What Real Mothers Know: Let Go of Rescuing Your Kids Every Time, So They Can Thrive Without You
What Really Matters for Mothering: Plan for the Future
The Real Benefit for Kids: Self-Reliance and Resourcefulness
The Lesson a Real Mother Teaches: No mother wants her child to suffer heartaches and disappointments. Our basic maternal instinct is to try to protect our kids from frustrations and solve their problems for them. But real moms know that doing so would prevent their children from developing the very skills they'll need to deal with the multitude of issues they'll face in the real world. One of the simplest ways to influence your child's future without you is also the easiest to use: stop rescuing! Do not write one more cover-up note to your child's teacher. Do not put out the garbage when your child conveniently disappears. Do not take your kid's overdue library book back and pay the fine. Do not go back and get your kid's forgotten soccer shoes for the umpteenth time. If you really want your child to become self-sufficient and thrive without you, your role must be that of a guider, not a doer. It's another case of doing less, not more—the natural mothering way. That simple twist teaches your children that you expect them to be resourceful by solving their own problems—whatever they may be—and that you believe they are capable of doing so. It's the best way to prepare our kids to face life on their own and help them learn to handle whatever problem comes their way.
"She Taught Her Children to Live Without Her"
The most beautiful sight in the world is a child going confidently down the road of life after you have shown him the way.
Anne Leedom always loved waiting in her car to pick up her two daughters, Kasey and Rachel. She couldn't wait to hear them tell her all the details of what went on at school that day. And one afternoon was particularly memorable.
Rachel, her eight-year-old, jumped in the car looking pretty tense. Her usual little happy bounce was missing—her grin was replaced by a grimace. Her shoulders were hunched over, her fists clenched. Obviously something distressing had happened. But what could it be? Anne wondered.
She noticed that Rachel was hiding something behind her back as she walked out of school, but couldn't quite make out what. She greeted her daughter with the usual big hug, while trying to sneak a peek at what she was holding. She helped her take off her backpack and asked Rachel the typical "How was school today, Sweetie?" questions to try to find out why she was so upset. Anne finally saw that what her daughter was clenching so tightly was a crumpled up piece of paper. Anne took the paper gently from her hand. Rachel crumpled it. Anne uncrumpled it. Rachel crumpled it. Anne finally won. But when she straightened out the page, she was surprised to see the cause of her daughter's distress: it was the spelling test she'd taken that morning.
Usually Rachel did really well in spelling. Oh sure, sometimes Anne would correct her daughter's homework so that there wouldn't be any mistakes. Why not? She wanted her daughter to do well. Anne would also go over the spelling list with Rachel a few times every Thursday, and by Friday morning she would go off to school ready to take the test with confidence.
"I know all my words, Mom," she would exclaim each week. "I'll ace the test no problem."
Last night, however, Anne had a last-minute call from her girlfriend, who was sick and needed someone to watch her daughter while she went to the emergency room. So this Friday morning, Rachel had gone to school without the usual coaching. When Anne smoothed out her daughter's crumpled test paper, she could see immediately that it didn't look like all the others. In the past, Rachel's teacher would draw a big happy face at the top with her bright red pencil. This time there was no happy face but instead two big checks and corrections for mistakes she had made.
Rachel looked mortified. This had never happened before. She always got happy faces and was proud to show her mother her perfect scores. "See?" she'd say. "I told you I'd get all the words right."
But today was terribly different. Anne was surprised to see how embarrassed and ashamed her daughter was for getting just two out of ten wrong on a routine spelling test.
"It's okay, Rachel. Don't worry, Honey; you'll get a chance next week."
But Rachel didn't buy it and shook her head sadly. "No, Mommy, no . . . I flunked."
Anne began to recite to herself the litany of typical mother guilt: Did she think I would love her any less if her score wasn't perfect? Have I put too much pressure on grades? How at such a tender young age did she get the idea that making a mistake meant failure?
