There was a mother in our southern California town who changed the course of my parenting trajectory by stepping in before I “rescued” my 6-year old, Ethan from a simple life lesson. When my oldest was in 1st grade, our daily morning routine included him grabbing his packed lunch and backpack, loading it into the bottom of the double stroller, where sat his two younger siblings, and walking a half-mile to school. This particular morning, Ethan left his lunchbox and backpack at home. As kids lined up outside the classroom door, one of the other moms overheard me sighing, in an exasperated tone known by parents worldwide. She heard me tell Ethan that I guess I could run home and get the backpack for him, in essence, “rescuing him” from the consequences of his mistake.
She and I barely knew each other, but with a bravery only mothers can conjure up, she politely offered a parenting tip. She shared 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 and if they have already learned that life mistakes have natural consequences, then they can avoid a lot of little life pitfalls. This brave mom apologized for overstepping the typical code of mothering, which is “don’t tell other mothers how to do their job.” To me, she had not overstepped at all.
A light flashed in my head, memories throughout my childhood began to pop into my mind, moments of resenting my mother when she was not there to rescue me right when I needed her to be. I recognized the value in this mother’s advice and came to the realization that I had resented my mother because I was accustomed to being rescued as a child. Over and over I thanked this mother for being brave enough to speak up, and for changing the trajectory of my mothering.
In the end, Ethan had to explain to his teacher that he did not have his homework because he had forgotten his backpack, which she was understanding about. As for a lunch, the cafeteria gave him the simple freebie lunch given to any student who forgets their lunch. Both small consequences in the grand scheme of things, and yet a great chance to learn responsibility.