Keep talking, they’re listening is a constant refrain in my head with my kids, even if the eyes roll and the response is an exasperated FINE! But that only goes so far and even if they’re listening, they might simply choose to ignore it. In that case, when should I stop simply saying anything at all? Is there value in the object lesson and is the potential severity of an incident such that there’s benefit in there’s actually greater value in an object lesson learned?
Parenting is partially a job in assessing risk – what can go wrong and just how bad can it be – and reacting to it accordingly. In the child’s early years, the great majority do everything possible to protect our kids. There’s an entire industry built around safety devices and we buy into it accordingly. As a former claims adjuster, I remember the times when Eldest was napping in her crib and I dropped to hands and knees to survey the world from the baby’s level, asking myself what are the hazards here? At those ages, the child simply doesn’t recognize what can hurt her and it’s my job to protect her. But as she grows, she begins to understand and put things together and can actually modify her actions to Dad’s instructions and that’s where the fun starts. If I take her to the park and she persists in doing something stupid, at what point do I simply decide to let her have an object lesson? What could go wrong and how bad could the likely results be? There are no clear answers and what one father perceives can be very different from another father.
The nature of the situation changes as the kids age and grow, but it continues to exist. By a certain point, you can’t protect them from their own stupidity all of the time because you’re simply not around and you can’t wrap them in a bubble, but there are other ways to teach the object lesson; it now goes more frequently to the concept of self-responsibility. In my case, it goes to the world of school and the ubiquitous permission form because as I’ve told Middle repeatedly, Dude, these exist for a reason apart from killing trees. It’s been often enough that deadlines have passed simply because no form was ever delivered and in some cases, never even remembered that forms were even handed out; the resulting angst as we scramble to keep situations under control creating sufficient uproar that it becomes apparent that jawboning simply won’t work.
Hence the object lessons. The beauty of the internet is that we can surveille what’s happening via the school district website and see what’s on the horizon and that was the case several months ago as the word went out Remember to have your forms in by April 1 in order to attend the end-of-year field trip to the Amusement Park! Given the repeated situations, the decision was to sit on it and sure enough, the form wasn’t turned in and Middle missed the field trip. However, since his option was to then sit in a classroom for an all-day study hall, I kept him home and he did significant yardwork. We thought that the lesson was learned but sure enough, the missed form occurred again last week as a Fall play cast party was thrown in doubt and when I responded to another parent that he probably wouldn’t attend because of a blown form, her response was that it was a harsh lesson. Since I’d also stated that I suspected that there was a permission slip out there that I’d never followed on, the comment was directed at me.
Is it harsh? Probably so since the kid truly did an outstanding job with the show. But I, like many parents, tire of the constant picking that occurs because the kids can’t or won’t step up to the plate on issues of responsibility and when the opportunity to let the system teach a lesson, I’m going to grab it with both hands and ride it for all that it’s worth. The kids will learn that a favored activity isn’t going to happen not because Dad didn’t make it happen, but because they didn’t make it happen.
As it went, Middle did make the cast party since he found out that the form was due at the door and had it to me that morning before the final show. Frankly, they were nicer than I’d have been.