It was 5:45am and my dad, my four sons and I were aboard a shuttle to the Denver airport. The passengers around us regarded us with stony silence and cold glares. We had delayed the van’s departure with our lateness, having underestimated the time it would take to get the kids ready, unbuckle their carseats from the van, pack the suitcases, and shlep it all to the waiting airport shuttle in the dark.
We were relieved to have made it and relaxed into our seats, finally calm after our harried race to the shuttle.
“Mom, what time does the airplane leave?” Stephen asked out of the silence.
“Sometime around 9?” I replied.
“What time, EXACTLY?”
I sighed and rubbed my tired face. “I’m not sure exactly. I’ll get my ticket out at the airport and check when we get there. But sometime around 9.”
“You should check now! I need to know exactly!” He insisted.
I looked at him, his face anxious. “Why do you need to know?”
Then it dawned on me. I laughed. “Do you not trust me and Grandpa to get you to the right place at the right time anymore?”
He shook his head vigorously. “No! I need to know too!”
I opened my backpack and shared the details of the trip with him, feeling vaguely guilty that I’d let him down. But I guess part of growing up is realizing you can’t always count on grownups.
I wrote about my lesson on reminders for Kindergarten Stephen here and here. When I didn’t remind him to return his library book, he blamed me for forgetting it and I realized I needed to stop being in charge of his library book and gym shoes and homework folder.**
3 kids and 6 years later it’s laughable I ever did such things! When the twins were in Kindergarten last year, I had NO IDEA when gym or library or PJ day or whatever day was. And they have never expected me to. Sometimes they remember, and sometimes they forget, but they never blame me. Now with 4 kids in school, one in middle school, work, scouts, piano, Stephen’s clubs, my failing middle-aged brain…Stephen has to text me to remember what time to pick him up.
I was feeling vaguely guilty about some reminder role-reversals, until I realized: it’s good to be an unreliable mom. Not only because I want to feel better about myself, but also for selfless reasons! Such as:
- Teaches kids to think for themselves. When kids rely 100% on adults and have complete confidence that everything is taken care of, they can check out and leave the thinking to the grownups. But if they know that Mom may drop the ball, they stay engaged and think through what needs to happen.
- Teaches kids to take responsibility for themselves. Kids need to take responsibility for their own school work and effort. They shouldn’t be relying on grownups to manage their lives or blaming their parents when things go wrong.
- Teaches kids they are important. When my kids rescue me or a situation, they feel important. And they ARE! I don’t just pretend we’re a team, we seriously are a team. I rely on them to help me, and they know it.
- Teaches kids managing a family is hard. When kids help shoulder chores and responsibility, they learn how difficult managing everything in the family can be. They don’t take my hard work for granted. It’s ok for it to not look easy.
- Everyone makes mistakes, how do we handle them? The kids see me forgetting things and having to live with the consequences. They see me working to solve problems, and how I brainstorm plans B and C after plan A got messed up.
Those of you with more brain cells and fewer children may want to ask yourselves: “Am I being too reliable for my kids?” Or at least, don’t judge me when I get a text from Stephen that makes me smack myself in the head and yell “Oh yeah, robotics club!” And go running out the door to pick him up. In the Vogan family, sometimes we remind each other, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. But I don’t feel bad about it anymore, because I’m only one player on the team and we all need to be engaged to win the game.
**Incidental note on how this is playing out in middle school. Last year at parent/teacher conferences, one of Stephen’s teachers rushed up to me and said, “Don’t worry about that email you got about Stephen’s missing assignment. It’s ok now, he took care of it!” I looked at her blankly. “I didn’t know anything was missing. Honestly I barely read those emails. It’s his job to get his work done and turned in on time.” She looked surprised. “Wow,” she said. “He was the first student to approach me about what he needed to do for completion after the notification went out.” Boom, unreliable parenting for the win again….