Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Proud to Be Bad

I'm a big believer in letting kids suffer the natural consequences of their actions.

This is why mid-February, after telling my son it was cold outside and that he should wear a coat, I -- gasp -- actually let him leave the house without one.  In the middle of winter.  Yes, I knew he was going to get cold.  Yes, I knew I was going to be judged by about 97 grandmas who thought I should "put a coat on that boy."  But, after choosing not to wear a coat and then spending the afternoon running in and out of stores at a chilly 26 degrees, Michael suddenly realized the value of my advice and that he would have been wise to follow it. So much more effective than forcing his arms down the coat sleeves every single time we left the house. 

Besides, contrary to what seems to be the belief of everyone on this planet, no five-year-old is going to freeze to death in the thirty seconds between the heated car and the heated store.

But once I made the mistake of mentioning this philosophy on Facebook and unleashed the furor of a bunch of horrified moms who YELLED at me because letting my kid out of the house without a coat was going to make him SICK and that only a BAD PARENT would ever do such a thing.

So here is my public service announcement for the day:  Being cold for a few minutes of your life will not make you sick.  But having your mother protect you from the consequences of every unwise decision will cause problems for you.

It is my job to make sure my kids grow up to be responsible adults who know how to take care of themselves, and they won't learn how to do that if I take it upon myself to save them from every little consequence of their actions.  Yes, it is my responsibility to make sure my children have coats to wear, and if we're going tubing in the mountains the choice is "wear a coat" or "you don't get to go" -- no in between.  But a little lesson frozen in my five-year-old's mind at 26 degrees in the parking lot goes much further toward producing an independent adult than saying, "Oh, you're cold?  I thought you would be so I put your coat in the car just in case."  Translation: Don't trouble yourself, Mom will solve all of your problems.


This is not to say we should never be compassionate towards our children -- there are times when every parent should pull a spare jacket out of the trunk.  But as parents we are often too compassionate. We hover, we fix, we intervene, we obsess.  We take our kids to school when they miss the bus because of dawdling without any expectation that they will have to compensate us for our trouble.  We swoop in with a coat whenever they get cold rather than letting them be responsible for themselves.  We give them trophies just for breathing, make sure they never lose at anything, and jump in to save them from bad grades. And then we wonder why they move back home at 30, totally unprepared for any real responsibility and completely incapable of handling the least bit of disappointment or discouragement.

So you'll have to forgive me if you see my son without a coat.  I'm trying to be a "bad" parent. 

Please don't interrupt.


Anonymous said...

Go bonnie! I love you. I read this out loud and Ken offered a trophy to Rebecca for breathing--she said thanks, she'd give it to D.I.

Stephanie Black said...

Well said, Bonnie! Bravo! When a child is a toddler and doesn't understand, then it's our responsibility to shove their arms in the coat. But if they're old enough to know better and still decide to ignore your advice, then ending up cold (in a completely non-dangerous, but merely temporarily uncomfortable way) is a great way to let them learn to make better decisions. We tend to be far too quick to swoop in and save children from consequences.

kws said...

This reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from General Conference: "Wise parents prepare their children to get along without them. They provide opportunities for growth as children acquire the spiritual maturity to exercise their agency properly. And yes, this means children will sometimes make mistakes and learn from them." - Elder Larry Y. Wilson

Aaron said...

I rolled my eyes at some of the responses you got on facebook for that post. Totally agree with you. Being cold for a few minutes does not make you sick.

fiona said...

100% agree. A little different, but similar: Yesterday at the park, a mom friend asked, with the shocked tone we know so well, "Is Maeve okay on that swing?" And I said, "as long as she doesn't let go..." It was within her abilities, but, yeah, she could get hurt, like anything in life. We have to walk the fine line of protecting them, but not OVER-protecting them. I've done the no-coat thing, too. In Bulgaria, kids wear coats when it's 65 degrees out. Me and the "bad mom look"... we're like THIS (fingers crossed). Kristen, I love that quote!

Cameron and Nonie said...

Glad I'm in good company. My kids even tell me how mean I am and I pleasantly agree with them. They can also take care of themselves while I'm gone because I let them fail quite often. Both James and Hannah believe me now that it is important to clean their rooms and not lie about it or mom will come get them from school and bring them home to do it. I guess I'm just that kind of mom. ;)

The Davis Clan said...

Nothing teaches a child better than natural consequences. If you don't eat your dinner you go to bed hungry, you don't wear a coat you get cold. You forget your homework at school you get to walk back and get it. My children are all alive and they have refused to bring their coats and suffered the cold.