Enablers

My friend/colleague was venting to me the other day. We were in the final days of the school year and a parent had contacted her “very concerned” about her son’s grade. It’s always fun to get those emails which make it seem like the child’s grade has come as a complete surprise. While that may have been the case many years ago (like, when I was in high school and teachers had paper grade books), today there is an abundance of communication and transparency when it comes to grades in school.

Grade books are electronic and when a teacher enters a grade, it immediately shows up on the parent’s portal. These portals can be accessed through the computer, or through an app. Parents can get notifications the exact second an assignment is entered as missing. Report cards are mailed home four times a year, and progress reports are mailed home at the mid-way point of each report card. And that’s only the start of it. Most teachers have websites and use communication devices that send text message updates and notifications to students and parents alike. If a parent doesn’t know what is going on with their child’s grades, it’s because they don’t want to know, not that the information has been covertly hidden from them.

Even so, that wasn’t what really irked my friend. Her complaint was that through emailing back and forth with this mother, she had outlined all the ways that this boy could raise his grade; the mother seemed grateful for this information, but then, not a few hours later, when she had the boy in class, his mother calls the school and gets him released early because the boy didn’t feel like staying in school for the whole day. He had texted his mom and said that they weren’t doing anything important…And she believed him.

So your kid is failing a class, but you allow him to leave the class and go home early? Hmmmmmm.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time phenomenon.

This year, I had a girl in my class who struggled. She suffered from anxiety issues which affected her attendance, but in an honors course, these attendance issues made it difficult for her to maintain a passing grade. At the end of the first semester, her mother and I had a lengthy conversation about moving her into a regular English class. The mother told me that she wanted her daughter to stay in the honors class and that she would not allow her stay home from school any more…And I believed her.

Fast-forward to second semester.

In addition to her anxiety issues, this girl now also had “stomach issues” which is interesting seeing as how when she arrived late to class, she was almost always toting a super-sized soft drink from a fast-food restaurant. I’m going to assume she didn’t just buy a soda there either. I really enjoy the part where coming to school on time is so trifling that it’s ok to stop for a beverage en route. I guess she’s of that mindset that late is late. And just to clarify, we aren’t talking about five minutes late either. In classes that are one hour and forty minutes long, she usually strolled in during the last half hour. This semester, she was absent thirteen times, and tardy nine. That might not sound like a lot, but with classes that only meet every other day, there are about 45 classes per semester, and she missed instruction in half of them.

My favorite part though was when we had off for school for two weeks for spring break, and after we returned, she informed me that she would be missing an entire week because her family hadn’t been able to go on vacation over spring break. [Sigh]

It’s especially discouraging when I call home on a student and the parent says, “I don’t know what to do. Maybe you can help him.”

Um, hello? I was calling YOU for help!

I’m a reality television junkie. Recently, I found myself watching Family Therapy with Doctor Jenn. If you have ever watched Couples Therapy, it is the same premise, but with, well,  families. This introductory season showcased some familiar names like Dina and Michael Lohan and Tiffany Pollard, better known as “New York” from the reality show I Love New York, along with Bam Margera from the famed Jackass series.

Family Therapy highlighted Bam’s mother, April, learning how she had been enabling her son for all these years which kept him from growing up. While he was mostly detoxing from his drug and alcohol addiction on the show, they talked about how he never learned from his mistakes because his parents were always there to clean up after him. He would trash hotel rooms, but his parents got the bill and the damages were paid out of an account that Bam had no knowledge about since he wasn’t sober enough to handle his own finances. Bam argued that having to face the consequences of his drunken actions may have proved to be a sobering experience.

The thing was, his mom was so sweet on the show. She didn’t think she was enabling him. She thought she was just being a good mother. She would mother all the members of the cast, making them smoothies and bringing them out to the pool for everyone. What she didn’t realize- at least not right away- was that for every time she did something “motherly” for her son (buying his deodorant, making his lunch, washing his dirty laundry) she afforded him a free pass to not do it for himself.

It reminded me of how I kept putting lotion on my eldest daughter after she got out of the bath long after she was capable of doing it herself. How I wouldn’t force her to make her bed because it was so much quicker when I did it myself, and anyway, when she did it, it was always sloppy.

That shit needed to stop.

Last Sunday we decided we were all going to do housework. My husband was in charge of the lawn and I was attacking the bathrooms. I made my eldest vacuum and my youngest dust. My eight year-old started with her own bedroom.

“I’m done!” she yelled. I walked in and looked down at the dog hair that still lay on the floor. A giant dust bunny hopped out from behind her door.

“No you’re not. Look.” I pointed it out, then I walked back to the toilet bowl and kept scrubbing.

Eventually, she got the house vacuumed to the best of her ability. I’m not saying it was easy. Easy would have been sending her outside to jump on the trampoline while I vacuumed the house myself in half the time and with all the dust bunnies slaughtered. But easy would not have benefitted her. Easy would have enabled her.

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One of my favorite parenting experts is John Rosemond. He has a traditional, no-nonsense approach to raising children. Not befriending them. Not entitling them. Raising them. I was turned on to his philosophies by my mother and step-father who read his weekly column. They always agreed with what Rosemond advocated for, which often was in stark contrast to the parenting they observed in the world around them, but which resembled the parenting they themselves had done and the parenting that their parents had done.

Rosemond has a pretty straight-forward viewpoint on chores. Children should do them, and they should not be paid to do them. To summarize, he believes that chores allow children to contribute to the family. He likens this to when there were agricultural families and everyone pitched in to keep the farm running. Today, chores help children to learn responsibility, it keeps them accountable, as well as it grows their self-esteem.

While I agree on all fronts, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s still a struggle. That was one of the first things I realized when I became a parent and had to start disciplining my child. Parenting is tough. Good parenting is even tougher. It’s a lot easier to be a bad parent than a good one. It’s a lot easier to give in to your kids and let them win. It’s way more fun to be celebrated as “the best mom ever” for buying McDonalds than forcing them to eat the dinner you served them which consists of things they might not like, but are good for them…like vegetables.

I want to be a cool mom, but as a high school teacher who witnesses the result of that style of parenting on a daily basis, I know how harmful that can be in the long run. In reality, I think I’d rather have my teenage children say, “oh my God, my mom is such a bitch.”  There were often times I wasn’t fond of my mother when I was a teen, but as an adult, I am so thankful for everything she did for me. But even more thankful for all those things she didn’t do for me.

Nowadays, when my daughter is complaining that her skin is itchy or she breaks out in a rash, I remind her why she should put lotion on, but I’m not slathering it on her after ever shower. She’ll learn. And even though my house might not be as neat as it would be if I had cleaned it all myself, we’ll live with it.

After all, the goal is to raise children who one day can move out, right?

I’m sure there are other ways I still enable my kids though that (like Bam’s mother) I’m not even aware of, especially with my oldest. She was my first baby, and sometimes I don’t realize that she’s not my baby anymore. But every time I give her an opportunity to do something for herself-making her own scrambled eggs for breakfast, for example- I’m reminded why I need to do that more often. I birthed a perfectly capable human being. And when I ask her how her eggs are, she cracks a gigantic smile and tells me they are delicious.

What about you? Are you an enabler? As a parent, how do you find ways to stop enabling and start empowering?

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