Anne looked at the panic on her daughter's face and knew she needed to help Rachel learn from this experience. After all, making mistakes or getting thrown a few curve balls is a part of life, and Rachel's life was just beginning. Anne had never realized how much pressure her daughter placed on herself to succeed and how little, if any, experience she'd had of getting anything but positive scores. If this is how she responds to missing only two spelling words, what would she do in the future when bigger problems came her way? How could she learn to be self-reliant?
It suddenly hit her: Maybe I've been helping her too much, correcting her mistakes and protecting her from knowing what it's like to be anything less than perfect.
Anne realized she had to do something different, or Rachel would never survive on her own in the future. She began searching for the right words, words that wouldn't just help in this moment but teach Rachel some skills for the long term. What finally popped out wasn't exactly what she would have said if she'd spent time weighing her words (okay, it was far from it). But she had to start somewhere, right? So she leaned over and gave Rachel her best shot.
"Wasn't it nice that your teacher took the time to put these red check marks on your paper?"
The look on Rachel's face was priceless. Anne could almost hear her thinking, Is mom crazy? Can't she see I made two mistakes?
But Anne ignored her skeptical look and kept on. She was on a roll.
"You know it takes a lot of time checking work to let you know which words you missed," Anne said. She then added, "Your teacher must care a lot about you. She takes that time because she really is concerned about your learning," she told her. "What she wants you to do is study the words she's marked so you won't make the same mistakes the next time."
And then Anne went for her grand finale: "Wasn't that nice of her?"
These next seconds were what mothers live for—those precious, rather extraordinary times when you realize you've said or done something that is really getting through to your kid. Anne could tell that her daughter was really contemplating everything she'd said to her, and sizing things up. And then, all of a sudden, she saw the light go on in her daughter's little head.
Rachel nodded, gave Anne a quick hug, and told her assuredly, "OK, Mom, I'm gonna correct these . . . Gotta go."
Then she ran to her room with that predictable little bounce restored and her world back in control. At this point, Anne's expectations were still pretty slim: she was just hoping her child would remember something she'd said by dinner that evening. Let's be real, right?
But apparently something in her little mother-daughter talk had clicked. The "confirming moment" happened two weeks later when Rachel was dashing out of the car to get to school on time, and Anne sat in the driver's seat waiting to say good-bye.
As her daughter gave her a quick good-bye hug, Anne noticed she was holding a small package carefully in one hand. It wasn't hard to miss: the box was wrapped in yellow wrapping paper and bound together with yards and yards of brown masking tape. A bright red bow was attached to the narrow box with a large rubber band.
"What's in the box?" Anne asked.
"Oh, it's a birthday present for my teacher," Rachel said. Then she added with absolute confidence: "Mrs. Diamond's going to be soooooo happy when she sees what's in it. She'll love it!"
She looked to see if her mother could guess what she could possibly be giving her teacher that would please her so. Anne shook her head—she honestly didn't have a clue as to what could be in that box.
"I bought her a red pencil!" she told me excitedly. "Now Mrs. Diamond will always have one so she can mark my mistakes and I can learn to spell all by myself." And then Rachel added a bit sheepishly, "She lets me know she cares about me by marking the ones I miss, you know."
She waved and ran to her classroom. Anne stood in place with her mouth open. Her words really had sunk in.
And then a really staggering thought hit this mom: What if I hadn't found her crumpled spelling test with the two mistakes? What if I hadn't noticed how distressed she was? And what if I hadn't told my child that it's okay to make a mistake? What kind of future would she have on her own? As her daughter went to school that day, Anne realized that her job over the next ten years was to prepare her daughter to handle whatever the future brought—without having her mom around to always smooth things over.
Anne Leedom had the best intentions when she polished up her daughter's homework and coached her so hard for every test. But after that Friday, with those big red pencil marks, Anne realized how important it was for Rachel to know she wasn't perfect and never would be. Children cannot learn to persevere unless they recognize how to deal with imperfection and failure. Anne also reminded her daughter that there would be another spelling test next week, so trying again and bouncing back could help her cultivate self-reliance and resourcefulness.
