I Will Not Be a Heli-Mom…

Today, my fifth grader played a part in the school-wide, every-morning announcements. Via video, he was piped into every classroom and presented as a visual example of “What NOT To Do.” Or rather “What Not To Wear.” (And no, Stacy and Clinton were not in the building.) That’s right… in front of the whole school, they showed what he was wearing and then said, “Kids, DON’T do this.” Awesome.

The high was in the low 40s today…and we’re in Texas, so people think that’s cold. And my nearly 11-year-old went to school today in this:

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This was taken immediately after school (he’s on the floor)… he’s in a t-shirt made of that tech material that everything seems to be made of now and basketball shorts. Paper thin, athletic shorts. It is exactly what he wears in August, so help me. He had a sweatshirt hoodie in his back pack, but I doubt he ever pulled it out or put it on.

Because of the temperatures today, there was a weather advisory in place at the school (cue laughter from all my northern friends/readers) and he wasn’t allowed to go to recess because he was wearing shorts. Not allowed outside at all, actually.

Now, before you go and assume I’m upset about any of this – the public display of his inadequate clothing and the restriction from recess – or that I’m writing this post to rant about the school – I’m not. I’m not upset. I love his school, so that’s not what this is about.

I’m writing this post because today I was reminded about how hard it is sometimes to NOT be a helicopter parent. I have vowed again and again to not be Heli-Mom. And, when you work really hard at NOT being the helicopter mom, it means sometimes YOUR kid will be set forth for all to see as the example of what NOT to do.

Here’s what actually happened in our house this morning:

He came downstairs for breakfast in those clothes.

I said, “The high today is only going to be in the low 40s…and it’s pretty windy.”

He said, “OK.”

I said, “I got an email from your teacher about the weather advisory…if it’s too cold and you are without a jacket, you might not get to go to recess.”

He said, “OK.”

He looked at me. I could tell he was weighing whether this was going to turn into a “thing” or not. I was also trying to decide that.

He said, “Mom, I’m never cold. I hate wearing pants. I’ll be fine. I have a hoodie in my backpack. It’s not like our classrooms are outside.”

I looked at him while I was talking to myself in my head. “Let him make his own choices. This is how they learn to take responsibility for themselves and how to make better decisions.” “Are you kidding? Your husband just put on a coat and a hat to walk the dog for 5 minutes and they were both nearly blown into the pool by the gusts of wind…and you are about to let your child go off to school in the same amount of material as some of your nightgowns??” “Yes. It is his choice. He knows the potential consequences. And no one will suffer them except for him.” “No. Order him to march upstairs and change his clothes right now – be the mother.” “No. Choose your battles. You can’t actually control him anyway… don’t pretend that you can.”

What I said out loud was, “OK. I’m not sure that you aren’t going to regret it, but I’m not going to fight with you over pants. Just know that if you wind up sick because of this, you can count on me to be less than sympathetic.” He smirked and said, “I’ll be fine.”

I felt the brisk air gush into the garage as they opened the door to leave. I thought to myself, “Mercy, that kid is gonna be cold today. He is out of his mind and just as stubborn as I am.”

Fast forward eight hours and he’s getting off the bus, dumping his backpack, taking his shoes off and heading for the kitchen to devour everything he finds…and he’s saying, “Hey mom, I was on the morning announcements today to show kids what not to wear to school. It was pretty funny. And, you were right, I didn’t get to go to recess.”

Wait. What?

My personal struggle to let him walk out of the house half-dressed this morning was broadcast as “textbook failure” into every single classroom for over 800 people to see? I had considered briefly this morning what his teacher would think when he showed up like that – especially after her email specifically addressing the issue. I wondered, will she think that I don’t read her emails? Will she think that I just don’t care? Well, hopefully all the other reasonable stuff will outweigh this, I thought.

I hadn’t considered full-on publicity.

Now I was trying to quiet all the voices in my head that were panicking about what this will mean…about what all the teachers must think…what the other moms must think…what they are now saying: “Poor kid, his mother must not lay eyes on him before he leaves the house in the morning.” “Poor kid, maybe he doesn’t have any good winter clothes.” “Poor kid, what kind of negligent mom would let him come to school dressed in what might as well be his underwear?!”

And I did quiet them. Those voices were put to rest. Partly because my personality is such that I am usually unconcerned with what others think, so it doesn’t feel natural to worry about it. But also because I know that fretting about the favorite past time of the mommy war participants – shaming and judging other moms – is not helpful to my mission to avoid the Heli-Mom status. It was a significant reminder of one of the biggest reasons that letting our kids fail is so hard – the fear of judgment and condemnation from other parents. That pressure to parent in a certain way, to parent how other people might be doing it just to avoid the criticism can really get in the way of doing what might ultimately be best for our kids.

What is at stake is much more important than being judged by other parents who usually don’t know any more about what they are doing than the rest of us. What is at stake is raising kids who will readily take responsibility for their own actions…kids who make decisions based on the natural consequences, the real consequences – not based on just staying out of trouble with mom or dad. Because someday very soon, I’m not going to be around when every potentially big decision is being made and the fear of my punishment won’t even exist for all the stuff I’m not going to find out about. I definitely don’t want his decision-making skills to be limited to “what mom will say or do if…”

Sure… today it was just pants. Not a big deal in the large scheme of things. He was allowed to make a questionable choice over something that was small – the risk of consequence was negligible. That’s the point – that’s how I hope he learns – small failures and corrections when the stakes are low. Because in a few short years it won’t be pants. We’ll blink and he’ll be standing in a parking lot somewhere expected to get into a car with friends and the driver will have had too much to drink. In that moment, I don’t want him in the habit of making choices that are motivated solely by trying to stay out of trouble with me. I don’t want his responses to have been learned and practiced only in an environment where I have controlled every single thing, because that’s not real life. I want him to make the right choice because he understands very deeply and clearly that whatever the consequences will be, they will be his, and I will have little or nothing to do with them, nor can I protect him. I want him to know how to make decisions because he’s practiced it and failed and corrected and, along the way, he’s learned that not only do I trust him, but also how to trust himself.

So, yes, I’ll take today’s non-heli-mom “failure” a thousand times if it will get me to that end. (But tomorrow, the kid is wearing some damned pants.)  😉

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