I am a rookie mom of a middle-schooler. My oldest is in the 6th grade. Almost immediately I saw the changes in him. He wanted me to drop him off at a friends house so they could walk to school. I get a lot of eye rolling. And his favorite phrase is “Mom, you’re so cheesy”. This has been a year of changes. And I find myself trying to navigate my position in his life. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a very large position in his life. And I of course, have the final say on 90% of things pertaining to him. But the truth is, part of my job is figuring out when and how much to let go. Letting him make his own decisions and learn from his mistakes is an important part of him becoming his own person. Each and every year he grows up, its my job to let him.
Whether you have a 3 year old, or a 12 year old, there are opportunities to start letting go. With a 3 year old, there might be opportunities to let go by enrolling him/her in preschool. Letting him/her explore on their own within safe boundaries. Deciding not to hover as they play with friends. Let her pick out her clothes once a week. (If you’re scared of her choices, do it on a day when you know you’ll be home). With a 12 year old it might be giving him your wisdom on relationships and then letting them decide how to move forward with handling a conflict with a friend. Or helping him work through the pros and cons of a certain decision, discussing the consequences of each, then letting him decide.
There have been a few situations this year where I have seen parents get involved where I haven’t thought they should. And there has also been a situation where I have gotten involved, because I felt it needed my attention. The hard part is figuring out which is which. So how do we decide when to step back and let our kids work on their decision making and when do we exert our parental power? Here are some things I have decided I will ask myself before intervening.
- Is his/her safety at risk? Refer to Katie’s post regarding slumber parties. Some risks kids can’t see, that we can. Our wisdom trumps theirs.
- Will he learn a life lesson by me not intervening? Didn’t make the school play or the basketball team? You can’t win them all, son (life lesson). Practice hard and try again next year. Didn’t study for the test and failed? This is a consequence of not studying (life lesson). I bet he’ll study next time. Getting teased at school? I’ll do my best to show him he is made uniquely and perfectly, and he should not be ashamed of who he is. And the truth is – not everyone in the world will like you (life lesson). But there are a lot of people who do!
- Is it an age appropriate decision? Should your 3 year old decide when he goes to bed? Most likely not. Should he/she be able to choose his snack? Sure! Give him a sense of independence by offering up 3 suitable choices and letting him make the final decision. Should my middle schooler decide what he looks at on the internet? Heck no! I’ll be guarding not only internet time usage, but also have key resources in place to guide internet content as well.
- In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Is he asking to do something immoral, that goes against our family values? Will it have a life long impact? Or is it something that is just an inconvenience to me? If it has to do with our family values, it’s a great time to have a conversation about why we believe/do what we do.
Our job as a mom is to guide, direct, impart wisdom, and love. It is not our job to hover, save them from never making a bad decision or making their lives comfortable. Is it easy to do? Not at all. I want to lay into the bully, call the teacher, be the “cool” mom, and make everything as painless as possible for my kids. But I won’t be doing my job as a mom, and letting them grow into independent, responsible adults if I do all those things. I might make a “helicopter mom” decision every once in awhile, but I hope they are few and far between.
And I hope I keep the grand scheme of things in perspective. I hope they are given the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, with me standing on the sidelines cheering them on. They’re going to leave someday and I want them to be ready. But until then, I’ll do all of the above and include heavy doses of the cheesiness just for my sheer entertainment.