As moms, we must look way down the road. We need to be futurists. Too many of us get caught up in correcting past mistakes and putting out fires. It's as though we're hearing our alarm clocks going off, but we're only punching the snooze button. To respond effectively to our children's daily problems, we need to prepare them to cope on their own. After all, they're not going to live with us forever, and we can't always be there to pick up the pieces. Moms who are trying to do everything for their kids in a white heat of manic frenzy aren't doing them any favors.
Is This Real Mom's Secret Part of Your Parenting?
Of course we don't want our kids to fail, and of course we always want them to be successful, but always doing, picking up, or mending fences for our kids sure won't help them learn to bounce back and survive on their own. So here's a little test to see just how well you've been practicing the maternal secret of planning ahead or preparing your child to handle life without you.
1. Start by thinking about how you usually act whenever your child seems frustrated, seeks your help, fails, or isn't doing a task quite up to your standards. Which of these traits would you say most accurately describes your response? Would the rest of your family agree with your verdict?
□ Enabler: "I know how hard that is. Let me help you."
□ Rescuer: "You're going to be in trouble with your teacher if you can't find your library book. I'll tell her I lost it."
□ Impatient: "We're late. I'll tie your shoes, and you can learn how later."
□ Protector: "I'll call Brian's mom and tell her how sorry you u are.
□ Guilt-ridden: "Don't worry about your chores. I've been gone so much this week I'll do them."
□ Competitive: "You know Ryan's project is going to be really good. Let's add more pictures."
□ Egocentric: "Not now. I don't have time."
□ Perfectionist: "You run along, and I'll redo your science project. Those letters you pasted on just don't look right."
Now that you've thought about how you typically respond, would you say your behavior usually strengthens your child's confidence and independence muscle or takes it down a notch? Is there one thing you're currently doing that might be robbing your child of the chance to figure things out for herself? Is there one thing you might change?
2. Do you usually emphasize your child's failures or his successes? For instance, think of the last time your child brought home his report card. Would you say you usually talk first about his high grades or the low ones? When he shows you his schoolwork or test, do you first point to the positive parts of his work or to his mistakes? How does your child respond to your feedback? Would you say your approach in the long run is helping or hindering his ability to bounce back and become resourceful?
3. Now let's suppose your child makes a mistake or fails: she spills her milk accidentally, flunks a math exam, forgets to tell you your boss phoned, strikes out at bat. How do you typically respond? Are you more likely to (A) encourage your child to give it another try; (B) say, "I told you so" or "I knew that would happen"; (C) ignore it or let it slide; (D) yell, shame, criticize, judge, blame, or ridicule; (E) stay calm and use the opportunity to teach your child what to do the next time so she can learn from it? Is your current response helping your child learn to bounce back? Are you satisfied that your typical response is what's best for your child, or do you think there's a more effective way? If so, what would it be?
4. Are mistakes okay to make in your household? For instance, when your child does fail, how does he typically react? For instance, does he shrug it off, cry, blame himself or someone else, get angry? Now suppose you make a mistake and your child is watching you. Do you admit it, apologize, blame someone, rationalize, make an excuse, lose patience, or explain what you learned from it? Tune in to your behavior over the next few days and ask yourself what your child may be "catching." Is there anything you might want to change in your behavior so that your child has a better model to copy?
5. What is the one thing you recognize in yourself that you need to change to become a more future-oriented mom who prepares her children to survive and thrive without her? Write it on the lines here. Then get ready to learn the secret and use it with your family.
real mom alert
Beware: The Kids Are Coming Back!
Recent research points out one clear trend among today's twenty-something kids: a large number are moving back home after college. Here are some of the stats:
■ The percentage of twenty-six-year-olds living with their parents nearly doubled since 1970.
