It's 9:20 in the morning on a Tuesday, and the texts start rolling in.
Me: (unaware of my cell phone which I have turned to silent while I'm on another call)
Madeleine: MOM. do u know where my safety patrol belt is?
Me: (still not getting the message)
Madeleine: MOM!!! can u find it and bring it to me right now???????? i have a meeting at 10 and i have to have it. PLEASE!!!
I finally got this strange feeling--was it all the "yelling" in capital letters?--and got up and checked my cell phone. And to be totally honest, reading through those highly punctuated texts, I had mixed feelings.
My normal response to this kind of I-forgot-something hysteria is to reply with something reasonable, executed without excessive emotion (most of the time): I'm sorry, but that sounds like a personal problem. If you want to keep track of your safety patrol belt, I'm happy to help you come up with a system when you get home.
I know, no awards for sensitivity, but it covers the you-have-to-be-responsible-for-your-own-stuff bases nicely, don't you think?
Lately, however, I've been second guessing this hold-the-line approach, mostly because I'm watching Madeleine execute this same style of boundary heavy behavior on Carter and her friends when they are struggling to compensate for their own forgetfulness or normal kid mistakes. I'm watching her deliver these perfectly reasonable speeches about what she's willing to be responsible for (or not) and something inside me starts to cringe.
It's not that I don't want her to master personal responsibility--believe me, I do. I'm just wondering if I'd do her a better service by trying to develop another side of her character in situations like this. What if I dove in more and offered a heavier dose of compassion in addition to a helping hand? Which lesson would be more valuable in the long run? Knowing it's your own fault when you mess up and being willing to absorb all the difficulties that go with that? Or being more aware that when you make a mistake, you can always reach out because someone you love will be there to help you?
I know the answer is somewhere in the happy middle, but recently I've been experimenting with a sharp course correction in the other direction: zero judgment, more assistance and lots of compassion. I'm hoping that this might generate a little bit more connection, the next time someone smaller around here (or bigger!) needs some mercy over not being able to get it together.
Yesterday I decided to give finding the belt an honest effort and when it was nowhere to be found twenty minutes later, I texted back.
Me: Sorry, babe. Not seeing it anywhere. We can look together when you get home.
She was fine with that, and when she got home after school, that's exactly what we did.
I think I'll always be the get-it-together, do-not-complain-to-me-because-you-lost-it kind of hard liner with my kids simply because I do not want to be raising kids who are helpless or irresponsible, but maybe it's okay to also send the message that I'm here to pick up the pieces--especially during those times when our kids are already dealing with the disappointment or shame of not doing well in the first place.
What do you think? Do you run your kids lunches to school when they forget them? Do you drop off the missing gym clothes? Or do you hold the line? I'd like to know.