Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I used to rail against parents whose kids would break the law, do something to hurt someone or just be plain old bratty in public, while they stood by and let them get away with it. "If you don't make them take responsibility for their actions, how will they ever learn to change them?" I'd squawk. Consequences, consequences.

Well, today I was called an enabler. At first, I was indignant. But then, as I considered the situation, I realized that it wasn't as black-and-white as I had first perceived it.

Jacob claimed yesterday to have "only a little" homework. What this means in 'tween speak is 'I have a ton of homework, but in only two subjects.' So once he started it after dinner and worked on it until bedtime without finishing it, I informed him I'd be waking him early to get the job done.

When the morning came and he suddenly had a mysterious stomach ache and his jaw hurt, I said "nice try. You're still going to school" and made him get to work. But after 1/2 hour of working over breakfast when he still hadn't finished, I told him I would drive him to school (rather than make him take the bus). This would buy him an extra 30 minutes of time in which to finish the work.

I did this because I've been there: work not finished, teacher to face, spring fever making me not want to do it, sudden, strange illness to get out of facing teacher, etcetera, etcetera. It doesn't happen every day, and it has not been a habit or a pattern.

Yet my husband and parenting partner protested. "You're enabling him. Let him go in with the work undone and answer for it. Why are you bailing him out?"

But I didn't see it that way. I saw it as poor planning and sudden regret. I didn't let him stay home. I didn't give him a note asking the teacher to excuse him. I didn't tell him to lie about it. Granted, I didn't tell him 'get on the bus and deal with it' either, but didn't I find a happy medium? I made him face the problem, but helped by giving him the time in which to tackle it rather than evade it.

Yes, kids need structure, rules and the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. But they also need understanding and a chance to fix mistakes if they can. This doesn't mean they won't still learn from the experience. It just means they'll learn that mom can be flexible and (holy cow) even helpful sometimes, and that maybe she'll be a good person to take my problems to when I'm older. Maybe she'll help me figure out how to solve them when I can't do it alone.

I don't know if that makes me the good cop or the bad cop, but if it means Jacob will be willing to confide in me when the REAL problems arise, I'll answer to whatever title you want.


Josh said...

we have had that situation here. Josh is more willing to let them go without the work done. I am the one who nags. I have realized, now that they are pre-teens and about to go into Jr. HS, that I have to back off and let them deal with the consequences. We always try to make it easier for our children but they do need to learn from experience, just like we did.

Anonymous said...

You make a nice argument there at the end. At first I was siding with your husband (don't hate me!) but then I realized your points were very wise ones and which is why you're a good mom!