We know that part of the job of parenting (a big part) as we raise our kids into competent adults who can function in the world is to let them figure life out on their own. Let them fail. Let them face natural consequences. And let them see that they are strong enough to get back up and keep going. We know that. And sometimes parents operate under the assumption that we have to do it that way every time. Every mistake, every time they need us, every time they wobble, it’s our job to step back, let them find their footing again on their own. Let them own up to their mistake. Let them figure it out without our help.
I disagree. As a mom of a teen, tween, and a 10-year-old, I think there’s a huge middle ground where we can parent from a place of teaching our children to be responsible for themselves, but also give them grace when they mess up (because we all mess up—every single one of us).
I realized this about parenting—that it’s a dance between “Nope! Figure it out!” and “Okay, I’ll bring you your laptop that you left on the kitchen counter”—recently when I was washing my daughter’s black pants.
The story of the black pants and why it’s okay to sometimes save the day
It dawned on me in the middle of the day (she was at school) that she very likely forgot to ensure that her black pants were clean for the band concert—the band concert that was that night. As in starts in a few hours.
My first thought was, “Well, I am not bailing her out. That was her responsibility. If her pants are dirty, they’re dirty.”
But then I jumped to, “Ugh, but she’s such a good kid and she’s allowed to forget things.”
Followed by, “But what lessons am I teaching her if I save her in every situation like this?”
But also, “But my mom would have totally saved my a$$ and washed my pants and I turned out to be a well-adjusted, fully-functioning, independent adult.”
However, I DID remind her multiple times! And no one appreciates all the 900 things I do for them all the freaking day around here!
But, I knew I’d stress over this all afternoon knowing I could have just washed them and avoided a drama later.
So I went upstairs and rifled through her laundry and sure enough, I found her black pants at the bottom of the pile. So, yep, you guessed it—I tossed them into the washing machine.
And I instantly felt better knowing she’d be ready for the concert that night.
However, while adding the soap, I started practicing my speech. Because you know I had every intention of making sure she heard about how this should NOT have been MY job to remember.
But, I didn’t want to be TOO hard on her because that night was a big night and she’s a really great kid and I wanted it to be a happy occasion and for her to know I was proud.
Because they’re just pants.
That SHE should have remembered to put in the wash.
But she’s 13. And I often forget to do the stuff I have to do and I’m 43! So I did what moms do, even if we’re grumbling to ourselves as we press start on the washing machine.
And to be honest, I did feel a twinge of… joy? relief? happiness? that she still needs me because the years are flying by and she was just in preschool like 11 minutes ago, and it kind of feels good to be a mom and save the day sometimes.
So I washed the pants and when she went to get ready for the concert later and panicked, saying, “Oh no! I forgot to make sure my black pants were clean!” I said, “Don’t worry, I took care of it.”
We can teach our kids to be responsible but also give them grace when they mess up.
Because sometimes that’s what being a mom of a teenager is all about. It’s okay to bail them out once in a while. It’s okay to catch them when they fall and help them back up. How else will they know they can always turn to us when they need Mom? And, honestly, how many of us call upon our own moms, asking Grandma to help when we’re overwhelmed with life and motherhood and sick kids and job stresses and marriage strife? I sure do and I’m a whole grown adult.
Of course I’m not teaching my kids any life skills if I wash their band pants and hockey uniform every single time. Or if I run their lunch or homework to school on a weekly basis. But last month my husband forgot to dry clean his suit before a very important and stressful meeting at work. And you know what? I rushed to a same-day dry cleaner and handled it, because that’s what you do when you love someone. You bail them out when they need you and you hope that they’d do the same for you when you need help.
Because yes, it’s our job to teach our children to stand on their own two feet and learn how to manage life (like HELLO! Make sure the pants you need for tomorrow are clean!) but it’s also our job to support them when they are stressed out and be a cushion they can rest on when life gets to be too much (which it often does for our young people). Will I wash her band pants again for the next concert? Who knows. But I do know that she’s a kind, hard-working teenager and I’m proud to be her mom. And, that I’ll always be proud—whether she rolls up to the next event in clean pants or stinky ones. And whether she’s just learned a hard lesson or whether her mom swooped in and saved the day.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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