I have that rarest of treasures: two of them. Two children who did the stuff everyone wants their kids to do:
Not losing sweaters and jackets.
Getting school permissions slips signed and turned in on time.
Not forgetting lunchboxes at home (okay, just once or twice)
Now they’re older– and they’ve turned into two responsible adults.
They fill out their own forms and applications.
They handle their own finances.
They remember to write thank you notes without being reminded.
People who know my kids often ask me— what’s the secret? I give a little Mona Lisa smile, taking full credit for accomplishing such a miracle.
The truth was no miracle. My secret weapon was: cancer. (Note to Parents: Don’t try this at home.)
My daughter was 11; my son had just turned 7. Fighting cancer consumed my energy, leaving little left over to fight my tendency to be disorganized.
I had no choice—I released the persona who’d been hidden all those years…..Slacker Mom. And guess who picked up the slack.
So here’s a little insight: If you’re a responsible parent who keeps track of schedules, gets kids everywhere on time, efficiently organizes the family calendar—-you’ll never raise a responsible kid. Because you’re doing it all wrong.
Experts may say you’re modeling the correct behavior —but I say you’re just creating co-dependent adults, rather than the independent adults I’ve created. Why should kids learn for themselves —and more importantly, HOW should they learn for themselves—when you’re doing everything for them?
I compare it to defensive driving. You learn to be a good driver by avoiding the terrible drivers around you. So you learn to take responsibility by avoiding the irresponsible people around you.
Here’s an example that just happened the other day.
My son Daniel, a college junior, is planning to study abroad for a semester. Of course he’s taking charge.
I know the country where he plans to go; but that’s pretty much it. He does all the research online, finds a program that works, seeks out people to contact about the program, and plans well in advance.
Over the summer, the last time he was home, he asked me if I had his passport. I asked why; he said he wanted to be sure it wasn’t expired.
He was shocked surprised that I was able to produce the passport within minutes. (You would be shocked, too, if you’ve seen my desk)
I gave it to him; it wasn’t expired; and he said he wanted to keep it himself. So he took it and put it away upstairs in his room.
I didn’t ask why. He’s 21; it seemed reasonable. (It didn’t occur to me that he wanted it himself because he didn’t want ME to have it.)
The other day he calls from school, saying he needs the passport for some forms he’s filling out. I’m reluctant to send it; it’s safe here. So he suggests that I scan it, and send a copy of the page he needs.
I’m impressed with myself just for knowing how to use a scanner. I’m also proud to report that I did this, and I emailed him what he needed that very day.
A few days go by.
The other night Daniel calls.
DANIEL: “Mom, did you put my passport back in my drawer?
My mind scans back a couple days. Shit.
ME: “I don’t think so, honey.”
Parents: this part will probably sound familiar:
DANIEL: “Will you please get the passport and put it back?”
Me: “Sure, I will.”
I start to hang up.
Parents: I bet you’ve heard that before. And I bet you say the same thing Daniel says next.
Daniel: “Can you please do it right now?”
Parents: Notice I do not have to repeat myself, and remind my children to do things. I just have to endure the humiliation.
DANIEL: “Great. I’ll hold on.”
And he does.
He holds on while I get the passport out of the scanner where it’s been for 3 days, take it upstairs and put it back safely in Daniel’s drawer.
….and they lived happily ever after.