Hard Things

A couple of things happened to me this week that really have made me ponder my role as a mother.

I went out for dinner with a small group of mothers from Zach’s soccer team (and one other mom I had not met before). We all have boys – and all have our 14/15 year old boy in common.

One mother mentioned how her 14 year old had told her she was the only Mom who didn’t make lunch for him. All his friends’ mother’s made them lunch. She was shocked and horrified! I laughed – because I was one of those guilty moms. I quickly explained, that while I know they should make lunch (especially our 17.5 year old), for me, it’s a matter of convenience. I don’t want 5 kids coming into the kitchen after dinner (and the kitchen is clean), pulling out stuff and making their lunch, leaving the trail behind that they inevitably do (yes, I know they should be picking up after themselves, but their standard of pick up is NOT mine and I know it will result in one more fight…)

Anyhow, the Mom pointed out to her son that when he goes off to University, he will have a lot on his plate to learn, and she wants him to gain skills now and independence now so he isn’t overwhelmed with things like making lunch, cooking, doing laundry etc. I completely agreed (and was happy at least I get my kids to clean the house, do some cooking, help with laundry etc). But, is that enough? Am I preparing them enough for their future life demands?

The second event occurred as one of our kids is struggling with a course and as a result wants to drop it and take a night course instead. Of course, the struggle this child is having is really a direct result of not doing the work and not taking responsibility for the course along the way. Now, I think it’s great that they are wanting to find a viable solution and came up with the option of taking this night course. While it might not have been the option I would have chosen or wanted them to choose, at least it is a solution that they came up with. In order to get to this course though, we feel that this child should make their way on their own. We live in a downtown centre with subways, streetcars and buses. Often one of our other kids gets himself home after soccer practice taking a bus and a subway and walking with no complaints (often offers to do it.) So for us, it’s not only not a big deal, in this particular circumstance, it’s a way of becoming more independent and fully taking ownership of the consequence of having to do night school because of choices to not do the work in the day class. However, in conversation with their child’s other parent, despite our request that at least on “our days” this child take public transit – the other parent feels that they could not just sit at home knowing the child is commuting, therefore would have to drive them….

Again, it made me think – and this time upset me, as I feel our hands are tied and we are doing a great disservice to this child (this is not the first time that the natural consequences of behaviour have been removed or immensely softened by the other parent). It upset me because while we don’t want to always get into a power struggle I worry about the future effects on this child (in the immediate it doesn’t make much difference – it rarely does – but the accumulation is evident). Are we adequately preparing our kids for the reality of life? Every time we help soften consequences, or eliminate them all together, are we not depriving our kids of the EXACT circumstances and situations that they desperately NEED for them to grow, to learn, to develop confidence and independence. They need to know that they CAN do it. Even if it is hard. ESPECIALLY if it is hard.

The third event was a much sadder, and real one (and really puts the other two into perspective). I got an email letting me know that the Mom of one of Zach’s friends had passed away. I knew she had been quite ill for the past couple of years with cancer, but still. My heart went out to that boy and his family.

And that mother.

I can’t really breathe if I think about her and what her thoughts were knowing that she was going to be leaving her family soon. Did she worry about each child? Did she think about all the events that they would go through without her? Graduations? Dates? Marriages? Jobs? Births? Did she worry about how they would do without her? Did she worry about if she had done enough for them? Did she worry about whether they were adequately prepared for her death?

Can you adequately prepare a child for the death of a parent? Your child, for YOUR death?

I honestly can’t really bear the thought to think or write much more about it. But, it did make me think, that my greatest desire and wish is for my children to be able to thrive in this world with full confidence that they can do hard things. That they can overcome obstacles – big and small. That they need not run to the easiest solution (because easy now can often mean harder later); they don’t always need to look for the nearest exit because leaving often doesn’t solve anything. That they can be whoever they choose to be, and they can turn things around in their lives no matter what stage.

I won’t always be around to make lunches, do laundry, drive them to night school, or even talk them through a difficult time, or calm their nerves before a trip or a test. But I can teach them the coping strategies now. Yes, it can be easier to do the things for them, to ease their consequences, to remove their burdens. And what parent doesn’t want to do that for their child in the immediate?

But when I think that by me doing that I am depriving them of growth opportunities, it makes me want to carry on and sometimes look like that mean parent who sticks to values and consequences and pushes them out of their comfort zone. Because in the end, that is what they need to become real adults. One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is for them to know that they can do hard things and thrive.

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