Breaking the Mom Code
It was a beautiful San Diego kind of morning, fall of 2012. My oldest child, Ethan, was in first grade. Our daily morning routine comprised of him grabbing his packed lunch and backpack, loading it into the double stroller, under his two younger siblings, and walking a half-mile to school.
As kids lined up outside the classroom door, Ethan informed me that he left his lunchbox and backpack at home. I hemmed and hawed but, in the end, told him that “I guess I can run home and get the backpack.” Thus, rescuing him from the consequences of his mistake.
Another mom overheard my exasperated tone. She and I barely knew each other, but with a bravery only mothers can conjure up, she politely offered a parenting tip. She shared with me that it is great for children to learn from their mistakes, in the form of natural consequences, at a young age. This enables them to learn the benefits of responsibility, honesty, and other characteristics when the stakes are low. As they get older the stakes become higher. If they have had opportunities to learn about natural consequences, then they can prevent slip-ups later.
A light flashed in my head, memories from my childhood popped into my mind, not proud moments, but ones when I resented my mother because she was not there to rescue me when I needed her. I realized that I had resented my mother because I was accustomed to being rescued.
After school mom the same mom found me and apologized for overstepping the typical code of mothering, which is “don’t tell other mothers how to do their job.” I reassured her that she had not overstepped at all. I thanked this mother for being brave enough to speak up, and for changing the trajectory of my mothering.
In the end it wasn’t a big deal at all. The natural consequences were simple. Ethan explained to his teacher that he did not have his homework because he forgot his backpack, which she was understanding about. As for a lunch, the cafeteria gave him the simple freebie lunch. Both small consequences in the grand scheme of things, and yet a great lesson in personal accountability.
Fast forward to Fall 2021, Ethan was a sophomore in high school. He was part of our city’s elite high school marching band. Every nine weeks progress reports are turned in and if a student’s grades fall below a certain level, they are not allowed to travel with, compete with, or march with the band. The Friday before travel started, Ethan forgot to turn in an assignment. That zero brought his progress report grade below the limit and he had to miss two traveling opportunities. His exact words, “It was my fault. I should have turned in the assignment.”
Because I didn’t rescue my 6-year-old, Ethan he learned a critical life lesson. Hearing 15-year-old Ethan take responsibility was a proud parenting moment indeed, all thanks to the brave mother in our southern California town.
Photo: 2022 vacation to San Diego