■ According to the 2002 U.S. Census, nearly four million people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four still live with their parents.
■ An online survey reported that 60 percent of college students stated they planned to live at home after graduation-and 21 percent said they planned to remain there for more than a year.
If you really do want to raise a self-reliant child (and feel guiltless about turning her bedroom into your private sanctuary), you may need to do some serious rethinking about how you're raising your kid so she can survive without you. Otherwise, hold off on the new house designs!
The Wake-Up Call to Change REAL
Michelle Price of Calgary, Alberta, was driving her two boys to school and running late. She checked in the rearview mirror and noticed a look of panic on her six-year-old's face. "Could we pleeeeease go back and get my backpack?" he pleaded. "I forgot my show-and-tell."
Any other day, Michelle would have quickly agreed and made the U-turn back to the house to retrieve the forgotten items. In fact, there had been more than a few times she'd done that, but today there was something different about his face and response-there was a little too much expectation that mom would rescue him no matter what.
Something clicked in Michelle's head. She thought to herself, If I'm always rescuing my kids, they'll just take it for granted that I'll do it for the rest of their lives.
So her response this time was different: "Sweetie, I know you're upset. But we're not going back to the house this time. I know you can figure out something else for sharing. So let's brainstorm some ideas, and by the time we drive up you'll have a plan."
Sure there was a bit of initial panic. And no, her kid wasn't exactly thrilled by the whole idea. But Mom stuck to her guns, and by the time they arrived, her son had a plan for not only his sharing but for borrowing a plastic bag from another teacher for a makeshift backpack that day. Michelle had experienced one of those "ah-ha" moments that helped her kids learn to be more resourceful and less dependent on her.
You can't expect your children to become self-reliant and resourceful unless you nurture those traits in them. Here are a few practices you'll want to adopt in your day-to-day family life to help them achieve that goal.
Step One: Identify What Your Child Can Do Alone and Then Back Off. What tasks might your child be capable of doing on his own, instead of relying on you? Maybe it's time for him to learn to make his own lunch, do laundry, make his bed, call to make his dentist appointments. Of course, this will depend on your child's age, maturity, and current capabilities. The goal here isn't to overwhelm him by piling on new expectations; gradually introduce one new task at a time.
Step Two: Stop Rescuing. Have you found yourself rescuing your kids a lot lately? "Jake is so tired; I'll do his homework tonight." "Kyla is too busy; I'll do her chores this time." It's an easy habit to get into, but if you want to raise a resilient kid, these are major mother "no-no's." Start by setting this rule: "We have a new policy: no more excuses. You need to take responsibility."
Step Three: Boost Organizational Skills So Your Child Won't Use
You as His Palm Pilot. Is your child misplacing library books? Unable to find her sports gear? Losing teacher notes? Chances are, your child's lack of organization is a big reason why you end up rescuing her. So when there's another trauma, instead of bailing her out, ask instead, "What can you do to solve it?" For instance, if your child forgets to return her library book every Wednesday, she might hang up a calendar that marks her due dates as well as the dates of music lessons, field trips, sharing days, and tests. Even little ones can draw "picture" reminders. Learning to organize is a skill your child will need for managing her own life so that she relies less and less on you as time goes by.
Step Four: Teach Brainstorming So Your Child Can Solve Problems Without You. The next time your child has a problem, don't be so quick to offer a solution. Instead, teach him how to brainstorm options. First, say to your child, "Tell me what's bothering you." (You might need to help him find the words: "I can't think of anything to bring for sharing.") Express your faith that he can work things out: "I know you'll come up with a solution for your sharing." Then encourage him to brainstorm ideas. "Don't worry about how silly your idea sounds. Just say it, because it may help your think of things to share." You might even call this "The Solution Game"; just remind your child to use it whenever he encounters a problem. With enough practice, your child will be able to use brainstorming to solve many troubling issues that creep up during the day—and do so without your help.
