My youngest son, AJ, has just started 5th grade. Over the summer, he has grown leaps and bounds, both in terms of physical size and in his ability to do a multitude of things for himself. Every morning now, he gets himself up, (he remembers to set the alarm without any reminders from me,) makes his bed, brushes his hair and teeth, and then joins me in the kitchen. Next, he toasts a bagel for his breakfast, and helps pack his own lunch.
Now, you should know that AJ is very, VERY particular about this lunch of his. He likes the same thing for lunch every day—exactly the same—no changing the menu, please. He bustles around, bagel in hand, making sure that all the various components of his lunch are in place: string cheese, check, strawberry yogurt, check, Ritz crackers, check, and so on. About 20 minutes into this process, a sleepy eyed Big Brother joins us. The first thing he usually does is to start packing his lunch, too (more on this later.)
As AJ and I prepare to leave, I bite my tongue to stop from saying “don’t forget your backpack,” or “did you remember your library books?” because these are his responsibilities and he can do this for himself. I remind myself: if parents continue with all the “don’t forgets” (beyond a certain age,) children will simply learn to rely on others for things that are really their own responsibility. Furthermore, they will not develop the skills they need to take ownership of their actions. Bearing this in mind, I keep my mouth shut and watch (proudly) as he picks up his lunchbox, backpack, and library books before heading out the door.
Yesterday, though, we had a little hitch in the giddy-up. I had dropped him off at school and was driving home when my mobile phone rang. It was AJ, and he was clearly upset. “Mooommmm,” he whined into the phone, “I grabbed the wrong lunch! I’ve got his (Big Brother’s) lunch!”
I quickly assessed the situation. I get home just in time to take Big Brother to school, after that, I’ve got to get to work. But I could go back, get the right lunch, and deliver it dutifully to my son, sacrificing my own valuable time in the process. But should I? That was the real question here. Yes, I—like most parents—was willing to throw a wrench into my own busy day for the sake of helping my child, but was that the right thing to do for him?
To prepare our children for life, we must allow them to experience the consequences of their mistakes. If we swoop in and fix everything, they will not learn from those mistakes, they will likely repeat them, and they will soon expect things to be fixed for them. In fact, their mistakes become someone else’s fault (probably yours, Mom) as they develop a sense of entitlement regarding this kind of rescue. In other words, when we parents are overly helpful, our children have no opportunity to acquire important problem solving skills and to learn self-reliance.
“He who is served is limited in his independence.” ~Maria Montessori
Thus, with a guilty conscience, I told my child that he would just have to eat…dun, dun, duuunn…the wrong lunch. Admittedly, I felt like a super mean Mom. I know that my actions might be looked upon as uncaring, to my son and to any other onlookers. But I also know that, by letting him learn to cope with life’s little speed bumps, I am absolutely showing my care and concern. Besides, I was pretty sure he’d survive the day. And, do you now what? I was right! Yup, he was fine, and he actually handled things quite well (after his initial freak out, that is.)
Have you ever been tempted to rescue your child but decided against it? Did you feel you made the right decision? Do you have a story to share with Age of Montessori? We’re listening!