save" their children they are doing them no favors. These children never learn to solve their own problems well into adulthood and no one wants their 30-something child living in their basement.

Karen said...

I think there are two issues -- the lack of preparation, and the child's inappropriate way of speaking. The first is a hard case in itself -- maybe you could take the child, this one time (if this really is the first time) while discussing the need to be prepared in advance. However, once the rudeness starts, in my house, the discussion is over. My refrain is, "when you speak that way to me, I don't do what you want." Because that IS how the world works. Kids have to learn that when you yell and scream at people, call them names, accuse them of laziness, etc. it doesn't make them want to help you -- just the opposite. You were deliberately vague here, so I'm not sure how bad your child's tone and words were. But assuming that they were seriously inappropriate, that is the point at which I would have turned around, gone back into my bedroom, locked the door, and ignored the child. I would have had a discussion about it with them later -- but later, after the simcha was over.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Val -- thank for the empathy! I didn't mention my child's age, so as not to identify the child, but this scenario could have happened with any one of my kids -- they are 11, 13, and 15.

Sandi -- the question is: did I "ruin" the lesson by taking the child in the end. I hoped that missing so much of the simcha would be enough. The social dynamics in this child's class are so complex, that I did not want the child to completely miss the simcha.

Karen -- I hear you!! The thing is, I am not sure how objective I am, because I get caught up in the argument and get very angry myself.

michele said...

I think you handled this very well. Your child missed most of the bar mitzva but still made it for a small part -- but only after acknowledging she/he didn't arrange transportation earlier and acted inappropriately toward you.

I do think that the next time this child has a simcha to attend, you should ask him/her whether he/she has arranged transport, and what that arrangement is. It's not hard to call a place and ask for directions, or to ask a friend's parent, but many teens find this intimidating. Having them make the phone call is teaching them an important life skill.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Michele -- You are so right.

During our altercation, the child repeatedly pointed out that he/she had spoken to me in advance, several times.

I really dropped the ball on this one.

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

OK it's totally irrelevant, but I love that you wrote "GA *ran* off" LOL

I think you handled it well, and I more important, I think you have analyzed it well. I also feel bad when I cannot help my kids out of scrapes, especially if it's something I want them to do. But life has consequences, and kids have to *learn* to accept consequences. Personal accountability is a prize quality and it doesn't always come easily. So waiting past the anger and chutzpah but still helping your kid to "climb down out of the tree" seems like the right solution.
Of course, since that's how I function, I guess I'd think it's right!

Unknown said...

I think it's about setting our kids up for success.

A day or two before an event like this (or an outing or whatever) we (as parents) should check with our kids if they know how they're getting to/from the event, if there's something particular they need for the event (money, snacks, gift), and if there's something they need help with.

If the child says they have it all under control, then we can accept that and leave it be.

If the child wants/needs help, then we can do it with them - eg show them how to look up the buses, make purchases for/with them, or give them the money to buy what they need. And we can do it calmly, at a time that suits us better than early in the morning on the day of the event!!

I think you did fine, given the circumstance. This is just my opinion for similar situations in the future.


Batya said...

I think you handled it very well.

Planning in advance is a good lesson. How about asking him to make a preparation chart. good for any event, even school:
How to get there
how much time required (add 12% for the unexpected)
What needed, food, hat, equipment, gift
possible extra
cost, extra for unexpected

Some people will always need it, others will internalize.

ps I pack my pool bag the night before, or as soon as the suit's dry. Actually I have no idea when I'll get to the pool next, but my bag is packed. Good habbit

Chana Jenny Weisberg said...

this is really a toughy. I don't know what I would have done. But I commend you, RivkA, for sharing all your internal debates that I bet most every mom can relate to.

This is one of the most beautiful and touching accounts I've read of the tortured workings of a mother's heart. Keep up this wonderful blog!

RivkA with a capital A said...

Ye'he Sh'mey -- not irrelevant at all! He ran like we used to run "in the old days." I loved it! I wish I could run like that again! Even if I had the strength, I am not allowed any high-impact activity.

I like the phrase you used: "waiting past the anger."

Anyway, thanks for the affirmation!

Louise -- Great (and practical) advice! My children are doubly challenged, because their mother is not so organized! I also find it difficult to plan in advance!

Batya -- Also good, practical advice. Same problem as above. It requires being far more organized than I am. I am not sure I can do it, but I am willing to give it a try!

Chana Jenny -- Thanks for the compliment. In many ways, I feel my blog is more a "mommy blog" than a "cancer blog." So much of what is important to me is about my kids. So many of my challenges revolve around my children.

I am not sure which is more difficult: living with cancer or raising children!


leora (TW buddy) said...

Just two words: budding teenager! Good luck - eventually it passes (in about 10 years) ;-)

There is no right or wrong.