Step Five: Teach How to Negotiate. Do your children constantly expect you to be the negotiator and end their battles? Wrong move if you want your kids to become capable of solving their own problems. Your new tactic? Teach your kids how to negotiate so that when the next war breaks out you can tell your darling cherubs to work it out on their own. Here's how. First, explain the new skill: "You need to learn to negotiate. That's when you agree to work out a deal so that you both are happy."
Next, teach your kids a few oldie-but-goodie "tie breakers," such as "rock, paper, scissors," drawing straws, flipping a coin, or using the rule that "Whoever went first last time goes last this time." Oven timers are also great for reducing squabbles. Just show your kids how to set it, and it can be a great sanity saver. "I'm setting the timer for five minutes, but when it goes off, it's my turn to play."
Finally, don't forget to set clear "negotiation behavior": "You must take turns listening to each other without interrupting, and no put-downs. Only calm voices are allowed." Then start practicing using the skill as a family. Not only will it help your child learn a skill that I guarantee he'll need in every arena of life, but you may also experience greater peace on the home front.
Step Six: Talk About Her Future Regularly. Encourage your kids to think beyond the here and now: going away to camp, changing schools, attending college, living in an apartment, making career choices. Discussing your children's future lives can be part of your dinner table conversations. Of course they can change their minds (and majors), but the goal is to help your child think toward the future and realize someday that she really won't be living with you.
real mom alert
Research by Mel Levine, author of the best-seller A Mind at a Time, finds that we are experiencing an epidemic of career "unreadiness"-there are too many young people who finish school unprepared for the challenge of initiating a productive life. A big part of the reason for this is that we are raising children in a highly structured world of overscheduled activities and are constantly meeting kids' demands for immediate gratification.
Levine believes there are four major qualities common in young adults who do make successful transitions: (1) they are self-aware; (2) they are keen observers of the outside world; (3) they possess certain "tools" (the ability to master skills, develop work efficiency, and think productively); and (4) they are strong communicators. How well are you nurturing those qualities in your children?
Three Simple Steps to Helping Your Child Handle Mistakes
How we respond to our kids' failures plays a big part in how our kids handle mistakes. If you now realize you've typically responded to your child's mistakes in a critical, judgmental, blaming fashion, try the three-step parent response called TLC (not to be confused with Tender Loving Care). There are three parts to this simple strategy:
T—Talk calmly about the mistake with your child. Try not to criticize or show anger. Mom: "Let's talk about your spelling paper. What do you notice?" Child: "I missed five of my words."
L—Tell what your child can learn from the mistake. Mom: "What can you learn from the test so you won't make the same mistakes next time you take it?" Child: "I learned I need to study my words a little every night and not wait until the last minute."
C—Comfort your child by reminding him that everybody makes mistakes. Mom: "That sounds like a great plan! Successful people look at their mistakes and figure out what they can learn from them. That's what you're doing!"
real mom alert
Stanford professor Lewis Terman studied fifteen hundred gifted kids for several decades and found that high intelligence was a poor predictor of future success when kids were out there in the world on their own. What did those who succeeded have in common? They had all learned the value of perseverance and not giving up, and they had all learned it before they left high school. Who they learned it from was their parents, who modeled perseverance and then expected it from their children. So if you really want your child to make it out there in the world without you, instilling in her a "never give up" attitude is essential, and the best way to do so is by tuning up the maternal secret of nurturing perseverance in yourself.
1. Did you identify with or were you inspired by the story of Rachel and her mom, Anne? What was it about them that seemed so similar to your own family? Is this one of the secrets you want to focus on and tune up in your family? How would planning for the time when your child will be independent benefit your family?
2. How would you apply the six steps to helping your child become self-reliant? Review all the boxes, guides, tips, and stories in this chapter.
3. Go to A Mother's Promise on page 56 and write in the one thing you will do differently over the next 21 days to help your child become more resilient.
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