Letting Go

Look, if there was any chance that you actually could effect positive change by micromanaging your child, then I wouldn’t say a word against your way of doing things. Honest.  If, by swooping in, you could help your daughter in any way, I’d give you the thumbs up and leave you alone. I’d ignore that your kid may never learn to do anything without you when you’re doing everything for her. I’d overlook the psychological damage that comes from a child not being able to feel her own feelings, determine her own sense of self.

I feel the same way about different kinds of crimes. If you were at least successful at robbing the bank, I would try not to ask you where you got the money. The problem is, you keep getting caught. Not only do you not get to keep that stack of large-denomination bills from the teller’s drawer, but you also keep ending up in jail. Not only are you smothering your child, but your child also isn’t learning anything. Your parenting is lose/lose.

So my narrower point for today is that “lawn mower parenting” (which has replaced “helicopter parenting;” where have you been?) is ineffective at every level. By hovering on top of your kids like white on rice, nothing good happens. Consider the following note to the teacher from the mother of a fifth grader.

“I note that Samantha received a 96 because the data table for her science project was incorrect. I helped Sam construct the data table from a template on my computer and I assure you that the table was correct. Please change her grade to 100 immediately.”

Ignoring for a moment the glaring question of “whose assignment is

this?” let’s talk about the 11-year-old. (Remember the 11 year-old?) Needless to say, this child is conflicted and distraught as her mother prepares to go to war. Mom will start grousing at the teacher, then go up the chain of command to bark at the school counselor, the principal, the local school board, the United States Department of Education, and ultimately the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (Why NASA? Well, it was a science fair project after all.)

Mom may win the battle; the grade may end up getting changed. But mom will lose the war. If the ultimate goal is to allow her daughter to learn how to accomplish on her own, then there has been no forward progress. Will Samantha ever learn how to advocate for herself? Will she be able to determine which issues are worth pursuing with a teacher and which should be left alone? Will she be able to accept herself for who she is, a kid who constructed her own data table and got a 96?

Not likely.

“Mom may win the battle; the grade may end up getting changed. But mom will lose the war. If the ultimate goal is to allow her daughter to learn how to accomplish on her own, then there has been no forward progress.”

 

Elementary school could be a time filled with the joy of learning. Elementary school should be a time filled with developmentally appropriate chances to grow and learn from missteps. Instead, fifth grade is a hot mess of writhing anxiety and struggle. Mom writes nasty emails to teacher; mom screams at soccer coach; mom orchestrates every action and intrudes on every thought.

If I were a snarkier sort of author, I might be so presumptuous to suggest that mom has too much time on her hands.

Some things are worth fighting for. A 96 on a data table is not one of those things.

When stuff goes wrong at school, it’s helpful for your kid to know that she has someone at home to talk to. It’s helpful for her to know that someone has her back and will listen to her concerns. It’s helpful for her to know that there is someone with whom she can bounce around an idea and get some support. It can only make her nervous and scared to know that the process of problem solving is going to be taken out of her hands, that someone is going to fight the wrong battle for her in the wrong way.

Listening and problem solving communicates, “I trust you and I know you can handle this.” Writing notes to the teacher, swooping in and messing everything up communicates, “You are not competent to do this on your own and besides, your grades are more important that your actually learning anything.”

What you communicate to your child is more important than whether she gets a 96 or 100 on her data table. What you communicate to your child is what you have left in the long lonesome years after the last of the grades has long since faded away.