Five-year-old Samantha leaves her lunchbox at home at least once a week. Her mother, Lori, makes a special trip to school to bring Samantha’s lunch–a thirty-minute disruption to Lori’s day.
Who owns the problem of getting Samantha’s lunch to school? Samantha or her mother?
Some parents feel that they own all their children’s problems. When we take responsibility for every one of our children’s actions, we are robbing our children of the opportunity to grow more responsible and to understand the consequences of their actions or inactions.
If the child owns the problem, we should let the child handle the problem but support the child as necessary.
If the parent owns the problem, then we must work with the child in order for the child to learn from the experience and become more responsible.
We can determine who owns the problem by asking the following questions:
1. Who is directly affected with this situation?
2. Who is the person complaining or making an issue of the situation?
3. Whose work is being undermined?
In the forgotten lunch situation of Samantha and Lori, both Samantha and Lori are directly affected, along with others in Samantha’s classroom. Samantha pouts and refuses to join in classroom activities, thus disturbing her classmates, until she can call her mother to bring her lunch.
Samantha is the major complainer in this situation. Lori isn’t thrilled, either, about having to take another 30 minutes out of her morning to get lunch to school.
Lori’s work is being undermined by Samantha’s forgetfulness, while Samantha’s work of becoming more responsible is not being developed.
Samantha should own the problem of remembering her lunch and suffer the consequences of having to eat school lunch on the days she forgets her lunch. Lori can work with Samantha to help Samantha learn to independently remember her lunch by using mnemonic devices such as placing a note on the back door or the back seat of the car.
Our goals as parents should be to help our children develop concentration and independence. Helping our children own their problems prepares our children for the challenges they will encounter in the day-to-day existence of their lives.
Many adults who work with elementary, junior high, high school and college-age students report that parents seem to be running interference for their children far more often than necessary, thus denying their children the chance to learn from solving their own problems.
These parents seem to appear immediately out of nowhere to intervene in their children’s difficulties, thus earning themselves the nickname of ”helicopter parents.” Calling teachers about forgotten homework, arguing with coaches about a demerit in sports, hiring consultants to write college applications, to appearing on their children’s job interviews on college campuses–every new experience for their children is hovered over by these helicopter parents in misguided search-and-rescue attempts.
Allow your children to take responsibility for their own problems, while supporting your children as they learn to navigate new waters.
Before jumping in to solve a problem, ask yourself, ”Who truly owns this problem?”
If the answer is ”my child,” don’t hesitate ”to let ’em have it.”
Remember: It is only one squiggly letter to go from mothering to smothering.