Let’s get this straight. I am not LUCKY to have good kids, or healthy kids, or smart kids. When I am told that I am lucky what I hear is that whoever just said that does not see or does not value all the work that it takes on my end to create these great kids. By calling it LUCK they are avoiding thinking about all of the behind the scenes choices and actions and teachings that went into creating those kids who are now, in this moment able to do something impressive like eat with a fork or say “please and thank you”. I think when we say something like “lucky” it is a way of letting ourselves off the hook. Because accountability can be heavy and exhausting.
So this word LUCK has been on my mind and it is one of my big pet peeves. I put a lot of time and effort into parenting and I make really hard choices at times when I am exhausted and out of patience and I would rather sit down at the end of a long day, or (dare I even suggest) go to sleep. But at those times when I have the least interest and certainly not the energy, I rally and I embrace the teachable moment. I help my kid to process their day and I teach them how to reflect and learn from it and if it is too big for a little kid to handle on their own I teach them how to pray about it.
Now, back to that eating with a fork moment. I was at a dinner and someone was really impressed that my kid could sit at a table and eat real food, and even use a fork! Aren’t I lucky???? Seriously? As a new mom I thought I’d teach my kids how to eat with a fork. I’d show them how, they would master it at 1 year old, and we’d move on to the next thing. Well, it turns out that it is never that easy. Even after they have mastered the physical skill, maybe they decide they don’t want to bother. Maybe they decide it’s easier to just use their hands. Maybe they decide it’s more fun to use their toes. The list goes on. And here I sit, at the dinner table years later with little reminders and tips and what all moms have mastered which is “THE LOOK”. But none of that constant attention to detail is something that I would call “luck”. But it does work in that when we are out and they are conscious of being on their best behavior, the learning is in there somewhere and they can pull it out for special occasions. And when I hear from the host of the party or the teacher at school that my kid is the one who remembered to thank them for all that they did, I get to be proud. Not lucky, but proud. That is my reward.
So, in the news this week we are inundated with stories about a good kid that went bad. I can hear the ripples of fear go through the mom community. I read an article that said that this kid was good for 20 years, and then just screwed up for 20 minutes. Like it was bad luck. As if they should not be held accountable for their actions. The parents are defending them based on the fact that they look good on paper and have good grades and are good at sports. But the real question is not how they look on paper. It is about how they act when they think that nobody can see. So how do we teach our kids to be accountable, to be responsible, and to understand that their actions have consequences? The answer is that we do it every day, in a million little ways, over and over and over. We do not get breaks. We do not get days off. We do not get credit. But those of us who are doing the hard work of parenting do not need to let the news make us fearful that all of a sudden our kid will turn out to be a criminal.
I was trying to think of one example that would help us this week when the news is especially painful on this subject. So I was thinking of when my kid was little and knocked another kid over accidentally because they were so excited to get to the playground. Their first toddler response was based on fear of getting in trouble, so they said “I didn’t do it”. So, even though I really needed to go sit on the bench and nurse the baby, I stopped and worked through the whole thing with my toddler. We reviewed how they did in fact do it, but it’s okay to say “I’m sorry, it was an accident”. They do not have to be full of guilt and shame, because it was an accident. But they do need to be aware that even though it was not done on purpose, there are still consequences. They can stop what they are doing and go and offer to help the other kid get back up. They can stop and see if they are okay. They do not have to run away in fear. So in those little moments they learn to be aware and responsive and compassionate. They may also learn that it takes more time to stop and help, so next time they may run to the playground more carefully and not knock anyone over to get where they are going.
I am hopeful that all of those little teachable moments add up over 20 years so that my kids will remember what is important in each moment, so that they never hurt someone on purpose and have to face the consequences of 20 minutes of criminal behavior. Because that is not accidental, and it is not luck. It is the product of years of modeling and teaching, whether it is from the parents or from the attitudes and values that are passed on in so many ways by what is considered acceptable in our culture. I am sickened to read news stories where, due to so many centuries of abuse and trauma in our culture, we even have to debate whether if it is okay to hurt someone and then walk away. And if one of my kids is ever caught screwing up, I hope that in that moment I will have the courage to help them to face the consequences and do what they can to make it right and not try to get them out of it.
When faced with these news stories, we often question what we can do to avoid that with our own kids. We often act out of fear that our kid will be the one victimized and we teach our kids how to stay safe, how to be careful, how to stand up to bullies. But we need to be teaching both sides. How do we teach our kids to have integrity and character and value each and every life so that they are accountable for their actions whether or not they think someone is looking? Some days it seems like an uphill battle when our culture is teaching them to look for the quick fix, the magic pill, the easy answer, the short cut. They are used to being entertained and coddled and appeased. So the answer is not an easy one, and it is not that you just have good luck or bad luck. The answer is that we parent them and teach them all the time, even when we are tired and out of patience and don’t know what the right answer is.
I would also like to take this time to remind us all that it takes a village. So if you are the other mom on the playground or you are the parent of the bully at school, please indulge us while we take some time out of our busy schedules to teach the kids how to slow down and make the right choice in each and every moment. And to end on a good note, I would like to thank all of the people in my village who do amazing work every day. I would like to thank the schools that have included Character Education. I would like to thank the coaches and the mentors who teach them to have fun and try their best and be proud of their successes, but never at the cost of bad-sportsmanship. And I want to officially give big gold stars and special awards to the parents who are trying their best each and every day.
If anything in this post upset you or you want to talk more about it, please contact me privately and I would love to follow up with you.